By Sue Tiffin
During the Haliburton Highlands Land Trust annual general meeting held on Dec.2, a successful 2019 was celebrated, as were positive gains for the land trust in 2020 which included the opening of Barnum Creek Nature Reserve trails and essential work toward protecting area wetlands. The meeting is usually held in June, but instead took place via Zoom, with members connecting online, due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Land trust properties offer outdoor space in 2020
“What would the land trust be without our land?,” said Mary-Lou Gerstl, past-chair, during a message from the chair address. “Our five properties represent nature at its finest, donated out of love by those who spent years reforesting, nurturing and envisioning its existence in their natural state in perpetuity. Their gift to the Haliburton Highlands and to the citizens of Canada not only benefits the environment but provides an opportunity for exercise, quiet reflection and ease of mind.”
Gerstl said in a year plagued by COVID-19, a record number of visitors – up to dozens in a day – had been seen at the two land trust properties – Dahl Forest, and Barnum Creek Nature Reserve – open to the public.
“It is good to know that during these trying and stressful times, we can offer our beautiful properties for people to get out and walk or hike our trails for exercise or simply pass a few calm moments and reap the cognitive and health benefits of being outside in the natural world,” said Gerstl.
Because the AGM happened so late in the year, treasurer David Bathe was able to offer an update on what 2020 looked like so far in terms of land trust finances, and his report was positive.
Donations amassed so far were at almost $6,000 by the end of October, compared to last year’s donations – apart from bequests and foundation offerings – of $8,000.
“There’s been quite a flurry of activity in November and we still have December,” said Bathe.
While last year, $3,100 was raised in memberships, $5,000 of memberships have been purchased in 2020. Last year’s gala raised more than $10,000 for the land trust, and though such an event couldn’t be held this year due to pandemic restrictions, “fundraisers got creative,” Bathe said, and still raised almost $7,000 through an online auction.
With the interest in Barnum Creek Nature Reserve, $2,500 was raised in acre purchases, and $500 was raised through Dahl Forest acre purchases.
“2020 which we were very worried about is turning out just fine, and we’re lucky to have the support we have from people in the community and actually people from all over,” said Bathe.
Grants help fund land trust accomplishments in 2019
Mary-Lou Gerstl, past-chair, delivered the message from the chair at the AGM, and said 2019 had been a great year for the land trust in terms of both financial outcome and accomplishments.
“Our focus continued to be on our core responsibilities to maintain and protect our five properties, community education that promotes sound stewardship practices and research work focused on the conservation of the rich biodiversity of the Haliburton Highlands,” she said.
The land trust obtained four grants in the 2019/2020 year, totalling $134,000, to further wetlands work including the development and testing of a new wetland mapping technique.
“The Ontario Trillium Foundation SEED grant of $71,000 was used to develop and test a new wetland mapping technique that has now provided our county and municipal planners with more accurate mapping for future development decision making,” read the official chair message notes. “Feedback from the county and municipal planners was very positive and has led to a data sharing agreement between the County of Haliburton and HHLT. In this grant, we also assessed private landowners’ awareness and support for wetland conservation in the geographic townships of Lutterworth, Snowdon and Glamorgan. There was strong support for protecting our wetlands as a natural solution to the effects of climate change.”
Additionally, the land trust was awarded with a $36,400 grant from the Environment Canada and Climate Change, Climate Action Fun, “to raise the awareness of the impacts of climate change through outreach, community engagement and wetland evaluation.” The grant allowed the land trust to map and evaluate Kendrick Creek Wetland Complex, an 850-hectare area that includes the Fred and Pearl Barry Wetland Reserve. The evaluation work done resulted in the Kendrick Creek Wetland Complex being recognized as a provincially significant wetland.
“[A PSW designation] is the highest form of protection that a wetland can receive in the province of Ontario,” said Gerstl.
From the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks, Species at Risk fund, the land trust was awarded $16,000 to develop best management practices for the five-lined-skink and identify potentially suitable habitat for the least bittern throughout the County of Halliburton, as well as remove woody regeneration in a large field at Barnum Creek Nature Reserve.
“The HHLT is proud to have played a key role in the PSW designation for the Kendrick Creek Wetland Complex and the mapping and evaluation of the Lochlin Wetland Complex that took place in 2020 with funding from RBC Foundation,” said Gerstl.”The mapping and evaluations were performed by Paul Heaven, Glenside Ecological Services Limited through funding received by HHLT.”
The TD Friends of the Environment awarded the land trust $11,000 in 2019 to plan and implement the Land Trust Discovery Days Program, and provide interpretive signage at Barnum Creek.
Gerstl noted the wide range of supporters of the land trust both at individual and corporate levels, acknowledging dollars raised through increasing membership, $10,000 in funding from the Coral and Bill Martin Family Foundation to offset legal costs associated with the Barnum Creek Nature Reserve and a $20,000 bequest from the estate of Ian Daniel, a former land trust chair and founding member who passed away just before the 2018 AGM. Additionally, the Haliburton County Development Corporation’s donation of $4,000 for trail development and signage at Barnum Creek Nature Reserve was acknowledged. Partnerships with Trent University and U-Links, and land trust volunteers were also celebrated during Gerstl’s address.
Member Ian Darragh asked if the current changes being proposed in provincial legislation, would affect the Kendrick Creek Wetland Complex designation in any way. Announced in November, proposed changes to the Conservation Authorities Act would limit the power of conservation authorities in the development approval process according to environmental advocacy groups.
“It is of concern to us as well,” said Gerstl.
“Without being a political organization we’ve been very close to what is happening with the provincial government and some of the lifting of the environment control that we’ve seen,” she said. “Time will tell and I’m just hoping that enough people will let their voices be heard because to lose the wetlands, that would just be a terrible, terrible thing to have happen. They’re so important to us … to the people of Haliburton, they act as a sponge, they clean our water, they mitigate the terrible flooding that’s taking place in Minden and elsewhere in the province. We’re concerned, we’re very concerned.”
Member Douglas Auld asked if a meeting with MPP Laurie Scott had been contemplated.
Gerstl said the land trust has tried to be non-political, which director Sheila Ziman said was necessary given the organization’s charity status, due to CRA rules about advocacy, however encouraged members as individuals to voice concerns with local political representatives. Ziman said the land trust was able to do education around the importance and value of wetlands, and that political representatives throughout the county as well as municipal staff were well-versed in the necessity of wetlands in the area.
The land trust is also in constant communication with neighbouring land trusts regarding protected properties and any potential threat to that land.
For more information about the Haliburton Highlands Land Trust, visit haliburtonlandtrust.ca.