by Marie Williams-Gagnon, Transcript and Free Press, Glencoe. February 5, 2009
After an afternoon meeting in Bothwell, another 40 area residents gathered at the Newbury Legion on Thursday evening, February 5 to pose questions about the Thames Talbot Land Trust’s plans for Skunk’s Misery.
Stan Caveney, vice-president of the Thames Talbot Land Trust (TTLT), introduced various volunteer members in attendance including Don Craig and Terry Kepp.
Executive director Don Gordon, the only full-time employee of the TTLT, made a power-point presentation about the citizen-led conservation program in which they “mobilize private wealth for the public benefit.”
Gordon described thhe plans for Skunk’s Misery which is one of the largest and most significant forested blocks of Carolinian Forest remaining in southern Ontario. The large tract of deciduous forest and farmland situated along the Thames River has been identified as a Carolinian Canada site, Provincially Significant Wetland, an area of natural and scientific interest, an international important bird area and has been identified as a key biodiversity area within the Great Lakes.
The TTLT and Nature Conservance of Canada recently partnered to produce a strategic plan for the conservation of the area which is surrounded by the communities of Newbury, Wardsville and Bothwell.
Approximately 22 per cent of the forested lands in the natural area is owned either by the County of Middlesex or the Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority with the remainder being privately owned.
Gordon outlined other areas already acquired and described methods of revitalizing trails, installing trail markers and protecting the vegetation.
With Skunk’s Misery crossing the county lines of Middlesex, Elgin and Lambton counties, Gordon described the goal to acquire new lands and protect them in perpetuity. Each new parcel is endowed with its own stewardship fund that is invested so that the annual income meets the ongoing expenses of property ownership.
Announcing that the Blain property has been the first purchased by the TTLT in the Skunk’s Misery project, Gordon described the plans for the next five years including the protection and restoration of old growth forest, enhancing habitat for area-sensitive birds, protection and restoration of tallgrass prarie and habitat for grassland species, creating linkages to the Thames River and Newport Fores, maintaining and recovering viable populations for species at risk, improving water quality and habitat, support and influence of local policies that support conservation, promotion of compatible development and land uses, enhancing community support and understanding of Skunk’s Misery, promotion of community participation in conservation and increasing information and monitoring of biodiversity values, natural processes and threats.
Hoping to secure 2,000 acres, Gordon explained that they have a $3.2-million grant in addition to a $500,000 donation from the estate of Beryl Ivey.
He described the methods of leasing retained farmlands at competitive rates while farmland taxes would continue to be paid to the municipalities. T“It’s a new economic opportunity. Ecotourism and agrotourism are growth industries,”Gordon said, adding that Point Pelee Park contributes approximately $10-million to the local economy. “Birding is one of the fastest growing pastimes in North America.”
Gordon noted that Skunk’s Misery is becoming widely recognized for its globally significant habitats in addition to being designated as an International Important Bird Area and the Great Lakes Conservation Blueprint Study by the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
Gordon responded to a question from Don Nisbet about stipulations from the Beryl Ivey endowment fund. He explained that this was additional funding from $1-million donated earlier for land securement projects.
He responded to other questions explaining that they have had no contact with the Trans Canada Trail at this point and that there may be a management plan outlined by property owners who sell their property.
Stressing that the Middlesex County forests will remain under county management, Gordon emphasizedhey would apply for conservation status on the remainder of the property.
“It’s that the LLTL will only have control of their own property, not being a government agency with control over neighbouring properties. “We have no authority to tell anyone what to do on their property.”
Hoping to limit the access of horses, ATVs and mountain bikes that can do a lot of damage, Gordon said that the plans don’t prohibit hunting unless the donor has made such a request. “If the ecological plan needs it, then OK.”
Defending the government spending on conservation, Gordon said that Ontario is actually lagging behind other areas that are making much larger grants.