| Apr 30, 2009

Back to HomeFeature Article - April 30, 2009 National Nature Conservancy sets sites on the Frontenac Arch by Julie Druker

Gary Bell of the National Conservancy of Canada spoke in Sydenham on Wednesday, April 22.

Nature enthusiasts were invited by the South Frontenac Natural Environment Committee on Wednesday, April 22, to the Sydenham Town Hall to hear Gary Bell, program manager of Eastern Ontario for the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) speak about the plans for the Frontenac Arch and its recent land purchases therein.

Bell said “I have a long connection to the Frontenac Arch.” He studied the area in his undergraduate years at Queen’s as well as with the Ministry of Natural Resources.

Bell’s father was parks planner for Ontario who put together the master plans for Frontenac and Charleston Lake Provincial Parks. “I have a tremendous sense of connection to both of those properties.”

Unknown to most, the NCC is the largest not-for-profit conservation organization in Canada in terms of funding and activities, with offices in every province. Their goal is to acquire key private land for conservation, primarily in the more densely populated southern parts of the country.

According to Bell, “We, (the NCC) work to protect biodiversity by protecting the habitat it needs by buying significant key pieces of land.”

The NCC began by creating eco-regional blue prints of large areas, gathering various types of data and asking the question: What needs to happen in terms of land protection to insure the protection of all the biodiversity that lives in that region.

From these blueprints, Natural Area Conservation Plans along with business plans are formed. One plan that resulted focused on the Frontenac Arch, one of most bio-diverse areas in all of Ontario. The business plan for it focused on the purchase of key private lands within the Arch since land fragmentation of the Arch poses the largest threat to it.

The Arch runs south and east from the Algonquin highlands and joins up with Adirondacks in the New York state. The Arch has the highest forest cover of any natural districts in southern Ontario with 78% natural cover and 65% forest cover. According to Bell, “The Frontenac Arch is a superhighway for biodiversity.”

It’s been called an ecological tension zone meaning that, outside of the mountains, it has the highest change in vegetation pattern anywhere in Canada. It’s also one of the most biologically diverse areas in Ontario and possesses one of the highest densities of rare species in Ontario. It is particularly rich in amphibians, reptiles and birds and much of the migratory species as well as slower moving mammals that move back and forth between the States and Canada follow its path.

Bell cited the well-known wanderings of “Alice the moose” who was collared in Adirondack State park and showed up three years later in Algonquin Park.

Bell explained, “The Arch acts like a funnel and actually sucks southern species north. Warmer than the surrounding terrain, the Arch is home to tree species like black maple, shagbark hickory, burr oak and butternut, species more commonly found in the southern Carolinian forests of the United States.

Having established the important biodiversity that exists in the Arch, the NCC’s goals quickly became “to make sure that there are still functional linkages between the four important core habitat areas within it, specifically St. Lawrence Islands National Park, Charleston Lake Provincial Park, Frontenac Provincial Park and the Queen’s University Biological Station Lands.”

The Hewlett-Packard property lies between Loughborough Lake and Upper Rock Lake. Bell explained, “That parcel of land is the real keystone to any kind of conservation for and between those two core areas.”

The NCC lucked out in July 2007 when their plan for the Arch was close to completion. The organization received a call on July 29 from the realtor informing them that they had been given the first notice that the property was up for sale. The NCC signed the 2.8 million dollar deal with Hewlett-Packard and the deal closed in January, 2008.

Bell is thrilled with the acquisition. “It’s a fabulous representation of the Frontenac Arch as a whole and almost all of the biological values that we identified in the Frontenac Arch were represented on the Hewlett-Packard property.“

Since the purchase, the NCC, in conjunction with Queen’s University researchers, is accumulating data on the property. As far as what will happen with the property, that has yet to be determined.

There is a 19,000 square foot, lakeside recreational facility on the property formerly used by Hewlett-Packard employees for recreational activities.

According to Bell, “We are still in negotiations with Queen’s University and we’re also looking at other partners to find out the best use for this facility in the future.”

Asked later about the no trespassing signs that surround the property, Bell responded, “The land is not public land; it is private land owned by a private organization and we don’t encourage people to just walk on it.” He added, “It’s too early to say but it will probably have some kind of a public use component. Some of our lands are completely off limit to the public but most of our properties do have some sort of public use.”

The NCC currently has its sites set on The Guerley Lake property and needs to raise $125,000 in order to close that deal.

“Our funding goal for the Frontenac Arch over five years is 11 million dollars so we really have our work cut out for us.“ The NCC is actively looking at other key private lands to purchase in Eastern Ontario.

Photos: 3775 and 3770

Support local
independant journalism by becoming a patron of the Frontenac News.