echo island

Echo Island, Ontario (Rainy Lake Conservancy)

Echo Island is small, but its permanent protection is big news in Ontario’s conservation community. The pioneering gift of a conservation easement over the island is likely to have a ripple effect throughout the Province and the Great Lakes region. The gift is the first known instance where an American donor gave an easement over property in Ontario to a US land trust.

The Philadelphia family that owns Echo Island donated the easement to American Friends of Canadian Land Trusts (“American Friends”). American Friends mission is protecting Canada’s natural heritage. The owners are committed to keeping Echo Island in its current, relatively undeveloped condition. Three generations have treasured Echo Island’s forest, shoreline and simple cabin over the last 50 years.

American Friends accomplishes its mission through partnerships with Canadian conservation entities, such as the Rainy Lake Conservancy which facilitated this innovative gift, and US taxpayers who own priority conservation lands in Canada. Conservancy leaders and the members of the family that donated the easement are aware that this transaction is a milestone in “cross-border conservation” – the term for donations of ecologically significant Canadian land by US taxpayers. They hope protection of Echo Island will inspire other American landowners and Ontario conservation organizations to take similar action to preserve the Province’s special environments.

The Conservancy works to protect the flora, fauna, water quality and scenic character of Rainy Lake which are so important to the local economy and indigenous communities of the area. Echo Island is one of nearly two thousand scattered throughout the 345 square mile (890 km2) lake straddling the border of Minnesota and Ontario. Voyageurs National Park is located on the southeastern corner of the lake on the US side of the Lake. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is also within the Rainy Lake watershed as is the Quetico Provincial Park on the Canadian side.

Although the Echo Island easement is a first for Ontario, American Friends already holds easements in Nova Scotia and British Columbia that were also donated by American. In addition, in the less than four years since American Friends obtained the required tax status in Canada, it has received nine remarkable fee title gifts located in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Manitoba.

For more information on the Rainy Lake Conservancy visit the website http://www.rainylakeconservancy.org/

Feel free to contact Sandra Tassel, Program Coordinator, for more information about American Friends or donating land or an easement in Canada 360-515-7171 or info@afoclt.org

Grand Manan, Bay of Fundy – Partnership with The Nature Trust of New Brunswick

In the days before Christmas a landmark conservation gift permanently protected a significant coastal property known as Seven Days Work Cliff on the beautiful island of Grand Manan in the Bay of Fundy. The Nature Trust of New Brunswick (NTNB) and a US charity called American Friends of Canadian Land Trusts (American Friends) formed a unique partnership that made this “cross-border” donation of land in the province possible.  Cross-border conservation conserves ecologically important Canadian land that is owned by preservation-minded Americans. At 23.8 hectares, Seven Days Work Cliff is best known for its spectacular sea cliffs that are home to birds of prey and a popular trail that overlooks the Bay.

“Much of the island’s coastline is privately owned and is being rapidly developed,” says Renata Woodward, Executive Director of NTNB. “The conservation of Seven Days Work Cliff means another natural area has been put aside for nature, as well as for residents of Grand Manan and visitors to enjoy for years to come.”

Located on the northeastern section of the island between Whale Cove and Ashburton Head, Seven Days Work Cliff consists of a highly visible and spectacular 80 metre sea cliff, as well as wetland and other natural vegetation. It is also an ideal place to see the birds of prey that nest and hunt along the cliff. The beloved cliff-top “Red Trail”, managed by the Grand Manan Trails Association and used by residents and visitors, also traverses the land.

“Grand Manan is a beautiful and environmentally fragile New Brunswick gem. Protecting its special landscapes is a high priority for NTNB, but land there is very expensive, especially if it has an ocean view,” says Woodward. “We are thrilled that the Americans who owned Seven Days Work Cliff wanted to conserve their property and were willing to donate it.”

NTNB formed the innovative partnership with American Friends to make this generous gift legally and financially feasible.  American Friends now owns the donated property and NTNB will manage it as part of their network of nature preserves.

 “Seven Days Work Cliff is a perfect demonstration of why Canadian land trusts created American Friends,” says Sandra Tassel, Program Coordinator for the Seattle-based organization. “Americans own priority conservation lands in many of Canada’s most scenic and ecologically sensitive places. We find that these landowners truly cherish their properties and are willing to give the land for preservation purposes if tax and legal obstacles can be overcome. The partnership between the Nature Trust and American Friends to protect Seven Days Work Cliff is a great example of what can be achieved through cross-border donations. We hope this will be the first of many New Brunswick projects.”

The features of the property inspired all of the parties involved in the pioneering project. The cliffs are a geological wonder, containing layers of rock formed during the enormous volcanic event that filled the Bay of Fundy with basaltic lava 201 million years ago. Today, the boulder-strewn beach below the cliffs attracts rock hounds who come to collect fine specimens of volcanic zeolites, quartz, jasper, agate and other minerals that fall from the cliff as it slowly erodes.

Seven Days Work Cliff is the 37th nature preserve managed by NTNB in the province and the third on Grand Manan.

Many generous contributions have been made to the project, including the land donors (who wish to remain anonymous), American Friends of Canadian Land Trusts, Davis Conservation Foundation, Grand Manan Trails Association, The William P Wharton Trust, EcoAction, and anonymous donors.

Mabou Highlands

Mabou Highlands, Nova Scotia – (Nova Scotia Nature Trust)

Nova Scotia Nature Trust (NSNT) assisted American Friends in the protection of 205 acres of old growth hardwood forest in the Mabou Highlands of Nova Scotia. Landowners Robert and Lee Anne Kinzer donated a conservation easement to American Friends, which preserves the forest and floodplain surrounding Mill Brook, which flows through the property, while also allowing them to continue owning and enjoying the property for years to come.

The property features diverse ecosystems characteristic of the Mabou Highlands, including extensive hardwoods, sugar maple and beech old growth hardwoods, and conifer forests. These forests types help expand the foraging range for animals largely resident in old growth forests. Wetlands at the western portion of the property support a population of beaver and provide good waterfowl habitat.

The Mabou Highlands Trails system passes through the property and includes the Bienn Alasdair and MacPhee Trails. This coastal area of the Mabou Highlands is important because it is one of only a few places in Nova Scotia where the coastline is not encroached upon by highways or secondary roads. NSNT has a long-term campaign focused on working with private landowners in the Mabou Highlands to protect, forever, this unique area. American Friends looks forward to continue working with NSNT on future projects to help further their conservation goals.

robinson woods

Robinson Woods, British Columbia – (Gabriola Land and Trail Trust)

If you love the unique natural splendor of the Gulf Islands, you have something new to celebrate. After more than a decade of effort on the part of many people, the very first BC “cross-border” conservation covenant has been completed. The cross-border descriptor explains that a generous, conservation-minded American donated the covenant to permanently preserve her land in Canada.

The breakthrough was the result of a partnership composed of the Gabriola Land and Trails Trust (GaLTT), American Friends of Canadian Land Trusts (American Friends) and a retired anthropologist from Illinois who has a longstanding love of BC, and Gabriola Island in particular. The project is known as Robinson Woods to honor donor Sally Robinson and the forest protected by her gift. The covenant, which Robinson donated to American Friends, protects a representative example of the Coastal Douglas Fir Zone, recognized by conservation biologists as among the most biologically unique and rich areas in Western Canada but also among the most imperiled ecosystems due to development pressure in places such as the Gulf Islands, including on Gabriola Island where Sally’s property is located.

As a result of GaLTT’s leadership and Sally Robinson’s dedication to preservation, a very valuable and scenic coastal property in the Gulf Islands will retain its character, with small building footprints, low rooflines and protection for the ecosystem and views. Unlike most conservation covenants, the one Sally donated to American Friends protects a place where someone lives and the public is invited to visit. As she planned, Sally’s gift demonstrates of how fragile island landscapes can be carefully and sensitively developed, while offering value to the broader community.   John Peirce, President of the GaLTT board said, “The big advantage of our partnership with American Friends is that we had the freedom, within broad bounds, to customize the terms of the covenant to address most of Sally’s concerns. Having done this process once, we are hoping to inspire other American land owners in the Gulf Islands will see possibilities for protecting their properties in return for significant tax breaks on both sides of the border.”

GaLTT and Sally worked together to open trails across her land in order to expand the Island’s impressive trail network. Gabriola residents and visitors alike now enjoy the preserved forest and access the sunny south-facing beach. The trails created by GaLTT as part of the Robinson Woods project provide recreation and non-motorized transportation opportunities.

People who come to Gabriola by boat and traverse Gabriola Passage will always appreciate the views from the popular Pylades Channel because the covenant prohibits new construction that would be visible from the water. Furthermore, the restriction on additional development protects the water quality in this sensitive marine environment by limiting new septic installations.
Arguably the most important impact of the Robinson Woods project, both in the immediate and long-term, is its demonstration of cross border conservation in BC. As Paul McNair, Executive Director of the Land Trust Alliance of British Columbia wrote, “The project on Gabriola Island will be an innovative and important demonstration of how these cross border partnerships can work to achieve the conservation objectives of BC residents.”  One of Sally’s goals for her gift to American Friends was to create a replicable model for conservation advocates throughout the province. Sally also achieved her other goal of being able to pass her beloved farm to her son and grandchildren, knowing its future is protected.
Photo: John Peirce, President of GaLTT and Craig Lee, a founder of American Friends, enjoy the native trees and view from Sally Robinson’s property, which is protected by a conservation covenant donated to American Friends.

MacKenzie Cove

MacKenzie Cove, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia – (Nova Scotia Nature Trust)

American Friends partnered with Nova Scotia Nature Trust (NSNT) on the donation of a 200-acre property on the north shore of West Bay, a southwestern arm of Bras d’Or Lake in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Donor Dan Livingstone made this generous gift of sensitive coastal habitat for the enjoyment of generations to come.

The property’s coastal habitat protects several rare and important communities; old growth hemlock forest, small lake edge ponds hosting rare plants, and ruptured barrachois ponds hosting habitat for the scarce ribbed mussel. Nearly four and half miles of shoreline on Bras d’Or Lake, which has high development threat, will remain undeveloped.

This project contributes to past and ongoing efforts of both NSNT and the Bras d’Or Preservation Nature Trust to secure intact natural areas that help to maintain the quality of this globally unique ‘inland sea’.

North Harbour

North Harbour Conservation Easement, Nova Scotia – (Nova Scotia Nature Trust)

North Harbour is American Friends’ second Nova Scotia conservation easement. The property is owned by Bostonian Merloyd Lawrence, who previously donated the Little Annapolis Lake easement, one of the first gifts received by American Friends. It is part of a growing network of protected properties in Cape Breton. Bonnie Sutherland, the Executive Director of NSNT, said this easement is an important contribution to the Nature Trust’s efforts to protect ecologically significant coastal lands. This gift is especially valuable because it is in the Aspy Valley Natural Landscape, a small eco-region featuring rare Acadian forest.

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St. David's Island

St. David’s Island Project, Georgian Bay, Georgian Bay Land Trust

The property is approximately 13.4 acres (5.42 hectares) in size and includes all of St. Davids Island.  There are no buildings, docks, boardwalks or other structures of any kind on the island.  St. Davids Island has been identified as a priority for conservation by the Georgian Bay Land Trust and as a Priority 1 property for land securement by the Nature Conservancy of Canada in its Eastern Georgian Bay Coast Natural Area Plan for Pointe au Baril.  The shoreline is irregular with several sheltered bays and includes small pockets of coastal meadow marsh.  St. Davids Island is rarely visited, and no formal inventories for species at risk have been conducted, but frequent occurrences of the eastern foxsnake (a federally endangered species) and sightings of the eastern massasauga rattlesnake (a threatened species) have been reported on a neighboring island.

Evelyn Newell reports that she believes her great-grandfather bought St. Davids island from the Crown and gave it to her grandmother who shows up as the first person on the title in 1909. The property passed to Evelyn’s mother and aunt, who in turn deeded it to their children nearly 30 years ago. Those seven children now have their own grandchildren. As is the case for so many families who have had a relationship to a place for generations, it was deemed impractical to pass the island to the ever-expanding cadre of cousins and second cousins.

To protect the property from development, the Newell and Suter families transfered St Davids Island, in the Pointe au Baril area of Georgian Bay to American Friends. American Friends made it possible for the seven owners to protect land they genuinely love.

Photo Credit: Gary & Joanie McGuffin

Gargantua Islands Project (Lake Superior Watershed Conservancy)

The Gargantua Islands range in size from ½ acre to 54 acres. The largest and best known is named Devil’s Warehouse because of its dramatic rock formations. Peregrine falcons, a “species at risk” in Canada, nest on the cliffs of Devil’s Warehouse. Area naturalists have documented caribou swimming out to the islands to calve, seeking refuge from predators. The Gargantua Islands Archipelago is the first gift American Friends has received in Lake Superior.

Visitors to Lake Superior Provincial Park have assumed that the archipelago’s unique geologic formations, indigenous rock art, pocket beaches and wildlife habitat were already protected. However, an American family, originally from Detroit, has owned the islands since the early 1900’s. When the current generation of family members decided to dispose of the islands, LSWC arranged for them to donate their property to American Friends so their gift would be tax deductible in the United States. LWSC, with help from volunteers and park staff, will be responsible for stewardship of the islands.

Lake Superior Watershed Conservancy is one of the leaders of an effort to establish an international Lake Superior Heritage Coast Corridor. The designation would promote eco-tourism and advance preservation of the wild, scenic and pristine character of this beautiful area.

Old Man's Creek

Old Man’s Creek, Ahmic Lake, Ontario (Magnetawan Watershed Land Trust)

Ted is part of a multi-generational tradition of summers in the cottage community at Ahmic Lake. He was inspired to buy the old farms along Old Man’s Creek by a childhood memory of family visits to a waterfall and swimming hole that was lost to development; a personal tragedy for everyone who had enjoyed that place.

The Magnetawan Watershed Land Trust (MWLT), a young nonprofit formed to conserve this part of Ontario, partnered with American Friends to make the gift possible.

According to Dexter Coolidge, President of MWLT, “This is one of the loveliest, quietest and wildest areas on the lake.” Of both ecological and historic interest, the newly created preserve includes locally-beloved Old Man’s Creek Falls, trails along the creek and a natural landing used by canoeists, picnickers and nature-lovers. The Preserve will be managed by MWLT to protect its natural, historical, scenic and recreational values. MWLT’s leaders envision expanding the Preserve through purchases and gifts of contiguous properties.

Delta/Eaton Lodge, Manitoba – (Ducks Unlimited Canada)

Internationally known for its breeding and migratory habitat for wildlife, especially birds, Delta Marsh is one of the largest freshwater wetlands in North America. It is a 15 miles-long and up to 2 miles-wide network of shallow lakes near the south shore of Lake Manitoba.

In 2011, American Friends was given the largest privately owned property on the marsh, complete with a traditional facility for duck hunters, known as Eaton Lodge.  The gift made by four Americans who are avid duck hunters and conservationists, permanently conserved 1,285 acres of wetland and low-lying grassland. Dr. Dale Neil, one of the donors, described it as a “unique property, with the lodge on a peninsula that extends way out into the marsh, two lakes and lots of habitat for ducks to breed.”  This donation was not only ecologically significant, it was also crucial to the launch of American Friends’ Conservation Lands Program.

Recently American Friends transferred Eaton Lodge to Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) for permanent protection and stewardship. The transfer represents a significant milestone for American Friends because it is the first time it has granted a property to one of its Canadian partners. DUC arranged the donation to American Friends of this ecologically and historically significant resource as a strategic element of its “Delta Marsh – Restoring the Tradition” initiative.

Over the past 50 to 60 years duck populations at Delta Marsh have been steadily declining due to changing water levels, invasive plants, local agricultural practices and most recently a massive influx of invasive common carp. Restoring the Tradition is a multi-million dollar project to reverse damage at Delta Marsh, including a system to keep the carp out of areas that traditionally had sustained waterfowl.

Dr. Neil recalls that the DUC initiative appealed to him and his partners, Ron Desideri, Ted Herrick and Jim Krughoff. “We wanted to help so when DUC approached us about donating the Eaton property we were excited about how our gift could boost the project.”  The partners took the donation idea to their accountants and found there were substantial tax advantages associated with giving the property to American Friends, as suggested by DUC staff.

The Eaton Lodge property is bordered on three sides by provincial Wildlife Management Areas, and adjacent to other DUC projects, which add to its conservation value. Over time DUC, and the donors, hope to see the return of the huge flocks of canvasback, redheads, scaup, ring-necked ducks and blue-winged teal that historically sustained the aboriginal peoples and attracted famous hunting enthusiasts from around the world including The Duke of Cornwall (later King George V) and, later, his son Prince Edward.

“The donation of Eaton Lodge helped solidify our path forward in Restoring the Tradition, and the leveraged funds will not only aid the carp exclusion project, but will help to fund the upcoming science program,” said Bob Grant, DUC manager of provincial operations for Manitoba, in an article in Conservator magazine. [link] The board of American Friends is very pleased to have had a role in protecting the marshland and grasslands of the Eaton Lodge property, and assisting DUC with its ambitious initiative. Mark Francis, the head of habitat retention for DUC, said “The donation of this large tract of the Delta Marsh is a tremendous asset to staging waterfowl on a continental scale. DUC is proud to accept this gift made possible by a generous group of U.S. conservationists. We are happy to partner with AF and assist in the mapping out of the process for the first property transfer, which we anticipate will lead to further gifts and protect additional valuable Canadian habitats.

The donors are pleased with the collaboration too. “Our gift would not have been possible without American Friends,” said Dr. Neil, as he packed his bags for his annual trip north to Delta Marsh.