This is a Very Big Deal. — Wilderness North

Celebrating 30 Years of Wilderness North  –          

This is a Very Big Deal.

The last privately owned parcel of wilderness along the western shore of Lake Superior has been spared from development, helping to maintain a critical network of protected habitat for plant and animal species in the region, the Nature Conservancy of Canada announced on April 5, 2017.

The location, known as Big Trout Bay, consists of 2,500 acres of pristine boreal woodland along a 21-kilometre stretch of coastline near the U.S. border. It is the only remaining privately owned bay on Lake Superior between Thunder Bay, Ont., and Duluth, Minn., that has not been developed.

“That makes it pretty important from a strategic conservation perspective,” said James Duncan, vice-president, Ontario region, for the environmental charity.

With its rocky cliffs overlooking the bay, the area is used as a nesting site for peregrine falcons, listed as a species of special concern in Canada. It is also an ideal habitat for certain rare plants that are more adapted to Arctic-like conditions, including the North American bird’s-eye primrose, which has persisted in the area as a holdover from the last ice age.

The rugged bay faces Isle Royale, on the U.S. side of the border, and it may serve as a key coastal link for moose and wolves to move on and off the island when the lake is frozen.

The site was purchased by the Nature Conservancy in an $8.5-million deal that includes support from the federal government and philanthropic groups in the United States.

Mr. Duncan said the subdivision of the land along the bay into 300 cottage lots had previously been approved under local zoning, “so we knew the trajectory of where this property was going.”

The purchase is the latest in a series of acquisitions by the conservancy designed to preserve a patchwork of wilderness areas along the Canadian side of Lake Superior, the world’s longest and least impacted stretch of freshwater coastline.

“For me, it really connects us with the past,” said Mr. Duncan of the Big Trout Bay site. “You are looking back literally thousands of years and seeing the same breathtaking viewscape that our Indigenous peoples would have seen.”

Stephen Hecnar, a conservation biologist at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, applauded the purchase, saying that recreation property values were on the rise in the region.

He added that human pressures on Lake Superior remain significantly less than on the lower Great Lakes but this could change if coastal lands are not adequately protected.

“Where we have the opportunity to do things right, we should do it,” Dr. Hecnar said.

There’s a reason the Great Lakes are called such—there’s simply no other word to describe this series of lakes that span two countries, eight states and one province. The largest freshwater system in the world, the Great Lakes hold an estimated 6 quadrillion gallons of water—20 percent of the world’s fresh surface water supply and nine-tenths of the United States’ supply.

The lakes and their surrounding landscapes also provide habitat for 20 percent of all fish species in North America and hundreds of millions of migrating birds. A collaboration of conservation partners, led by the Nature Conservancy of Canada, has launched a large-scale international effort to keep these pristine coastal habitats intact and in their natural state, for the benefit of wildlife, people and the economy. Located just minutes from the international border, and 45 minutes from Thunder Bay, Big Trout Bay’s densely forested land is crucial to several native species, including bald eagles and peregrine falcons, which are assessed as a species of special concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada identified the Lake Superior coast as one of the highest priority areas for conservation in the Great Lakes region. To help achieve their goal of protecting more than 12,500 acres of the most significant habitat along 70 miles of shoreline, The Conservation Fund provided a loan through its Great Lakes Revolving Loan Fund to the Nature Conservancy of Canada for the protection of Trout Bay, the last undeveloped privately-owned bay on Lake Superior’s western shore.

Trout Bay boasts more than 2,500 acres of undisturbed habitat that supports several rare plant species such as inland bluegrass, western cliff fern and Missouri goldenrod. And its high-quality coastal cliff habitat and dense forests provide a home for wildlife species like the bald eagle and peregrine falcon. In fact, it has one of the highest concentrations of species and natural communities that occurs nowhere else in the Great Lakes region.

Big Trout Bay is composed mostly of coastal boreal forest. Nearly half of Canada’s bird species rely on boreal habitat, to complete their life cycle, and many of these species migrate throughout the Americas.

The property also protects 21 kilometers (13 miles) of undeveloped shoreline with towering cliffs, stretches of open bedrock and rugged cobble beach. These shoreline areas are especially important for biodiversity, as they provide varied habitat for species such as bird’s-eye primrose, lake trout and moose.

A project of this magnitude would have been prohibitively expensive to complete in the U.S., but was possible on the Canadian side of the border thanks to funding from the Government of Canada through the Natural Areas Conservation Program, and with the generous partnership of the JA Woollam Foundation, the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, the Bobolink Foundation, The Nature Conservancy’s Wisconsin and Minnesota programs, The Conservation Fund, Green Leaf Advisors, The Rogers Foundation and many individual donors in both the United States and Canada.

“The long journey to acquire this special property was certainly worth it,” says Gary. “For over 10 years NCC worked to acquire Big Trout Bay. With the support of generous and concerned supporters we made it happen.”

Through partnerships on both sides of the border, NCC will ensure that this stunning example of North American natural heritage remains a home for wildlife, a haven for recreation and provide vital sustenance to the Great Lakes Basin on which the U.S. and Canada both rely so heavily.

“Lake Superior’s Big Trout Bay, McKellar Point and Pine Point represent the last unsecured Great Lakes wilderness on the continent — truly a global gem,” said Tom Duffus, midwest vice president for The Conservation Fund, which provided bridge financing as well as transactional and fundraising assistance to NCC via its Great Lakes Revolving Fund. “After more than 15 years of work personally on this project, I understand the importance of preserving the natural view the Voyageurs saw and, equally as important, the ecosystems that have sustained First Nations for generations.”

“The Nature Conservancy is proud to support this bi-national effort to protect the Great Lakes. Protection of the land at Big Trout Bay builds on other Great Lakes conservation successes including St. Martin Island in Lake Michigan and Clough Island in Lake Superior’s St. Louis River Estuary,” said Mary Jean Huston, who directs The Nature Conservancy’s work in Wisconsin. “Working together, we can keep the Great Lakes beautiful, healthy and productive today and for generations to come.”

“This was a massive international undertaking,” says James Duncan, vice-president in Ontario with NCC. “But when faced with the potential loss of habitat and wildlife on the largest freshwater lake in the world, thinking big is essential. It’s an extraordinary opportunity to make substantive and tangible progress on our overall goal of protecting the Superior north shore.”

“Big Trout Bay is certainly big in name and importance,” says Gary Davies, program director for northwestern Ontario. “The area has seen a lot of shoreline development over the past few decades. Ecologically it is home to incredible vistas and important habitat for a variety of boreal species such as lynx and moose.”

About The Nature Conservancy of Canada

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (http://www.natureconservancy.ca/en/) leads and inspires others to join us in creating a legacy for future generations by conserving important natural areas and biological diversity across all regions of Canada.

About The Conservation Fund
At The Conservation Fund, we make conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense, we are redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, we have worked in all 50 states to protect more than 7.8 million acres of land since 1985. www.conservationfund.org 

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