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Conservancy groups play important role

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Members of the Rainy Lake Conservancy held their annual general meeting this past weekend at La Place Rendez-Vous.

While the group had to deal with several business matters that arose since their last AGM, they were also treated to a pair of presentations about conservancy and the beauty of our natural surroundings.

Gary Davies, the Nature Conservancy of Canada's (NCC) program director for northwestern Ontario, spoke to the group about the work being done by the NCC in the area, highlighting the acquisition of lands by the organization for conservation purposes, as well as some of the threats facing wilderness areas in the district.

“We're a national conservation organization that owns about 3 million acres across the country from the Yukon right to Newfoundland-Labrador,” Davies explained.

“In Rainy Lake, we're interested in protecting some of those rare red pine/white pine habitats, what we call coastal barrens, those beautiful grass-dominated oak forests, where we might find things like prickly pear cactus.”

Davies explained the group invited him to give an update on some of the NCC's more recent dealings, which intersect with the work that smaller groups like Rainy Lake Conservancy do..

“We just happened to have completed an update on what we call our natural area conservation plan that guides our work,” he said.

“And certainly we look to the conservancy to inform that plan, and we put what we call actions in that to work with them, to help them in their work.”

Davies said that small conservancy groups play an important role in the work being done across the country, as the NCC can only accomplish so much on their own.

“Whether there's a formal conservancy organization like the Rainy Lake Conservancy or just a group of interested citizens that sit around the dock and talk about conservation, if you don't have local support, thereby local knowledge, NCC can't do its work and other conservation organizations can't either,” he explained.

“Whether it's indigenous communities, or whether it's just other folks around a lake like Rainy Lake, they know the lake, they know what's going on. You want to talk to them first before you come in and start waving a flag that we're going to save the planet, so to speak.”

One of the things that Davies spoke about to the group was the endowment system the NCC has in place to continue to look after land it has acquired.

“NCC started an endowment fund probably about 10-15 years ago, when they realized they were acquiring a lot of land,” Davies said.

“We wanted to make sure we had the minimum amount of money to do good stewardship, pay the taxes and make sure the land stays protected.”

“So today if we buy a piece of land, or you donate an island to us, that's worth $1 million, we have to raise 20 percent of that value and put that into that endowment fund before we take possession of that land,” he continued.

He went on to explain that across the country the NCC has around $150-million and lives off the interest, which won't pay for large projects, but does cover conservation efforts.

The northwest region of Ontario is set apart from other parts of Ontario and the country, Davies said, because it is relatively unscathed by the advance of industry.

“I mentioned in my presentation that the Nature Conservancy of Canada started out in southern Canada, southern Ontario, and the southern prairies where the most human activity and impact to the environments were and people looked around and went 'we've got to do something to bring back - in southern Ontario, recreate - some of that habitat,'” he explained.

"In northern Ontario it's different. We still have the opportunity to protect intact pieces of habitat.

“Rainy Lake-Lake of the Woods is a little bit of a different microcosm,” he continued.

“Some of the most valuable habitat is the area that people love the most to have camps on. There's nothing wrong with camps on a lake, it's great, it's wonderful to see, but there are some habitats where that's probably not the best use.”

Rainy Lake Conservancy board member Kim Ebretson gave the second presentation, a mini-workshop on how to take better photos of the wilderness. Embretson, who also serves as co-editor of the group's newsletter, explained different photography techniques and best practices in order to help members improve the shot composition, lighting, and dramatic impact of their photography.

He also called for members to submit their photographs for publication in the newsletters.

Davies stressed that collaboration between conservation groups is beneficial to all parties, and noted that, when it comes to preserving nature, being proactive is usually much better than the alternatives.

“I like to say in northern Ontario we have an opportunity to get ahead of the curve a little bit,” he said.

“Not that there aren't threats here, but protect [the environments] before they're lost, whereas we know in southern Canada we've lost it, and we're spending a lot more money buying and trying to recreate that.”

Anyone interested in learning more about the group can visit their website at rainylakeconservancy.org.

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