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Vidal Bay, Manitoulin Island Archipelago, Ontario.Striking Balance/Handout

A large swath of Ontario’s Manitoulin Island will become a permanently protected wilderness area following one of the most significant transfers of Canadian private land for conservation in decades.

The 18,000-acre property wrapped around Vidal Bay on the island’s north shore provides pristine habitat for black bears, wolves, migrating birds and numerous species at risk living along the ecologically sensitive Niagara escarpment. It also sits adjacent to a provincial park of similar size. Together the two comprise a 248-square-kilometre area that spans the world’s largest freshwater island from north to south, making it the province’s largest contiguous protected area south of the Canadian Shield.

“Conservation at this scale allows wildlife to move virtually unimpeded across the landscape, which is really a rare opportunity in Southern Ontario,” said Esme Batten, a program manager with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, which announced its purchase of the $16-million property on Tuesday.

In addition to 18.5 kilometres of undeveloped Lake Huron shoreline, the property includes forested cliffs, wetlands and alvars – globally rare natural landscapes that feature flat expanses of limestone covered with thin soil and vegetation.

Ms. Batten said the purchase was 20 years in the making and a dream come true for the organization. It was made possible with private donations combined with support from the Ontario and federal governments.

“Extraordinary efforts like this give us all hope and encouragement as we face the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss,” said Tom Hilditch, an environmental consultant who chairs Ontario’s Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario (COSSARO).

Calling the purchase “remarkable,” Mr. Hilditch noted that the area is known to host a number of the province’s endangered or threatened animal and plant species, including Blanding’s turtles, Least bitterns, the mottled duskywing butterfly, the lakeside daisy and Hill’s thistle. Several others have received a “special concern” designation under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act.

Ms. Batten said the next step for her and her colleagues was to finalize a biological inventory of the property and to assess threats including invasive species such as phragmites, a tall reed that has been overtaking wetlands all along the Great Lakes.

In October, the Nature Conservancy said it was also involved in an effort to purchase and protect a 12,000-acre area northeast of Toronto known as the Hastings Wildlife Junction.

“We’re looking to hopefully celebrate more of these types of conservation projects because we certainly recognize the need,” Ms. Batten said, “and we’re always looking for opportunities to work with conservation-minded folk to protect more lands across Canada.”

In its announcement of the purchase, the Nature Conservancy said it would develop its plans for the Vidal Bay property in conjunction with Indigenous groups on the island, which include the territory of Zhiibaahaasing First Nation, Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, M’Chigeeng First Nation, Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation, Sheguiandah First Nation, Sheshegwaning First Nation and Whitefish River First Nation.

ISLAND SANCTUARY

A newly acquired 18,000-acre portion of western Manitoulin Island near Vidal Bay forms part of a larger constellation of protected areas and provides habitat for at least 18 listed species at risk.

QUE.

Sault Ste. Marie

Sudbury

Manitoulin Island

ONT.

Georgian

Bay

Lake

Huron

U.S.

Barrie

Toronto

0

95

KM

Vidal Bay

Manitoulin

Island

Cockburn

Island

0

7

KM

Vidal Bay property

Other Nature Conservancy of Canada properties

Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother

Mnidoo Mnissing Provincial Park

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS; NATURE CONSERVANCY OF CANADA

ISLAND SANCTUARY

A newly acquired 18,000-acre portion of western Manitoulin Island near Vidal Bay forms part of a larger constellation of protected areas and provides habitat for at least 18 listed species at risk.

QUEBEC

Sault Ste. Marie

Sudbury

Manitoulin Island

ONTARIO

Georgian

Bay

Lake

Huron

U.S.

Barrie

Lake

Ontario

Toronto

0

95

KM

Vidal Bay

Manitoulin

Island

Cockburn

Island

Vidal Bay property

Other Nature Conservancy of Canada properties

Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother

Mnidoo Mnissing Provincial Park

0

7

KM

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS; NATURE CONSERVANCY OF CANADA

ISLAND SANCTUARY

A newly acquired 18,000-acre portion of western Manitoulin Island near Vidal Bay forms part of a larger constellation of protected areas and provides habitat for at least 18 listed species at risk.

Sault Ste. Marie

QUEBEC

Sudbury

Manitoulin Island

ONTARIO

Georgian

Bay

Lake

Huron

U.S.

Barrie

Lake Ontario

Toronto

0

95

KM

Vidal Bay

Manitoulin

Island

Cockburn

Island

Vidal Bay property

Other Nature Conservancy of Canada properties

0

7

Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother

Mnidoo Mnissing Provincial Park

KM

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS; NATURE CONSERVANCY OF CANADA

Editor’s note: A previously published version of this article said the value of the property on Manitoulin Island was $1.4-million. The correct figure is $16-million. This version has been corrected.


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