Conservancy group wants large chunk of Manitoulin Island protected
SUDBURY -- The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is on its way to securing what might be one of the largest protected areas of its kind in Ontario, a large parcel of land on Manitoulin Island.
The group has been working with local leaders on Manitoulin Island and is currently working to secure the $16 million necessary to make it happen.
"We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to protect the Vidal Bay forest and shoreline property," said NCC Program Director mid-western Ontario Esme Batten.
"It's located on the western side of Manitoulin Island which is the largest freshwater island in the world and it's kind of an opportunity in Ontario that's really rare."
It's still unclear what the NCC would allow people to do on the protected piece of land.
Batten says most of their properties still allow hunting and recreational activities but she says they wouldn't know for sure until they're able to secure the property.
"We're open to having discussions and we'd really love the opportunity to talk with local people about questions and concerns they might have and then to work together to find the best way forward," said Batten.
The land lies largely between the two townships of Robinson and Dawson.
Joe Weston is the vice-president of the Dawson Citizen's Board and recently became a volunteer with the NCC after seeing some of the work they did on Cockburn Island.
"I became a volunteer with them there and then it was just happenstance of coincidence that they applied to get the property in Dawson Township and I'm already here," said Weston.
"I knew all about them and was excited that they were going to do the same thing here because we really like it on Cockburn Island."
Weston doesn't foresee things like hunting changing just because it's become a protected parcel of land.
It's currently a logging property and he says those owners have allowed hunting to take place in the past.
He says there should be no change except for now not having to worry about intruding on logging activities.
The move though is not without its critics including some that worry about making such a large piece of land tax exempt.
Ken Noland is the reeve of the township of nearby Burpee Mills and says he's seen groups like this try and seek tax exempt status before.
Given that municipalities already have small tax bases, he fears that could have an impact on some property owners.
"When the Nature Conservancy or when the Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy purchases property on Manitoulin it has an automatic tax exempt status so what ends up happening is the taxpayers in a municipality that has this land, they have to burden the brunt of loss of revenue," said Noland.
Noland says their costs are fixed. Their policing costs remain the same and they still have to run their snow plow up and down the road so to take large tracts of property and make them tax exempt, makes it difficult on residents.
"It's always received, particularly on Manitoulin Island, with mixed feelings and mixed emotions," said Algoma Manitoulin MPP MIchael Mantha.
"On the one hand you have a lot of the naturists who are going to look at preserving an environment and wildlife but on the other hand you have the land enthusiasts who might lose out on some land opportunities going out hunting and with some municipal concerns over loss of tax dollars, this is going to be something that's met with some good and not-so-good feelings."
While Mantha says he's cognizant of the fact that this will increase tourism, this is also the backyards of his constituents.
"I'm always open to engaging both sides and sometimes its three sides and in this case it's something that I will be doing is looking at all values that this will bring and all the negative impacts this will bring," he said.
Batten says they know there are some concerns regarding taxes and land access.
"We certainly know it's a concern and we're more than happy to work with the local community to see what we can do to alleviate that concern as well," she said.
If they can make it happen, it would expand the group's protected area to roughly 250 square kilometres.