By Caroline Schultz

Those of you who work so diligently to defend this province’s rich natural heritage will understand that the acquisition over the next two years of a 423-hectare swath of the Bruce Peninsula known as Malcolm Bluff Shores is a very big deal.

How big? Consider this: For an average hiker, it would take the better part of a morning to walk the four-kilometre stretch of the Bruce Trail that traverses the site. The property is large enough to eclipse downtown Kingston and much of the core of Ottawa.

Here are a few more comparisons: the Bruce Trail Conservancy owns almost 1,300 kilometres of trails on 2,800 hectares of land, so Malcolm Bluff Shores represents a land acquisition equal to one-seventh of the Conservancy’s total holdings – or 700 football fields, which is equivalent to a fifth of the land mass of Point Pelee National Park, in southwestern Ontario.

Of course, our two organizations weren’t just interested in buying a large piece of real estate. With Malcolm Bluff Shores, we will acquire – and thus protect forever – a deeply tranquil place rich in biological diversity that extends from the Georgian Bay shoreline to the crest of the escarpment.

From an ecological perspective, the Malcolm Bluff site is notable because it is one of the largest remaining intact tracts of woodland on the Bruce Peninsula, large enough to support sensitive bird species such as the ovenbird, scarlet tanager, wood thrush and even the Canada warbler.

This acquisition also gives all of us in the conservation community an opportunity to reflect on the importance of nature reserves. Many of us live in the highly developed regions of southern Ontario, where urban sprawl, deforestation and industrial scale agriculture have seriously damaged the natural landscape. Our cities expand relentlessly, while highway construction accelerates cottage and resort development in the Canadian Shield lake region. Farther afield, logging and mining operations fragment the landscape and fracture ecosystems, habitats and wildlife corridors.

As Mark Carabetta, Ontario Nature’s conservation science manager who oversees our nature reserve program, tells me, “It would be great if policies were in place that protected our landscape so that species could survive and thrive, but that’s not the case. Even on the escarpment, which is protected, Malcolm Bluff Shores was logged. Buying sensitive habitat and protecting it in perpetuity is one important tool we can use to safeguard land from the impact of development.”

Ontario Nature initiated its nature reserve program back in 1961, and in the years since, we have amassed a network of 21 nature reserves, comprising more than 2,000 hectares of rare and vulnerable habitat. Malcolm Bluff Shores will be our 22nd reserve and our second largest holding.

Our reserves, by the way, have always been open to the general public. These areas truly belong to the people of Ontario, and we want individuals and their families to visit, enjoy and learn.

It’s worth noting that the 50th anniversary of Ontario Nature’s nature reserve program will be upon us shortly. We feel as strongly about this aspect of our mandate today as we did when we started the program. This fall, we are launching a major fundraising drive to complete the Malcolm Bluff Shores acquisition. We hope you will join us in this effort to help protect Ontario’s wild species and wild spaces.