May 24, 2004

Nature Conservancy campaign targets 50 "Natural Masterpiece" biodiversity hotspots

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has launched what it says is the most ambitious fundraising campaign for conservation ever undertaken in Canadian history. The goal of The Campaign for Conservation: Saving Canada's Natural Masterpieces is to protect 50 of the country's most significant biodiversity hotspots.

The financial goal of the campaign is $200 million, of which 70% has already been raised from the private sector. NCC is now appealing to governments, corporations and individual Canadians to help meet the final goal. The funds raised will support the direct protection of over 130,000 hectares (330,000 acres) at the Masterpiece sites, either through purchase, donation or by helping landowners to place conservation easements on their properties. They will also help to care for the sites once they are secured.

"These sites represent some of Canada's best remaining natural habitats - magnificent woodlands, internationally significant wetlands, rare grasslands, and other biologically rich areas that provide safe haven for endangered wildlife and plants," said NCC president John Lounds. "With this campaign we are sending a message to Canadians, that if we don't act quickly, the natural heritage that we all cherish, that is a key part of who we are as Canadians, will be gone forever," he added.

The announcement was made at one of Ontario's Masterpiece sites, the Happy Valley Forest in King Township on the Oak Ridges Moraine, where NCC has succeeded in protecting a total of 85 hectares (209 acres) through purchase and the donation of five properties and easements.

"Through this campaign, the Nature Conservancy of Canada will work with communities to find lasting solutions to the protection of our natural heritage. Their business-like approach to conservation is key to their success and will yield permanent benefits for future generations of Canadians," said campaign co-chair Charles Baillie, also former chairman and CEO of TD Bank Financial Group.

The 50 "Natural Masterpiece" sites have been selected through a scientific process used to determine the key sites to be conserved. They are located in the southern part of Canada, where development pressures place the greatest strains on natural ecosystems. Seventy percent of Canada's species at risk are found in the 10% of the country closest to our southern border. The 50 sites provide habitat for 63% of terrestrial endangered species currently listed by COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada).

Among the Natural Masterpieces NCC is working to protect are:

the Central Newfoundland Forest and Barrens: This wilderness area provides critical habitat for the endangered Newfoundland Pine Marten;

Lower Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, home of the last fully functioning estuary in the Bay;

Northumberland Strait, Prince Edward Island, whose coastline has the longest undisturbed dune system in northeastern North America;

the St Lawrence River and hardwood forests in Quebec, situated in one of the most heavily developed areas in Canada; the Carolinian Coast in Ontario, the ecoregion with the highest biological diversity in the country, along with the highest human population density;

the Tall Grass Prairie, Manitoba, home to more than 500 species of plants, animals and insects;

the Eastern Plains, in Alberta, whose grasslands represent some of the most endangered natural habitat in North America, with less than 1% of Alberta's dry mixed grass ecoregion protected; and

the Cowichan Valley, British Columbia, one of the last, best havens of the globally endangered Garry Oak ecosystem, of which less than 5% remains worldwide.

In Saskatchewan, where less than 20% of the province's original mixed-grass prairie remains, NCC has focused primarily on the protection of critical native prairie. Current major projects include The Old Man on His Back (OMB) Prairie and Heritage Conservation Area in southwestern Saskatchewan, where the campaign announcement coincided with the release of 50 bison from their holding field to the open range of the 13,000-acre working ranch at OMB. This marks the first time in more than 100 years these animals have been able to roam the native prairie freely, noted Dwain Lingenfelter, NCC's Saskatchewan regional chair.

In Saskatchewan, NCC hopes to raise $7 million from the private sector to advance conservation at five of the province's most ecologically important sites. Working with private landowners, NCC will focus on the Cypress Uplands, Missouri Coteau, the Frenchman River watershed and the Qu'Appelle River valley, as well as three key sites within the Aspen Parkland: the Quill Lakes, Redberry Lake and Moose Mountain Uplands.

Nexen presented NCC with a $255,000 cheque to support the Campaign for Conservation, representing a five-year commitment to conservation stewardship in Saskatchewan. "At Nexen we value the legacy of Old Man on His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation Area as one of the best remaining examples of semi-arid mixed grass prairie," said company president Roger Thomas.

The NCC takes a business-like approach to land conservation and the preservation of biological diversity. Its strategy involves partnership-building and entering into creative conservation solutions with like-minded individuals, corporations, community groups, conservation organizations or government bodies. Since 1962, NCC and its supporters have protected more than 1.8 million acres of ecologically significant land nationwide.

More information is available on the NCC Web site, www.natureconservancy.ca.

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