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.