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Big Trout Bay, a privately owned stretch of boreal coastline along the western shore of Lake Superior that was once slated for development, has been purchased by the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

Mhairi McFarlane

The last privately owned parcel of wilderness along the western shore of Lake Superior has been spared from development, helping to maintain a critical network of protected habitat for plant and animal species in the region, the Nature Conservancy of Canada announced on Wednesday.

The location, known as Big Trout Bay, consists of 2,500 acres of pristine boreal woodland along a 21-kilometre stretch of coastline near the U.S. border. It is the only remaining privately owned bay on Lake Superior between Thunder Bay, Ont., and Duluth, Minn., that has not been developed.

"That makes it pretty important from a strategic conservation perspective," said James Duncan, vice-president, Ontario region, for the environmental charity.

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With its rocky cliffs overlooking the bay, the area is used as a nesting site for peregrine falcons, listed as a species of special concern in Canada. It is also an ideal habitat for certain rare plants that are more adapted to Arctic-like conditions, including the North American bird's-eye primrose, which has persisted in the area as a holdover from the last ice age.

The rugged bay faces Isle Royale, on the U.S. side of the border, and it may serve as a key coastal link for moose and wolves to move on and off the island when the lake is frozen.

Big Trout Bay Nature Reserve Map

The site was purchased by the Nature Conservancy in an $8.5-million deal that includes support from the federal government and philanthropic groups in the United States.

Mr. Duncan said the subdivision of the land along the bay into 300 cottage lots had previously been approved under local zoning, "so we knew the trajectory of where this property was going."

The purchase is the latest in a series of acquisitions by the conservancy designed to preserve a patchwork of wilderness areas along the Canadian side of Lake Superior, the world's longest and least impacted stretch of freshwater coastline.

"For me, it really connects us with the past," said Mr. Duncan of the Big Trout Bay site. "You are looking back literally thousands of years and seeing the same breathtaking viewscape that our Indigenous peoples would have seen."

Stephen Hecnar, a conservation biologist at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, applauded the purchase, saying that recreation property values were on the rise in the region.

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He added that human pressures on Lake Superior remain significantly less than on the lower Great Lakes but this could change if coastal lands are not adequately protected.

"Where we have the opportunity to do things right, we should do it," Dr. Hecnar said.

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