Nature Conservancy looks to purchase additional 1,400 acres of Cockburn Island

Landscapes such as this one are what NCC is hoping to preserve on Cockburn Island.

NCC presently owns 25,055 acres, over 60 percent of island

TORONTO—If fundraising efforts continue as expected, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) will be purchasing a large portion of land on Cockburn Island to expand its conservation area on the island. If successful, it will become the national not-for-profit land trust’s largest land conservation project in Ontario.

Presently, NCC has protected 25,055 acres (10,139 hectares)—over 60 percent of the island—along with 48 kilometres of undeveloped shoreline. The group is now trying to add another 1,400 acres (566 hectares) to these existing conservation lands.

“We are currently fundraising for it and are a good portion of the way towards it,” said Nicole Senyi, communications manager, Ontario Region with the NCC, last week. “We expect that by May this will all be in place.”

Brent St. Denis, clerk for Cockburn Island township, told the Recorder last week that consent had been given for the proposal by the Manitoulin Planning Board so the announcement is not a surprise.

“We (Cockburn Island township) get along very well with the Nature Conservancy of Canada. It has been a productive relationship,” said Mr. St. Denis. He explained the NCC purchases property commercially from people. He did not want to indicate who the property owner who is selling the additional property to the NCC is in this case. “With everything they’ve acquired, it can’t take place without all necessary approvals being given. In this case NCC told us they want to increase their land holding on the island, to conserve and protect the property. And we commend the NCC for the fact they have been excellent ratepayers.”

Ms. Senyi said, “now we have an opportunity to take this project to the next level by securing an additional 1,400 acres (566 hectares) at the very heart of the island. This project will protect the island’s interior forests, create a critical north-south link between existing NCC lands, provide habitat for forest birds and conserve the highest point of land and headwaters of the island.”

“This project is just the start of a larger, multi-year campaign to protect the islands, bays and coastal lands that surround Lake Huron-from Grand Bend, along the Saugeen Bruce Peninsula to Manitoulin Island,” said Ms. Senyi.

NCC wants to protect these still wild, natural areas before they are developed. “Here in Lake Huron we have a real chance at protecting some of Ontario’s most iconic wilderness and landscapes before they are developed, as has happened further south,” said Ms. Senyi.

For more than five years, NCC has been leading an international effort to acquire a rich blend of forests, beaches, wetlands and inland lakes on Cockburn Island. Located in northern Lake Huron, between Manitoulin Island to the east and Drummond Island (Michigan) to the west, the island is one of the few undeveloped islands in Lake Huron.

In an international study of 32,000 islands in the Great Lakes, Cockburn Island ranked eighth overall for its importance to conservation. The current acquisition will protect an important portion of the interior forests on Cockburn Island. This will provide a critical north-south link between existing NCC lands, provide habitat for interior forest birds, facilitate the movement of large mammals, and protect the highest point of land and headwaters of the island, NCC says.

Accessible primarily by boat, Cockburn Island provides important stopover and breeding habitat for migrating songbirds and waterfowl, including chestnut-sided warbler, wood thrush and the threatened Canada warbler. The island also supports wide-ranging mammals, such as black bear, white-tailed deer, grey wolf and coyote. The rivers and creeks support both resident and migratory fish species.

NCC is in a race to complete project fundraising by May. The conservation organization needs to raise $100,000 in land acquisition and stewardship funds to complete the project.

With ever-increasing development in southern Ontario, it is rare to find such a complete and intact ecosystem like that of Cockburn Island, NCC says. The growing demand for second homes and cottage developments has not reached Cockburn Island like it has in other parts of Lake Huron.

“In 20 years, a project of this scale will be unimaginable. NCC has an extraordinary opportunity to conserve this remarkable piece of Canada’s natural history, before it’s too late,” said Mike Hendren, NCC’s regional vice-president for Ontario.

“We are pretty optimistic and sure it is going to happen,” said Ms. Senyi. She said the project would include more conservation and stewardship work. “Once the land is purchased it has to be taken care of.”

The total size of Cockburn Island is 42,350 acres (17,139 hectares). Unlike Drummond and Manitoulin islands, there has been little development on Cockburn Island. The island was opened up for agriculture and logging in the late 1800s, but its isolation resulted in the abandonment of many farmsteads.

The NCC is the nation’s leading not-for-profit, private land conservation organization, working to protect the most important natural areas and the species they sustain. Since 1962, NCC and its partners have helped to protect 2.8 million acres (more than 1.1 million hectares) coast to coast, with more than 200,000 acres (82,000 hectares) in Ontario.