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June 09, 2004

By Jessica A. Wilson
Summer reporter

    The Nature Conservancies of Canada and Minnesota have teamed up with the Rainy Lake Conservancy to make sure nobody tries to pave our paradise and put up a parking lot.

    The first Nature Conservancy of Canada Northwestern Ontario field office is set to open on Scott Street here sometime in the next month, with the goal being to protect private land from destruction or change.

    “The Rainy Lake Conservancy and Rainy River Valley Field Naturalists, and other environmental organizations, are very thankful that we will have the leadership and expertise of these two well-established organizations,” said Phyllis Callaghan, president of the Rainy Lake Conservancy.

    “We share the same goals to develop a conservation action plan for Northwestern Ontario,” she stressed.

    Up to this point, the Rainy Lake Conservancy has been the only registered land trust in this area. But now with the support of two national organizations, their conservation efforts in the area will be magnified.

    Callaghan met last week with John Grant, Ontario region program director for the Nature Conservancy of Canada, and Tom Duffus, his counterpart at the Nature Conservancy of Minnesota, to discuss this private initiative and to conduct interviews for the new position of Northwest Ontario project manager.

    The final selection process likely will take another week or two, but the role of the biologist essentially will be to run the office in Fort Frances as well as be the liaison between the community and the other three conservancies.

    “It really does represent a large commitment to this community in the long-term,” said Duffus. “This is bringing another job to the area, and the related activities—essentially this is bringing another business to the area.”

    To identify sensitive areas, Grant said scientists looked at the Superior Forests and asked a few key questions, such as “What really represents the natural heritage of this area?”

    This question is answered by considering the natural communities of the area, along with species of plants and animals. Then they ask, “Where are they best represented? Which landscapes are supporting them?”

    “The idea is to develop a plan that really meets community needs here and to identify other areas that are important to the natural heritage of the region, but also the landscapes and the important areas that support the ecosystems that are found here,” said Duffus.

    A couple of focal areas have been identified in this area, including Rainy Lake and Lake of the Woods.

    “We would envision that our work in this area would lead to better population of most species, including fish,” said Grant.

    He added some conservancy projects are viewed as confrontational, but this is a new approach—a win-win situation for everyone involved. The conservancies are not advocacy groups, but rather they work in a collaborative with locals, and only with willing participants.

    The organizations are professionally staffed, working for habitat management and helping to control exotic species like purple loosestrife, as well as to identify rare flora and fauna in the area.

    They also have a broad network of volunteers who help with fundraising, contacting landowners and community groups, and identifying conservation targets.

    “What we plan to do in the area is to reach out to various groups to help shape a conservation vision for Northwestern Ontario, including, of course, this particular area,” said Grant.

    This area is uncharted territory in many respects—an area that is host to many significant species. Goose Island is an example of a conservation project that was spearheaded by Callaghan and the Rainy Lake Conservancy.

    An individual gave up some property on Goose Island which is home to significant habitat, including some old-growth red pine, white pine, and bald eagles.

    “Nature knows no boundaries,” said Duffus. “The need is to really develop that approach on the Canadian side, so really that is what this is all about.

    “That is really the hallmark of these organizations—doing something about nature,” he added.

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