Whitefish Lake, ON (Photo by NCC)

Whitefish Lake, ON (Photo by NCC)

Celebrating 125 years of partnership with Ontario Parks

Blanding's turtle, Frontenac Arch Natural Area, ON (Photo by Ryan M. Bolton)

Blanding's turtle, Frontenac Arch Natural Area, ON (Photo by Ryan M. Bolton)

It was late evening when Megan Quinn and the four conservation technicians hiked through the steep forest along Whitefish Lake. As they reached the top of the tall rock barren, they saw miles and miles of forest, with stars twinkling in the sky and loons calling at the other end of the lake.

“There is no better way to see the Frontenac Arch than up there. You’re only an hour away from the city, but it’s so calm. There’s hardly any light pollution, so you really get to experience the wilderness,” said Megan, acting coordinator for conservation biology in eastern Ontario.

The Frontenac Arch is the southern-most extension of the Canadian Shield, stretching from the Algonquin Highlands of Ontario to the Adirondack Mountains of New York. This rugged landscape was settled after the War of 1812 but was ill-suited for agriculture. Most of the farms carved from the forest have returned to nature and this is now the most heavily forested landscape in southern Ontario. It is also a vital link in the last remaining intact forest corridor in eastern North America.

A unique area of biogeographic overlap between the northern Canadian Shield forests and southern Appalachian influences, the Arch supports a great richness of plant, insect and animal species, making this one of the most biodiverse regions in Canada and a place of great beauty. The area also serves as a funnel for migrating birds, bats and insects, and animals with large home ranges, such as the fisher, black bear and bobcat.

For more than 20 years, NCC has been working to conserve the biodiversity of the Frontenac Arch. But they haven’t been working alone. Ontario Parks has been a key, long-term partner in this area of Ontario.

In 2011 Ontario Parks worked with NCC to acquire the Sheffield property on Redhorse Lake.

“Ontario Parks wanted to acquire the property but needed some help with the negotiation and all the legal details at that time,” said Gary Bell, NCC's program director for eastern Ontario.

“We ended up helping (Ontario) Parks to acquire an important piece to add to Charleston Lake Provincial Park, said Gary, who was instrumental in helping negotiate the land deal between Ontario Parks and the Sheffield family. “Ontario Parks was able to expand the park system and we were able to help conserve a piece of land that we consider a very high priority for our work. Everybody won, and everybody pulled together to make it happen.”

For Gary, Frontenac Arch is a special place. His father, John Bell, had a long career with Ontario Parks, finishing in eastern Ontario. His work included planning and management for Charleston Lake Provincial Park. It was this family connection to eastern Ontario and parks which inspired Bell to pursue environmental conservation. 

Bell also did his undergraduate research thesis on bird species diversity on Frontenac Arch and spent some time doing research at the Queen’s University Biological Station the same research station NCC conservation technicians work out of today.

“I’m really excited when I do a project that’s associated with the parks that my father developed,” said Gary. “When I’m doing a land acquisition project, I’m thinking of him and all that he taught me. Every one of those projects, in my mind, I dedicate to him.”

Acquiring land is one of the many ways NCC works with Ontario Parks. Over the years, NCC has transferred many acres of conserved lands across Ontario to the provincial agency, which has allowed them to expand the boundaries of several provincial parks. For NCC, this means putting more land under protection without the added cost of long-term stewardship.

“It makes more sense for Ontario Parks to manage these properties, mostly because in a lot of cases, they are adjacent to properties they already manage,” said Gary. “This way they can be managed under one plan, instead of having two different organizations trying to do the same thing.”

However, that doesn’t mean that NCC just acquires the land and walks away. We continue to work with Ontario Parks collaboratively to monitor these properties for things like the spread of invasive species and species at risk habitat. These in turn help to inform our own work on neighbouring properties in the area.

“We still gather information on any species at risk that we see, or invasive species,” said Gary. “This information is then shared with Ontario Parks. All of the data we collect in the Frontenac Arch feeds into developing and updating our own management plans, which help to guide our work in this unique natural area. 

With Ontario Parks’ 125th anniversary this year, Gary hopes the partnership between NCC, Ontario Parks and other conservation organizations will continue to flourish.

“I find all of these partnerships to be crucial to us doing our work properly,” Gary said. “We’re all working towards the same big blanket goal of habitat conservation, protecting this unique landscape of the Frontenac Arch…that goes for Ontario Parks and NCC in the work that we do together, but also other organizations as well.”

“In the end, the environment benefits and resources are conserved because we are making the best use of money, staff time and information because everybody is putting it all together instead of keeping it apart,” Gary added.

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