AN ORGANIZATION IS BORN
In 1994, a small group of women gathered together – spurred by concerns about the need to protect lands on the island- to form an organization that could hold and conserve land on Salt Spring. That fall they registered the Salt Spring Island Conservancy as a BC Society and began working on a constitution. In early 1995 the constitution was ratified and the Conservancy received its charitable status.
That initiating group – Nancy Braithwaite, Fiona Flook, Heather Martin, Maureen Milburn, Ailsa Pearse, Mallory Pred and Ann Richardson – was very soon joined by Susan Evans, Dorothy (Morell) Cutting, Bob Weeden and Doug Wilkins. Together, they formed the founding board of directors at the Conservancy’s first AGM in March 1995. Shortly thereafter, the Conservancy received charitable status and became the first land trust in British Columbia to accept conservation covenants.
The early board and other islanders worked with CRD Parks and the provincial government to fundraise for a purchase of the 160-acre Mill Farm, which ultimately became a CRD regional park reserve. That success laid the foundation for a land trust that today owns and stewards 7 nature reserves and holds 16 conservation covenants (the first one in 1998) – in total protecting almost 1,500 acres of the island. Over the years, the Conservancy has also worked with other organizations to protect about 3,900 acres on Salt Spring. From its inception to today, the Conservancy has also sponsored well over 150 educational events – speakers, slide shows, workshops, nature walks and more—and made dozens of presentations to various organizations throughout the community.
In the late 1990s, as part of the efforts to protect the Texada lands from logging and ultimately create Burgoyne Bay Provincial Park, the Conservancy played a pivotal role in protecting key Maxwell Lake watershed lands, ultimately holding a conservation covenant on about 263 acres. This was reportedly the first watershed covenant in British Columbia. Soon thereafter, the Manzanita Ridge Nature Reserve became the Conservancy’s first nature reserve – 49 acres adjoining a large area of protected lands around Mt. Erskine – especially thanks to the generosity of the owner, Martin Williams. A staff scientist was hired about this time, to help the Conservancy and islanders understand and protect the unique island environment. By 2001, the fledgling organization had grown to the point that it needed an executive director. Karen Hudson then guided the day-to-day affairs of the organization until 2008.
ANDREAS VOGT, SPECIES AT RISK, SCHOOLS
In 2003, Oda Nowrath and Cordula Vogt donated 73.5 acres, which became the Conservancy’s 2nd nature reserve—the Andreas Vogt Nature Reserve.
The next year, 2004, would become the first year that the Conservancy received support from the Government of Canada’s Habitat Stewardship Program (HSP) for Species at Risk. Salt Spring Island forms a key portion of BC’s tiny and very rare Coastal Douglas-fir ecological niche, which harbours over 100 Species at Risk. Over the years, the Conservancy’s HSP program grew to be the largest of its kind in British Columbia and the Yukon, accumulating a treasure trove of scientific information that supported many successful land protection and stewardship initiatives.
2004 also heralded the founding of the Stewards in Training Program (SiT), which grew from a small beginning in a couple of grades to its current outreach to every K-8 class on the island, taking over 700 students out into the field each year for a day of nature-based learning.
MT. ERSKINE, NORTH VIEW
In 2005, with major support from Nature Conservancy Canada as well as many local donors, the Conservancy was able to purchase and protect 104.5 acres at the top of Mt. Erskine, which is now managed in partnership with BC Parks as a provincial park, along with neighbouring Crown lands. That same year, the organization created the EcoHome Tour, which is still vital today, though managed by another local organization. In 2008, the Conservancy said farewell to its first executive director and welcomed Linda Gilkeson as its second executive director. By then the staff had grown to include a chief scientist, a second scientist and an office coordinator. In 2008, the organization also received an anonymous donation of 18 acres on the north end of the island, which would become the North View Nature Reserve.
INDRIDSON, MT. TUAM
In 2010-2011, a phenomenal land transaction – part donation and part sale – culminated in the creation of the 320-acre Alvin Indridson Nature Reserve in southwest Salt Spring. Key funds were contributed by the Indridson family, Nature Conservancy Canada, Shaw Communications, Islands Trust Fund and many individual donors. Also in 2011, a Memorandum of Agreement was signed that created the Mt. Tuam Special Management Area Resource Team (Mt. Tuam SMART). This multi-stakeholder team consists of government agencies, corporations, private landowners and First Nations to jointly manage about 800 acres of rare Garry oak habitat.
In early 2012, the Conservancy bid farewell to Linda Gilkeson and welcomed Christine Torgrimson as the organization’s third executive director, still leading the organization today. Later that year, the Conservancy received a phenomenal land donation—the 91-acre Robert and Shauna Makaroff Nature Reserve in the Musgrave area. The Conservancy’s seventh nature reserve—32.6 acres at Blackburn Lake–was purchased in 2013, thanks to the generous support of the landowner and many donors, the Habitat Stewardship Program, and the Salt Spring Island Foundation. This was the third watershed area the Conservancy would protect (in addition to the Maxwell and St. Mary covenants). A generous neighbouring landowner decided to donate her 5.8 forested acres in 2014, expanding the reserve to 38.4 acres. And in 2015, a unique agreement increased the reserve area by another 7 acres, so that the reserve now encompasses over two-thirds of the Blackburn lakeshore and all the streams entering and leaving the lake.
In June 2015, the Conservancy celebrated the opening of its beautiful new building at the north end of the Blackburn Lake Nature Reserve – an area heavily impacted by human use over the years. The facility is an incredible gift from a single anonymous donor – for public education, meeting space and offices. Since that time, activities at Blackburn Lake Nature Reserve have included major wetlands restoration and establishment of a native plant nursery. This nursery provides plants for Conservancy restoration work.
From a small group of visionaries in 1994-1995, the “little organization that could” has stretched and grown into a strong entity with a 5-member staff, a 10-member board, a cadre of skilled consultants, over 100 volunteers and more than 600 members and donors. With land holdings and responsibilities for almost 1,500 acres, Salt Spring’s little local land trust has grown up and become one of the leading land trusts in British Columbia! Every member, volunteer, board member, donor and grantor who has played a part in this deserves to be very proud.