By Caroline Schultz
Ontario Nature has been in the biodiversity business for almost 80 years. We have had some huge conservation successes through the decades, resulting in permanent protection and lasting change. These successes are not only ours to celebrate, but are often triumphs we share with others – always with our members and donors, and frequently with fellow conservation and environmental organizations. The key ingredients for a big conservation win almost always include effective partnerships.
A current case in point is Ontario Nature’s latest and one of our most ambitious nature reserve acquisition projects. The Malcolm Bluff Shores project to acquire more than 400 hectares of Niagara Escarpment and Georgian Bay shoreline in Bruce County (“Natural wonders,” page 8 in the Autumn 2010 issue of ON Nature) is not only “our” project. It is a joint initiative with the Bruce Trail Conservancy, with which we have had a long-standing relationship ever since the Bruce Trail Association was formed in the 1960s. Add to this our national sister organization, Nature Canada, which has contributed more than $300,000 from a trust for land acquisition toward the land purchase – a gift that is also symbolic of the unique relationship between the two organizations – and we have the near perfect storm to drive this project to a successful conclusion. This project is possible only because of the partnerships.
Another powerful partnership is our Northern Connections program. This initiative is designed to link environmental organizations and individuals with environmental and conservation concerns across northern Ontario. In his article “Frontier conservation” (page 40), Conor Mihell describes this collaborative venture in which Ontario Nature is coordinating with several partner organizations – Environment North, the Sault Naturalists of Ontario and Michigan, the Anishnabek of Gitchi Gami and Northern Ontario Sustainable Communities Partnership – to strengthen the northern conservation voice through building capacity and sharing knowledge, by organizing events and workshops and also by offering online lectures on topics such as nuclear energy and forest tenure reform.
Partnerships can be powerful, but they aren’t always easy. Trickier ones involve unlikely bedfellows such as industry. Even more unlikely are our ventures with governments that frequently have difficulty with the concept of a partner also being a critic. While some initiatives, such as the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas and the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas, lend themselves to highly fruitful partnerships with government, we don’t get a free pass when we take on the role of watchdog and critic of government policy. A big part of our job is to ensure that our governments develop and implement effective environmental protection policy and legislation. (For example, our biodiversity charter for Ontario on page 46 is part of our current campaign to stop the loss of biodiversity in this province through more effective policies and legislation.) A wise former president of Ontario Nature told me that our message to government must be this: “We will work with you when we can, but we will oppose you when we must.” I think he’s right.