Section of Lake Superior north shore protected

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The Nature Conservancy of Canada says it has purchased more than 1,000 hectares of property on the north shore of Lake Superior that is crucial to species such as bald eagles and peregrine falcons.

It says the Big Trout Bay area is one of the last privately owned, undeveloped shorelines between Thunder Bay, Ont., and Duluth, Minn.

The property is composed mostly of coastal boreal forest, which nearly half of Canada’s bird species rely on to complete their life cycle.

The Nature Conservancy says it also includes 21 kilometres of “pristine” shoreline with cliffs, stretches of open bedrock, and rugged cobble beach, which provide habitat for species such as bird’s-eye primrose, lake trout, and moose.

Funding for the purchase came from many sources, including the Canadian government, the JA Woollam Foundation, the Bobolink Foundation, the Nature Conservancy’s Wisconsin and Minnesota programs, and individual donors in Canada and the U.S.

The Nature Conservancy says it has been working to conserve land along Lake Superior’s north shore for 15 years, and this purchase brings the total conserved area to 3,557 hectares that will be open to the public for low impact activities, such as hiking.

“We’ll be doing a more robust inventory of the area this spring,” said James Duncan, the Nature Conservancy’s Ontario vice-president. “That will lead to the development of a property management plan which will outline access points for (the public).”

Duncan said the plan is to create a “continuous coastal protected area” through provincial nature reserves and state parks in the U.S.

“This is a massive international undertaking, but when faced with the potential loss of habitat and wildlife on the largest freshwater lake in the world, thinking big is essential,” Duncan said.

“This project gives us hope that the landscapes we love today will be here for others to enjoy tomorrow,” he said, noting that the total cost of the purchase was about $8.5 million.

Tom Duffus, Midwest vice-president for the Conservation Fund, called the area “a global gem.”

“After more than 15 years of work personally on this project, I understand the importance of preserving the natural view the Voyageurs saw and, equally as important, the ecosystems that have sustained First Nations for generations,” Duffus said.

Big Trout Bay’s cliff outcrop is an important breeding ground for the peregrine falcon, one of the many wide-ranging and migrating species that pass through the area, Duncan said.

The bird’s-eye primrose is an example of an “arctic-alpine disjunct plant species,” Duncan said. “They love cold areas, they’re relics from post-glaciation.”

Duncan said the area had been zoned for development.

“It was a great opportunity to acquire it and set it aside for long-term conservation before it became another developed bay,” he said. “There was zoning in place for 300 cottage lots along this 21-kilometre stretch of shoreline.”

The Lake Superior purchase wasn’t the only conservation effort announced this week by the Nature Conservancy.

It also said Wednesday that a 36.4-hectare parcel of land in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley has been secured.

The property is located in an expanse of wetland near the Okanagan River and is an important acquisition because so much of the valley bottom has been lost to development and agriculture, said Barb Pryce, the southern Interior program director with the conservancy.

The long-billed curlew, yellow-breasted chat and bobolink, all designated as species at risk in Canada, are found in the area.

And on Tuesday, the Nature Conservancy announced one of Canada’s oldest working ranches will be protected.

The 900-hectare Oxley Ranch in the southern Alberta foothills is owned and operated by Jennifer Barr and her family.

The ranch was established in 1882 and will still function as a cattle operation, but the agreement prevents cultivation of grasslands, drainage of wetlands, subdivision and land development. It is estimated that less than five per cent of such grassland remains in the country.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada works to protect the country’s important natural areas and the species they sustain.

Since 1962, the Nature Conservancy and its partners have helped to protect more than 1.1 million hectares across the country with more than 74,000 hectares in Ontario.

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