Michael Dunn and I attended the Canadian Land Trust Alliance Summit in Ottawa in late October. This conference marked the creation of a national organization, the Alliance of Canadian Land Trusts (ACLT) which has resulted from the work of the Land Trust Alliance of British Columbia (LTABC), Ontario Land Trust Alliance (OLTA), and Réseau de milieux naturels protégés (RMN), the Canadian Land Trust Working Group and other partners, including prairie and maritime land trusts.
Elder Larry McDermot, Executive Director of Plenty Canada, who represents the Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nation, officially opened the conference. Plenty is a non-profit organization that works with Indigenous peoples and other community groups to support their environmental protection and sustainable development goals.
The conference began with a session sponsored by the American Friends of Canadian Conservation. With a significant amount of valuable Canadian land owned by non-resident US landholders, those who wish to sell to conserve the land face estate planning, tax risks and other barriers. Fortunately, they can overcome these financial challenges with a mix of conservation tools which include donations, covenants and eco gifts along with project and stewardship funds originating in the US.
A central topic of the program was COP 15, the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity (China will host it in Montreal from December 7 to 19th). The UN Biodiversity Convention has 21 strategic biodiversity targets which were set in Aichi, Japan in 2018. These include a commitment to protect 30% of land and marine waters by 2030 and to recovering the losses in biodiversity by 2050. Six Targets were partially achieved by 2020, and we now have 7 years to protect an area the size of Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
Protection of Land in Ethical Space
Under the Aichi Target 1a, Ethical space is the responsibility of federal and Indigenous governments. Conservation agreements in Canada originated in British common law with legislation developed in the 1970s and 1980s followed by conservation legislation a decade later. Indigenous lands are 0.7% of Canada’s land area, however only 0.05% of Canadian philanthropy goes to Indigenous causes. Indigenous Land Trusts support historic practices, rights, and community conservation. The differences between Indigenous land conservation and measures inherited from a colonial culture include worldviews (land ownership as a foreign concept), governance (existing land trusts use a “western” approach to land securement), and relationships (different understandings of exchange of ideas).
Funding strategies for long-term conservation, monitoring and maintenance often involve setting aside 3% of a conservancy’s annual budget for land management and defense. Conservancies also use foundations and donor-managed funds to provide consistent annual funding to maintain a property. Before the Government of Canada introduced the Ecological Gift tax exemption, the amount of time required to establish a nature reserve had expanded from 2 to 10 years. The program resulted in 300 Ecological Gifts possible in Ontario since 2016, out of 1735 across Canada, with the total representing 220,000 hectares of land (83,000 in Alberta, 442 in Quebec).
The Maple Cross Foundation provides an example of a funding model which covers 30% of a land acquisition in cases where land trust partners raise the balance by leveraging the investment. To date the foundation has supported the acquisition of 40 properties (13,000 hectares) carried out by 13 land trusts.
Another funding organization is Nature United (the Canadian arm of the US Nature Conservancy) which supports community conservations and carbon offsets and connects people to the land through Indigenous groups, municipal governments, and NGOs. These initiatives in turn attract funding to create jobs and support cultural practices. Compatible land uses provide revenue and community forests allow harvesting for habitat improvement and recreation. For carbon offsets, forests are the only carbon storage vehicle that can be measured reliably, and in the case of Nature United, they require that trees be protected for 100 years.
Building Resiliency in the Face of Climate Change
How do land trusts overcome barriers to building resiliency? The Ontario Land Trust Alliance is developing tools for member land trusts to address climate vulnerability and climate adaptation which generate conservation targets and specific approaches to achieving them. One example of this is the idea of combining seeds from a range of sites to maximize the chance that plantings will adapt to climate change. Another planning tool comes out of the UBC Conservation Solutions Laboratory. It uses an algorithm that combines expert knowledge and peer literature with economic factors to create the least costly climate adaptation solutions.
A related discussion at the conference highlighted a cross border conservation initiative in southern Quebec funded by the provincial government which documented cross border wildlife migration corridors for moose, deer, and the nuthatch. The project visualized these corridors and defined ecological connections that represent viable range extensions. One of the first steps was to bring the landholders together to support the migratory corridors of the species. This resulted in stewardship agreements and signage indicating participation in the program and local governments committing to actions through an accreditation process.
Parks Canada has developed an invasive species prioritization tool to guide their investment in removal of invasive species from National Parks. Using filters and weighted parameters for conservation standards, threat ratings and conservation targets, the tool takes an evidence-based approach to ratings that evaluate threat, scope, severity, and irreversibility.
Youth Empowerment – 52% of the World Population Today is Under 30 Years Old
James Bartram, the closing keynote speaker, focused on the incredible potential of engaging youth in conservation. His work involves the creation of educational programs with an emphasis on ages 14-24 as the change makers. He has found that land trusts can attract national funding by joining together to apply for it. It is also important to know there is more money available for education and health than for the environment. The goal of establishing a broad society-wide awareness of biodiversity has yet to be achieved, so working with youth is the key to doing so. Three core components of youth engagement are intergenerational collaboration, giving young people real responsibility, and integrating learning. It really is time to invest in youth!