Canada pledged to pro­tect 17 per cent of its lands by the end of 2020. Private land trans­fers are help­ing to make it hap­pen


David and Ann Love are self-dep­re­cat­ing about the land­mark that bears their name: Love Moun­tain is less of a ma­jes­tic peak and more of a modest mound.

But the Love Moun­tain Na­ture Re­serve, just a 50-minute drive north of Toronto, is notable for an­other rea­son. Th­ese 36 hectares were once the private prop­erty of the Love family. Now the land is part of a pro­tected area des­ig­nated for the long-term con­ser­va­tion of na­ture.

Canada made an in­ter­na­tional commitment to pro­tect 17 per cent of its lands by the end of 2020, a pledge that arose from be­ing a sig­na­tory to the UN Con­ven­tion on Bi­o­log­i­cal Di­ver­sity. Sci­en­tists con­sider this an im­por­tant ini­tial push to­wards pro­tect­ing enough of the planet to main­tain its live­abil­ity for all species, in­clud­ing hu­mans.

With al­most18 months left, the fed­eral government is hus­tling to meet that tar­get: 11.8 per cent has been con­served as of April.

South­ern On­tario presents a spe­cial hur­dle. Canada’s pro­tected ar­eas should be ecological­ly rep­re­sen­ta­tive, cov­er­ing all of the coun­try’s di­verse ecosys­tems.

South­ern On­tario is both ex­cep­tion­ally abun­dant in at-risk species and al­most en­tirely tied up in private own­er­ship: it would be next to im­pos­si­ble to carve out a big new na­tional or pro­vin­cial park here.

In April, En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Cather­ine McKenna held a press con­fer­ence at Toronto’s Ev­er­green Brick Works to an­nounce $100 mil­lion for a pro­gram de­signed to en­cour­age more Cana­di­ans to do what the Loves did: trans­fer their ecological­ly sig­nif­i­cant private prop­erty to land trusts.

Land trusts and con­ser­van­cies are non-profit, char­i­ta­ble or­ga­ni­za­tions that ac­quire prop­erty through do­na­tion, pur­chase, or other le­gal agree­ments, and con­serve it for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. They are among the few strate­gies for pro­tect­ing na­ture in pri­vately owned, scarcely pro­tected places like south­ern On­tario. If th­ese parcels of land meet the government’s cri­te­ria, they could count to­ward Canada’s in­ter­na­tional bio­di­ver­sity tar­gets.

David and Ann Love have both been in­volved in the environmen­tal move­ment since the late 1960s: David, 73, worked at the World Wildlife Fund for 30 years, and Ann, 72, co-founded Pol­lu­tion Probe, one of the coun­try’s first environmen­tal NGOs. They con­sider them­selves lucky to have been in a po­si­tion to per­son­ally con­trib­ute, and want to en­cour­age any­one else who can to do the same.

“We are still wait­ing for the sys­temic change it’s go­ing to take to have peo­ple rec­og­nize that na­ture is what keeps us alive, so we bet­ter make sure we keep it alive,” David Love says.

“It’s pretty scary,” he says of the state of the nat­u­ral world, “but you gotta do what you can do, and we had a chance to do some­thing.”

On a hike through the na­ture pre­serve in early June, the cou­ple pointed to a sil­ver flash in a still pond: sun re­flect­ing off the shell of a Mid­land Painted Tur­tle. Snap­ping tur­tles live here too. Both are at-risk species.

The Love Moun­tain Na­ture Re­serve is part of the Happy Val­ley For­est nat­u­ral area, which is man­aged by the Na­ture Conservanc­y of Canada. Wedged be­tween Hwy. 400 and Hwy. 27, just north of King City, the for­est sup­ports a re­mark­able 30 en­dan­gered species, and is the largest in­tact block of de­cid­u­ous for­est on the Oak Ridges Mo­raine.

South­ern On­tario as a whole is home to the high­est num­ber of at-risk species in the coun­try. Of Canada’s 629 fed­er­ally listed at-risk wildlife species, 217 live in this province en­tirely or in part — more than a third of the to­tal. Be­cause species rich­ness in­creases to­ward the trop­ics and away from the frigid poles, most of those en­dan­gered species are crammed up against On­tario’s bor­der with the U.S., an area that hap­pens to also be densely pop­u­lated and heav­ily de­vel­oped.

In April, WWF-Canada re­leased a na­tional wildlife pro­tec­tion assess­ment. The re­port found that pro­tected ar­eas in Canada do con­serve na­ture, but do not pro­tect the vast ma­jor­ity of habi­tats where most at-risk species live.

The assess­ment iden­ti­fied five pri­or­ity ar­eas where this lack of eco­log­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion is most acute. The area cov­er­ing south­ern On­tario and south­ern Que­bec is one of them.

Canada’s push to reach the goal of 17 per cent pro­tec­tion by the end of 2020 has re­sulted in an em­pha­sis on max­i­miz­ing cov­er­age and set­ting aside large spa­ces, says James Snider, WWF-Canada’s vice pres­i­dent of science, re­search and in­no­va­tion, who co-led the re­port.

“Many of the pro­tected ar­eas that come out of that kind of ex­er­cise will prin­ci­pally be in the north, in large part be­cause that’s where larger ar­eas of in­tact land ex­ist,” he says.

“But com­par­a­tively in the south, where there are th­ese high num­bers of at-risk species, im­por­tant wildlife and ecosys­tems, there needs to be ef­fec­tive mea­sures to pro­tect them too.”

Pro­tect­ing wildlife and its habi­tat in places like south­ern On­tario re­quires dif­fer­ent strate­gies.

Many con­ser­va­tion­ists are most hope­ful and ex­cited about In­dige­nous pro­tected ar­eas, an evolv­ing des­ig­na­tion that of­ten sim­ply rec­og­nizes, for­mal­izes and funds the stew­ard­ship First Na­tions have al­ways prac­tised. Ex­perts are also fo­cus­ing their at­ten­tion on restora­tion, which re­pairs de­graded and de­stroyed ecosys­tems.

Private land trusts, like the Love family’s, are an­other im­por­tant tool, Snider says.

“It’s that kind of patch­work or puzzle of th­ese dif­fer­ent habi­tats that we need to weave to­gether,” he says.

In the early 2000s, the Na­ture Conservanc­y of Canada ap­proached the Love family and asked whether they would be in­ter­ested in trans­fer­ring their land to be part of the Happy Val­ley For­est nat­u­ral area. David and Ann spoke with their chil­dren, and in 2012 de­cided to do it; NCC pur­chased the land at a price the Loves felt was fair with funds from a pre­vi­ous ver­sion of the pro­gram that McKenna an­nounced in April.

“We can go to our grave know­ing that this is not go­ing to go any­where. Our grand­chil­dren’s grand­chil­dren will be able to walk in Happy Val­ley For­est,” says David Love, adding that the family got a good fi­nan­cial deal too: among other ben­e­fits, Canada’s Eco­log­i­cal Gifts Pro­gram al­lowed them to elim­i­nate the mas­sive cap­i­tal gains tax as­so­ci­ated with the deal.

The $100-mil­lion pro­gram that McKenna an­nounced in April, the Nat­u­ral Her­itage Con­ser­va­tion Pro­gram, is over­seen by NCC; the or­ga­ni­za­tion and its part­ners will match each fed­eral dol­lar with $2 to cre­ate a $300-mil­lion pro­gram. The fed­eral government’s con­tri­bu­tion is part of the $1.3-bil­lion Na­ture Fund an­nounced in the 2018 fed­eral bud­get, cre­ated in part to meet Canada’s bio­di­ver­sity tar­gets.

Snider notes that dif­fer­ent land trusts and con­ser­van­cies have dif­fer­ent stew­ard­ship prac­tices, and it will be im­por­tant to re­main vig­i­lant to en­sure stan­dards aren’t wa­tered down in the push to reach the 17 per cent tar­get.

Snider says the prov­inces and territorie­s do ap­pear to have a rig­or­ous sys­tem to re­port their to­tals to the fed­eral government.

“We were so for­tu­nate to be able to do this,” says David Love. “We were driven by what na­ture gives us. We fig­ured the least we can do is give some­thing back.”

“We are still wait­ing for the sys­temic change it’s go­ing to take to have peo­ple rec­og­nize that na­ture is what keeps us alive, so we bet­ter make sure we keep it alive.” DAVID LOVE


Ann and David Love, with their golden retriever Choutla, take a stroll through the Love Moun­tain Na­ture Pre­serve, a 36-hectare par­cel of land they do­nated that is now part of the Happy Val­ley For­est nat­u­ral area, just north of King City.


“Our grand­chil­dren’s grand­chil­dren will be able to walk in Happy Val­ley For­est,” David Love says of the na­ture re­serve.

Ann Love lifts a piece of dead­wood and un­cov­ers a red backed sala­man­der, right.

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