Saving salamanders and snapping turtles
Victoria Vanier, Ste. Catherine de Hatley
When Margot Heyerhoff moved to a farm in Hatley Township overlooking Lake Massawippi with her husband Peter in 2002, she probably wouldn’t have guessed that, ten years later, she would be the president of a Conservation Trust trying to protect
what’s left of the unique, beautiful and endangered ecosystem that once surrounded the lake.
“I became involved in it all rather accidentally. In 2009, some people met to talk about inappropriate development around the lake. David Rittenhouse began doing research and got the Massawippi Foundation up and going,” explained Mrs. Heyerhoff. After a chance meeting with Mr. Rittenhouse, she began helping him with the daunting task of getting a conservation organization off the ground. “When David died in August of last year, it was a precarious time for the Foundation. I had to step into his shoes to keep it going.”
The Massawippi Conservation Trust, which operates under the Massawippi Foundation, aims to protect as much of the Massawippi Valley as possible, focussing first on a six kilometre stretch of land on the western side of Lake Massawippi. Mrs. Heyerhoff took me on a tour of that area that begins right at the shore and rises steeply to form a commanding ridge, impressing me with her fearless driving skills on a tiny dirt road that meandered up the mountain.
“It’s not about the beauty of the land, but its biology. The biologists determine the areas that are important ecologically,” she said when we stopped to look at the dense plant life by the side of the road. Showing me the comprehensive report on the land around the lake by
a non-profit organization whose aim is to protect the natural areas of the Appalachians, I could see that the ‘hot spots’ of high concentrations of threatened species of animals and plants were right where we were.
“The Appalachian corridor is really a corridor of movement for plants and animals,” continued Mrs. Heyerhoff. That geograph- ical eco-region, to which the Massawippi Valley is a part of, is under threat of being separated into ‘ecological islands’ by development. Keeping this corridor open is critical to sustain much of the unique flora and fauna in the Massawippi Valley and other areas of the Appalachians.
to biologist Caroline Daguet, there is much in this area to protect: “A number of key areas around Lake Massawippi present rich hardwood forest stands on steep slopes, and are very sensitive to any human disturbance susceptible to result in soil erosion. A number of plant species at risk, designated Vulnerable in Quebec due to their sensitivity to overharvesting can be found
there (e.g. Maidenhair Fern, Wild Ginger, Ostrich Fern, Large-flowered Bellwort, etc.). A number of permanent and intermittent streams flow through hardwood and mixed forest and represent a key habitat for lungless salamanders such as the Northern Dusky Salamander and Spring Salamander, both of which are species at risk in Quebec and/or Canada.
The watershed also features a number of wetlands and meandering watercourses: essential habitats for turtle populations, including the Wood Turtle and Snapping Turtle.”
Although most of the land right along the lake has been developed, a good portion of the six kilometre long ridge is steep, dense forest where few developers have tried to build, but that seems to be changing. “Before, it was very difficult and costly to build on steep land. But now, with modern technology, it’s easier,” mentioned Mrs. Heyerhoff. We saw several areas on our tour where flat areas had been dug into the side of the mountain, where construction was sure to follow.
The vegetation along the skinny road was lush with firs and pines, huge maidenhair ferns; even the untrained eye can see the exceptional beauty of this place. “Sometimes places are so special they become sacred. There are lots of nice places around the lake, completely suitable for human habitat, but this ridge is sacred,” Margot commented.
There are several ways in which the Massawippi Foundation is trying to conserve this land. Land owners can donate their land to the Trust as an eco-gift, donate just a servitude on their land that limits activity and development, or turn their land into a private nature reserve, continuing to own it. The Conservation Massawippi Trust also plans to buy land or servitudes in this first, important designated area. “Land owners don’t have to give us their land. With a conservation servitude, for example, the owners feel satisfied and we know the land is protected.”
The Foundation also recently sent out information pamphlets to homes in the region to raise awareness about the fragil- We would like to double thank our children for the wonderful gift of a helicopter ride and BBQ to celebrate our 60th Wedding Anniversary. Special thanks to Chef Keefer and assistant Tracy for beef made to perfection. Also thank you to our families, neighbours and friends for the gifts, flowers, cards phone calls and visits to make our anniversary such a special memory.
Wilder and Catherine Hatch P.S. Many memories have gone by and all were made possible by my wife, I thank you for everyone.
Wilder ity of the area. “It should be their business that it remains healthy; it’s all of our business that this area remains healthy and untouched. We need to have collaboration with the owners who should be pleased with themselves in the end.”
The first piece of land to be donated to the Trust was done so by an 86 year-old woman from New York City. “Louise Ransom’s family began coming here in 1910 and she had owned the property since 1952. She has done a real service to the community; she not only gave us our first property, but gave us a monetary donation to steward the land. Even on that five and a half acre piece of land, the biologists found many interesting species,” said the Foundation president.
The municipality of Ste. Catherine-deHatley, where this land is located, is supportive of the Conservation Massawippi Trust and their goals. “Once they learnt that we would like to have some trails for people for low impact activities like hiking or cross-country skiing, that we didn’t want it all locked up, they understood.”
Asked why this project was so important to her, Mrs. Heyerhoff answered: “I feel that this is the time; this problem needs to be addressed or it will be too late. Everyone would regret the loss of these special lands which define us, our corner of the world, the Massawippi Valley. We’re at a turning point where it could slip away.”
To learn more about the Massawippi Foundation or the Massawippi Conservation Trust, visit their website.
For our July 4th edition, we were sent the wrong photograph of one of our youngsters with Bobby Orr. Here you have the ‘real’ Logan Gustin with the hockey legend.
Margot Heyerhoff, the president of the Massawippi Conservation Trust, says the time to act is now if the endangered eco-system of the impressive ridge seen in the background is to be saved
Developers have begun digging into the side of the majestic ridge.