Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy celebrates 25 years of protecting the land
The Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy (EBC) celebrated 25 years with a virtual gathering on April 5. The organization, one of Ontario’s largest land trusts with more than 200 nature reserves, began in December 1997. EBC protects properties from Caledon to Creemore, all along the Bruce Peninsula, and across Manitoulin and LaCloche.
EBC CEO Bob Barnett modeled the organization on the Bruce Trail Conservancy, where he volunteered for several years before becoming a founding member of EBC. “EBC has achieved a lot over the past 24 years,” he told The Expositor. “So far, we have protected 80 square kilometers of land from development.”
Professional land use planner and ecological economist Barbara Heidenreich said EBC has achieved the incredible feat of protecting more land than any other land trust in the province except the Nature Conservancy of Canada ( NCC), and has surpassed all land trusts operating in Ontario with an annual average securing of 792 protected acres per year since its inception. The next highest is CNC, which has protected an average of 517 acres each year since its inception 60 years ago. The Ontario Heritage Trust, a provincial agency, has protected an average of 116 acres per year.
EBC now protects over 18,000 acres of land that is home to 70 species of concern, some of which are endangered and threatened, and contains over 80 km of nature trails open to the public.
“How do you keep pace with 208 nature reserves and five employees? ” He asked. “This meeting really appreciates all the hard work these volunteers put in.”
“Our volunteers carry more than half the load we carry as an organization,” he said. “We couldn’t hope to manage 208 nature reserves and 30 trails without their help. He remembered “some of the people who got us to where we are, but unfortunately are no longer leading the charge” as well as others who are no longer as active, before highlighting several current volunteers, including several from Manitoulin Island and surrounding areas.
Ted Cowan was on the founding board of EBC and remains on it today. He was president between 2005 and 2012 and led major campaigns such as the purchase of Heaven’s Gate in 2021. “Ted gives me some pretty sound advice. He’s the one who has the idea and I go to him first if I have a slightly outlandish idea. He and Joanne welcome me when I go to Manitoulin, which I love,” said Barnett.
He is full of praise for Roy Jeffery of Manitoulin, who joined EBC in 2004. Mr. Jeffery helped EBC purchase Freer Point by raising funds and he maintains this property. “He maintains our trails on Manitoulin and LaCloche. He coordinates all the stewards up there. He donated a nature reserve,” Mr Barnett said.
“Next we have Linda Wilson,” he continued. “Linda has been on our board for over 20 years. She served as steward of several properties in western Manitoulin. She discusses the gift of land that she and Chuc own and she helps us in our relationship with the Native people. She is one of the true elders and I appreciate her help.
He apologized for choosing only seven volunteers to pay tribute, when there are hundreds. “I appreciate them a lot,” he said. “Thank you all for all the help you have given us and really, you have helped us create a nature reserve every month.”
Board Chair Saba Ahmad joined EBC around 2012 because of her sense of urgency about climate change. “We seem to have forgotten here in Canada, many of us, that we humans live within a complex web of relationships with our land. We were taught to dominate the land and extract resources as if they were inexhaustible,” she said.
One solution to climate change is to reduce emissions and another is to build (carbon) sinks. Ms. Ahmad focused on the former until she met Bob Barnett and he explained to her about ecological services. She became an environmentalist.
“Before that, I wasn’t really focused on this aspect of climate change,” she said. “I changed so much because I went into properties, which wasn’t part of my environmentalist growing up.” Visiting and walking through properties allows you to connect with nature, she said. “You all have to visit Willisville Mountain. Climb up and take a look at the view. Feel the enormity of this rock under your feet. It’s just incredibly moving. I really have to thank everyone at EBC for giving me these places, these sacred spaces to go and feel this connection that we lose by living in the city.
“We are a small group at EBC and a relatively small group of dedicated volunteers and a relatively small group of supporters,” Mr Jeffery added. “When you think there are 14,570,000 people in Ontario and we have about 4,000 active supporters, that’s two-hundredths of one per cent of the people of Ontario who are committed to what we really believe. I believe we have succeeded at EBC because the people at EBC have gone from believing in something to doing something and we are all people of action.
About half of wildlife species in Canada have seriously declined in population and more than 20 per cent have been at risk to some degree since Jeffery turned 16 in 1970, he pointed out. “Specific groups like amphibians, reptiles, birds, freshwater fish have declined the most and their habitat is something EBC specializes in preserving. It’s a wonderful feeling to think of all this what we have accomplished with this small group.
Few people have had the opportunity to spend much time in the cradle of an intact ecosystem, he noted. “Thanks to EBC, I feel like I have been able to spend quite a bit of time in untouched ecosystems like the incredible Heaven’s Gate ecosystem. For that, I am very grateful and it has been a wonderful opportunity to be shop steward and volunteer with EBC.
Her hope for the future is that more people will move from belief to action and “in fact help us do something even bigger to halt the decline in biodiversity and address the major issues that come with the loss. biodiversity, including development, climate change issues, invasive species issues, pollution issues, things like that.
“The guy (Roy Jeffery) is just amazing,” Mr Barnett told The Expositor. “He does so much work. He built, I think it was 12 miles of track for Heaven’s Gate. There were a few, but he had to fix everything and score. He does so much work but he’s just a man. He needs help. We keep adding properties and Roy says, I’ll do it. There’s no doubt that Roy should have three or four loyal people to help take care of the cup and saucer and things like that.
EBC protects a number of properties on Manitoulin Island, including some of our most popular hiking trails and many miles of Lake Huron shoreline. To volunteer, become a member or learn more, visit escarpment.ca.