..The Intuitive Times
Connecting With Nature


Protected Areas in the Island Landscape

by Kate MacQuarrie, Island Nature Trust

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Imagine going back in time to see what Prince Edward Island was like hundreds of years ago. When Jacques Cartier first saw the Island in 1534, he described it as "the most beautiful land that it is possible to see, full of trees and meadows". Even as recently as 1820, Scottish traveller Walter Johnstone described PEI as "...one entire forest of wood...", and it truly was: the uplands hosted species such as beech, yellow birch, sugar maple and red spruce, with smatterings of pine, red oak, hemlock and white ash. Lowlands were forested with species such as red maple, black spruce, cedar, larch, elm and black ash, among others. Imagine this vast forest of ancient trees - white pine as tall as 150 feet, or yellow birch with six-foot diameters!

Since Johnstone's time, at least eight species of mammals, two species of birds and countless plants have disappeared from PEI. By 1900, only 30% of the Island was still forested. Our "entire forest of wood" had been severely fragmented into smaller and smaller blocks. Other natural areas - salt marshes, sand dunes, ponds, bogs, streams and rivers - also show evidence of a century-and-a-half of settlement. In the words of the late poet Milton Acorn, "Nowhere is there a spot not measured by hands". Prince Edward Island is very much an anthropogenic landscape.

We can't turn the clock back 200 years, but we can get a glimpse into the Island's early landscape though natural areas. Old growth forest or undisturbed dune or marsh, for example, provide essential wildlife habitat and often harbor rare plants and animals. It's in part because this Island has lost so much of its natural habitat that conservation of these pockets is critical. It was for this reason that Island Nature Trust was created in 1979 as one of the first non-government land trusts in Canada.

The role of Island Nature Trust is straightforward: to permanently protect areas of identified ecological importance though acquisition (purchase or donation) or legal agreements with private landowners. To date, we have acquired 2,340 acres of forest, sand dune, wetland and offshore island. While some of this land has been purchased, much has been received through donations from very generous landowners (as a registered charity, we can issue tax receipts for such ecological gifts). Other landowners have entered into permanent conservation agreements. Through this process, owners sign legally-binding agreements that state how their lands may and may not be used. The owners retain title and can sell or bequeath the properties as they wish, but the protection travels with the deed and is binding upon subsequent owners. We also work with the Government of PEI to protect natural areas on provincially-owned land. In total, nearly 15,000 acres have been permanently protected under the Natural Areas Protection Act across the Island.

While habitat protection and land securement are our priorities, we are involved in other conservation work as well. Our ecological restoration program aims to repair evidence of human disturbance in natural areas and restore sites to their pre-disturbance states. Island Nature Trust coordinates protection of the endangered Piping Plover in its nesting areas outside PEI National Park (for more information on this work, see Jackie Waddell's article). Education is an important component of conservation, and Island Nature Trust has educational programs that involve people from kindergarten to elderhostel, and reach hundreds of Islanders and visitors each year. This work includes making presentations to school and university classes, leading field trips, participating in Community Schools and making free resource materials available to teachers.

We are also involved in natural areas and conservation research, from updating botanical inventories for PEI National Park to mapping remnant old growth forests to assessing the extent to which natural areas have been invaded by non-native species. This work not only helps us better understand how best to protect areas, but is finding species previously thought to be absent from PEI.

Our work is accomplished thanks to a dedicated team of staff, volunteers and supporters. For more information about Island Nature Trust, give us a call at 892-7513, or visit our web site: www.peisland.com/nature


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