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Government of Canada support key to conservation success

The Nature Conservancy of Canada has received 316 hectares of private land from a former top diplomat to promote cross-border moose love along the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick boundary.

The land conservation organization has been attempting to assemble a corridor of land on the Chignecto Isthmus between the two provinces as part of its so-called Moose Sex Project.

Derek Burney, former Canadian ambassador to the United States and chief of staff to Brian Mulroney when he was prime minister, said when he heard of the project he was amused and inspired.

"When you conjure it up, you can only smile at the imagery," he said, chuckling.

"I'm not an expert on moose sex or moose anything, but I think the understanding is that if they can preserve the corridor with things like this ... then I think there's a good chance the Nova Scotia population will be replenished."

Derek and Joan Burney also contributed to the nature group's endowment fund to care for the land, adding to a $104,000 contribution from the federal Environment Department and $70,000 in funding from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service under the North American Wetlands Conservation Act.

The retired public servant said he bought the woodlots two decades ago from John Lutes, a close friend and his neighbour at the family cottage in New Brunswick. For two decades, the land was a source of outdoor recreation and a connection to nature for the couple and their four children.

Burney, 73, said he and his wife heard of the moose sex project from a friend in Montreal and decided to make the offer to the conservancy as they sought to downsize their property holdings in the province.

Paula Noel, program director with the conservancy's New Brunswick office, says the project has protected about 600 hectares so far and the Burneys contribution is critical to its progress.

The Nova Scotia mainland moose population is estimated at about 1,000 animals and has been endangered since 2003. The conservancy says it hopes the corridors give a route for the 29,000 moose in New Brunswick to find mates in the neighbouring province.

Noel says she was excited when she investigated the location of the lands being offered by the Burney family.

The two parcels of family land are about two kilometres apart, and in one instance directly neighbour an area that is already protected in the upper Tantramar region.

"When I looked at where the land was I said, 'Oh wow, this is exactly what we're looking for,' " Noel said in an interview.

"It's tripled the land on the New Brunswick side. It's really accelerated our work on the isthmus."

She said the mixed forests on the Burneys' land had been carefully managed over decades and one of the parcels is already home to a notable population of moose and other wildlife.

The conservancy's marketing focus has been on moose, which is an important source of food in Mi'kmaq culture.

Noel says the land donation will also be useful to other species.

"We tend to look at big things and if the moose and bear and bobcat can get across some land, then we figure the little things are doing all right," she said.