Nature Conservancy of Canada

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is the largest land conservation charity in Canada, with more than 11,000 km2 of land protected across the country. Its mission is to partner with individual donors, corporations and governments to purchase and protect areas rich in species diversity (see Biodiversity). The charity and its partners achieve this goal by working with local communities to identify land and species in need of protection, and by implementing the best evidence-based conservation science available. The NCC has conserved habitat across Canada for nearly 200 species at risk of extinction.

History and Conservation Highlights

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) was formed in Toronto, Ontario in 1961 by a small group of avid naturalists and birders. The push was led by Richard Pough, who helped found The Nature Conservancy in Washington, DC in 1951, and J. Bruce Falls, an ecologist at the University of Toronto. Following the model first set out in the United States to purchase and protect land as species habitat, the NCC quickly moved to identify fragile land in Canada that faced similar threats from development

Its first property, purchased in 1968, was a 13.4 km2 plot called Cavan Swamp, located west of Peterborough, Ontario. Now called the Cavan Swamp Wildlife Area, it is a complex network of wetlands and bogs that protects 22 orchid species. From there, the NCC made its first foray outside Ontario, buying land in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia in 1971. By the end of the 1970s, the Nature Conservancy of Canada had protected land in British Columbia, Quebec and Manitoba, with more properties added in Saskatchewan, Yukon and Newfoundland and Labrador by the new millennium. By 2000, the NCC had conserved more than 1,000 properties across the country.

Two of the most ecologically sensitive of those protected areas are in the Prairies. In Manitoba, the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve, co-owned by the NCC, occupies more than 48 km2 and is home to 16 species-at-risk, including two endangered butterflies (see also: Endangered Animals; Endangered Plants).

In neighbouring Saskatchewan, the Old Man on His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation Area is one of the NCC’s flagship properties. It protects the endangered tallgrass ecosystem that once stretched from the Prairies to Texas. Since 1995, the NCC has worked with local ranchers to promote sustainable cattle grazing in the preserve, which covers approximately 53 km2. The land is managed as a “working ranch” to showcase “the positive relationship between agricultural land use and land conservation.” Plains bison were reintroduced to the property in 2003, part of ongoing efforts to conserve the species, which was extirpated from Canada in the late 1800s. In 2015, Old Man on His Back was designated a Nocturnal Preserve by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, the first of the NCC’s properties to receive such a distinction.

Various grass species at Manitoba's Tall Grass Prairie Preserve. Photo taken on 10 August 2013.

Organizational Structure and Funding

From the first small team led by Richard Pough and Bruce Falls, the organization has grown to a full-time staff of 260. It is headquartered in Toronto, Ontario, with offices in each of Canada’s 10 provinces. Volunteers also play an important role in the organization. In 2017, more than 2,000 volunteers from across Canada worked with the Nature Conservancy of Canada on more than 200 stewardship projects.

Since 1997, the NCC has been led by John Lounds, who previously led the Federation of Ontario Field Naturalists (now Ontario Nature) for six years. In Lounds’s 20 years leading the organization, the NCC’s operating budget has increased from $8 million annually to roughly $80 million today.

Funding from the federal government and provincial governments accounts for approximately 40 per cent of the NCC’s annual revenue, which totalled $76.9 million in 2017. Government contributions support specific NCC conservation projects, such as the Natural Areas Conservation Program (NACP). One of the organization’s largest projects, the NACP has received $300 million from the federal government since 2007 to purchase private land in southern Canada. Provinces, corporations and individual donors have added an another $580 million in donations and land contributions to this program.

Donations from individuals account for approximately 24 per cent of the NCC’s annual revenue, while foundations and organizations contribute roughly 14 per cent.

Corporations account for a further 13 per cent. Large, multinational sponsors like Shell Canada and Nexen Energy have supported the Conservation Intern program, while others like KPMG and SC Johnson have donated money in direct support of speeding up the process of land acquisition. Other sponsors include Mountain Equipment Co-op, Kicking Horse Coffee, Bruce Power and The Globe and Mail.

Almost 80 per cent of all revenue from donations and corporate grants is directed toward buying land to support the NCC’s conservation projects.

Government partnerships also extend to the United States. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service donates approximately C$2.5 million each year to support wetland conservation projects that aid migratory birds moving between the two countries.

Conservation Process

The Nature Conservancy of Canada uses a four-part process to conserve lands.

  1. Define: In collaboration with university and government researchers, the NCC’s conservation scientists determine the species and habitats in greatest need of protection.
  2. Plan: Based on an understanding of the threats these species face on both local and regional scales, the NCC drafts a strategy to reduce those threats.
  3. Act: The NCC implements the strategy alongside partners such as local landowners and governments.
  4. Measure: Once a parcel of land has been conserved, the NCC measures its success in conserving land as animal or plant habitat.

Once completed, the process starts all over again, with scientists reassessing their priorities. Though this process is labour intensive and lengthy, the result is conserved habitat across Canada that currently protects 198 species at risk of extinction.

Current Programs and Campaigns

Today, the Natural Areas Conservation Program is the largest campaign operated by the Nature Conservancy of Canada. Through this initiative alone, the NCC has conserved 4,300 km2 since 2007, the majority of which lies within 100 km of 82 per cent of Canadians. By 2020, the NCC anticipates it will have conserved approximately $1 billion worth of ecologically fragile land.

The NCC is also active in forest conservation. Since 2012, it has conserved a total of 160 km2 in most forest regions across Canada, including Acadian, coastal, boreal, subalpine and Carolinian forests. These areas are part of the 4,067 km2 of forest the NCC has helped protect since its founding.

Looking ahead, the NCC aims to bring an additional 13,000 km2 under its conservation protection through the Landmark Campaign. The single biggest land conservation initiative it has ever undertaken, the Landmark Campaign’s goal is to purchase and protect 10 land and watershed areas of significant ecological importance to Canada for the enjoyment of nature and people in the years ahead. From Great Lakes wilderness in Ontario, to the Next Creek watershed in British Columbia, to Lancaster Sound in Nunavut, the NCC hopes to set aside these ecologically sensitive regions to inspire the next generation of conservation leaders.

See also Environmental and Conservation Movements.

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