Eastern wood-pewee. Photo by Alexander Jardine

Eastern wood-pewee. Photo by Alexander Jardine

Newly conserved lands on Saugeen (Bruce) Peninsula and Cockburn Island protect vital natural habitats

April 22, 2024


Earth Day highlighted by significant win for nature in Ontario

Wiarton, ON – Midwestern Ontario is home to some of the Great Lakes region’s most important biodiversity hot spots, supporting an exceptional abundance of species and habitats, and today an additional 105 hectares of thriving forests and alvars have been protected forever. The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is announcing the protection of two new nature preserves to mark Earth Day: Sturgeon Bay Forest, located on the Saugeen (Bruce) Peninsula near Wiarton, and an additional 40-hectare property added to existing conservation lands on Cockburn Island, west of Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron.

The 65-hectare Sturgeon Bay Forest features expansive, intact forests that provide habitat for many species and support biodiversity. These forests also provide important ecosystem services for nearby communities, such as cleaning air and filtering water, while storing carbon within their trees, roots, soils and wetlands, and helping to slow the pace of climate change. This project builds on existing work by NCC and other conservation partners in the area. These collective protection efforts help ensure sufficiently large tracts of land on the peninsula are available to support species throughout their life cycles. The deciduous, mixed and coniferous forests at this site provide high-quality habitat for wide-ranging species, such as American black bear.

Meanwhile, the additional 40 hectares protected on Cockburn Island contain alvars, an unusual habitat type characterized by shallow soils and areas of exposed bedrock that supports several species thought to have originated when the climate was warmer and drier than today. Several species at risk have been documented here, including Hill’s thistle. The property also contains pockets of diverse forest communities.

At the greater landscape scale, the forests and alvars at these two newly protected nature preserves will safeguard important habitat for at-risk bird species, including eastern wood-pewee and wood thrush, as both sites are found along a major migratory bird route.  

The protection of Sturgeon Bay Forest and the additional 40 hectares on Cockburn Island are the latest in NCC’s land conservation efforts in the Saugeen (Bruce) Peninsula and Manitoulin Island Archipelago natural areas. Together with its partners, NCC has protected over 35,000 hectares of ecologically significant land in these regions.

These projects were made possible in part by the Government of Canada, through the Nature Smart Climate Solutions fund, and the Government of Ontario, through the Greenlands Conservation Partnership Program. NCC also thanks the many private donors across Ontario who supported these projects.

Conserving nature helps ensure healthy futures for wildlife and people, bolstering our ability to thrive in a changing world. In the past two years alone, NCC has influenced the protection of more than one million hectares (almost twice the size of Prince Edward Island), coast to coast to coast. Over the next few years, the organization will double its impact by mobilizing people and delivering permanent, large-scale conservation. In the face of rapid biodiversity loss and climate change, nature is our ally. There is no solution to either without nature conservation. Nature makes it possible.


“It is truly a pleasure to work alongside many conservation-minded individuals, governments and organizations to protect some of our most important natural spaces on the Saugeen Peninsula and Cockburn Islands for both nature and people. The Saugeen Peninsula is world-renowned for the diversity it supports, and the forests at Sturgeon Bay Forests are no exception, providing habitat for wide-ranging mammals, such as American black bear, and habitat for breeding and migratory birds along the Niagara Escarpment. Building upon the network of existing conservation lands on Cockburn Island ensures the long-term protection of sensitive alvar habitats and the species they support, while also cleaning our air and water to ensure people continue to thrive. These conservation efforts bolster existing networks of protected lands and help build healthy and resilient ecosystems.” – Esme Batten, Program Director, Midwestern Ontario, Nature Conservancy of Canada

“On Earth Day, and every day, our government supports initiatives that protect biodiversity and help fight climate change at the same time. The Nature Conservancy of Canada’s work to secure Sturgeon Bay Forest is another step in sustaining the vital ecosystems in the Great Lakes region. This nature preserve provides a home for many species, including migratory birds, as well as helping to store carbon and filter water for nearby communities. By making investments such as this through the Nature Smart Climate Solutions Fund, we continue to build a more sustainable, healthy future for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren.”  – The Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change

“I am thrilled to see the continued success of the Greenlands Conservation Partnership program in protecting important natural habitats like the ones here at the Saugeen Peninsula and Cockburn Island. The nearly 260 acres of newly conserved land — equivalent to more than 146 soccer fields — is a win for the region and for our province’s biodiversity. It’s crucially important that projects like this continue, and that’s why our government is investing $20 million in the Greenlands program over the next four years. Together with partners like the Nature Conservancy of Canada, this program will help ensure the long-term health and sustainability of our natural environment.” – Hon. Andrea Khanjin, Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks


  • Cockburn Island is the territory of the People of the Three Fires – the Ojibway, Odawa, and Pottawatomi Nations – together known as the Anishinabek Nation. Cockburn Island is today home to reserve lands of Zhiibaahaasing First Nation. The Saugeen Peninsula is the territory of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON), comprised of the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation and Chippewas of Saugeen First Nation. NCC and SON have been working together since 2014. With gratitude and respect, we acknowledge the significant and ongoing role of Indigenous Peoples on these lands and look forward to continuing to engage with these communities in discussions about ways that these lands can continue to support the people with whom they are intertwined.
  • NCC aims to ensure that sufficient connected habitat is maintained to support all of its native wildlife, including viable populations of American black bear and massasauga rattlesnake.
  • Coniferous forests provide both breeding and movement habitat for rare and at-risk bird and herptile species, including eastern ribbonsnake.
  • Cockburn Island is the 7th largest island in the Great Lakes and scored very high in the bi-national Great Lakes Islands biodiversity assessment, ranking 10th overall and second in Lake Huron (behind only Manitoulin Island). This biodiversity thrives amongst Cockburn’s coastal wetlands, extensive forests, rock barren deciduous woodland, Great Lakes dunes, sandy and rocky beaches, and inland lakes and streams
  • Cockburn Island is remarkably undeveloped. While several hundred people vacation there, Cockburn’s year-round population is only 1-4 people depending on the year.


The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is the country’s unifying force for nature. NCC seeks solutions to the twin crises of rapid biodiversity loss and climate change through large-scale, permanent land conservation. As a trusted partner, NCC works with people, communities, businesses and government to protect and care for our country’s most important natural areas. Since 1962, NCC has brought Canadians together to conserve and restore more than 15 million hectares.

Canada’s Nature Smart Climate Solutions Fund (NSCSF) is a $1.4 billion, ten-year fund (2021–2031) administered by Environment and Climate Change Canada to help conserve, restore, and enhance the management of ecosystems such as wetlands, forests, and grasslands, in order to help tackle the dual crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. The NSCSF will focus on three main objectives: (1) conserving carbon-rich ecosystems at high risk of conversion to other uses that would release their stored carbon; (2) improving land management practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and (3) restoring degraded ecosystems. Overall, these projects will contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and increased carbon sequestration, while also providing benefits for biodiversity and human well-being.

The Greenlands Conservation Partnership helps conserve ecologically important natural areas and protect wetlands, grasslands and forests that help mitigate the effects of climate change. Through the Greenlands Conservation Partnership, a total of $38 million has been invested to date by the Ontario Government. Additional match funds are raised from other sources, such as individual donations and foundation support through NCC and the Ontario Land Trust Alliance, and other levels of government.

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Brianne Curry
Communications Manager, Ontario
C: 519-520-1340

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