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The Black River Wildlands Campaign

Monarch Butterfly at the Pitts Property. David Hawke.
Monarch Butterfly on Wild Bergamot. David Hawke.

With your help, we are working to create corridors of connected wilderness. For the species who call these areas home and for future generations to come.

Wetlands are among the richest and most diverse habitats, especially when located along an active river and mixed with drier woodlands. That’s what makes the Black River Wildlands so special.  This mosaic of open marshes, majestic soft maple swamps, and coniferous wetlands is interspersed with clay and sand deposits, rock outcrops, and organic soils. This exceptional variety of landforms and vegetation provides habitat for a great diversity of wildlife as well. It is home to Species at Risk, creates natural flood control, connection to other protected areas and more.

We first began talking publicly about the Black River Wildlands when we successfully campaigned to protect a 730-acre tract with more than 4 kilometres of river running through it. We named that property The Ron Reid Nature Reserve to honour the lifetime conservation achievements of The Couchiching Conservancy’s first president and executive director. But the Black River Wildlands are so much more than a single property. It was first identified by the Conservancy as an area of interest in 1994 and The Heather and Alec Adams Nature Reserve and Alexander Hope Smith Nature Reserves 1 and 2 all fall into the zone. But with the creation of a new natural heritage analysis in 2018, the Black River Wildlands stood out. Teeming with wildlife and containing the right mix of crown land, park land and potential conservation land to facilitate a natural corridor, it has been identified as one of the prime areas of focus for The Couchiching Conservancy over the next 5-10 years.

The preservation of this corridor would be one of the southernmost links to a broad swath of wild space that connects Algonquin Park in the north, the Kawartha Lakes and Carden to the south-east and Georgian Bay to the west with Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands Provincial Park as a central node.

Quick Links: Donate ~ Why This Region? ~ Campaign ~Stage One – Pitts &Milligan Property

Creating Corridors of Connected Wilderness

The creation of wildlife corridors has become more urgent in the face of a rapidly changing climate. The reality has been reflected in The Couchiching Conservancy’s approach to updating its natural heritage acquisition strategy. Working with partners over the last two years we have developed the document Identifying Priority Sites in Simcoe County for Conservation Securement. It identifies several high-priority zones within the Conservancy’s coverage area.

Through this process, it became clear the importance of the Black River Wildlands region. Mapping was done of Species at Risk occurrences, connection to existing protected areas (with land trusts, Conservation Authorities, parks, etc), waterways, forest cover and more. Consideration was also given for highest threats, protections in place, fragmentation and more.

Corridors of protected wilderness matters. These are the bridges for species to move. Corridors reduce fragmentation, which has a big impact on species survival. A UN report that concludes a million species are threatened with extinction, and the fact that many Canadian provinces could become ‘climate refuges’ for animals heading north to escape rising temperatures. We are working towards creating the starting point of the wildest spaces left in Ontario, connecting to Algonquin Provincial Park.

What is Needed?

This Acquisition and Stewardship Campaign will run over a number of years. We have two parcels in Stage One to focus on, and there are other parcels identified for potential protection in the future.

An estimated $1.2 million is needed over the course of the campaign, which could protect a land base worth an estimated $4.5 million. We currently have two parcels going through the Acquisition process (detailed below), and work is underway to acquire additional land in the Black River Wildlands region. Your donation to the campaign helps to power this work.

We are sharing specific details on each property, including the costs associated with protecting it, but there is a bigger picture. A larger connected corridor to work on. When you donate, please keep in mind a landscape of connected wilderness, laced with clean lakes, lush wetlands teeming with life. Together, we are a powerful community for good – for green – for blue – and all colours, all species in between. That is what we are working towards with your help.

What is Special About This Area?

The Ongwehonweh (“original people”) of this region are of Haudenosaunee, Huron-Wendat and Anishinabewaki descent. This territory is covered by the Upper Canada Treaties and includes the Ontario lands extending from Barrie in the west, over the top of Lake Simcoe to the north-west corner of the City of Kawartha Lakes in the east. It includes Orillia, Oro-Medonte, Severn and Ramara, contained in north Simcoe County.

The below map shows protected areas (Couchiching Conservancy, Ontario Parks and more), First Nations, Crown Land, Agreement Forests, waterways and the Black River Wildlands region. The Pitts Property (Stage One) is identified. This helps to show how the corridors are coming together. You can click on the map to view a larger version.


A Home for Species at Risk

photo: Monarch Butterfly by Ginny Moore

Some of that wildlife dependent on BRW is classed as Threatened because their numbers are rapidly shrinking – Canada Warblers that proclaim their nesting territories from thick cover; Wood Thrush whose ethereal song haunts the evening woods; Snapping Turtles that lay their eggs on sandy beaches. 

Other species find sanctuary in the sizable roadless heart of this area – Moose and Deer, Black Bears and River Otters. These wide-ranging species need large tracts of wildland for at least some parts of their life cycle, and BRW is one of the most southern areas to meet that need.

Natural Flood Control

Throughout it all, the Black River acts as a connecting corridor, joined by the Head River from the south. In spring, the riverside wetlands soak up vast amounts of floodwater, helping to minimize downstream floods.  This natural function is more effective and far less costly than artificial dams.

Quick Links: Donate ~ Why This Region? ~ CampaignStage One – Pitts & Milligan Property


Stage One – The Pitts and Milligan Property

John Pitts at Kris Starr

John and Kathleen were gentle, peaceful people who gave more to the world than they took from it. John lived in the Toronto area for several years before moving to the Orillia countryside and eventually buying a piece of land which he called the Sweetwater Farm. This 185 acre farm between Rama and Washago is mixed hardwood, wetland and high-quality alvar with a variety of species. John lived self-sufficiently on the farm, growing his own food, caring for the land, and giving his time and energy to help friends and contribute to local causes. During this time on the farm, John met and married Kathleen Milligan with whom he shared almost 32 years. To his great sorrow, he lost her in 2012.

John’s intention was to protect this place. The Couchiching Conservancy had conversations with John about protecting Sweetwater Farm, but it seemed like there was lots of time to work things out. In February 2018 he died unexpectedly.

When John passed away, he bequested $30,000 to the Conservancy which will go towards the acquisition and permanent protection of the property that he cared for. On top of that, his family has pledged an additional amount to help. We are so appreciative of John and his family’s gifts and are honoured to be entrusted with a place close to their hearts.

The land is located at the southern extent of the Black River Wildlands region. The Pitts property has 25 vegetation communities, a highly vulnerable aquifer and is a significant water recharge area. The property has an active quarry to the south west and it buffers a large wetland connecting to the Head River to the North.

Species Who Call This Property Home

There are many species who migrate through this region, and call this place home, including:

  • Monarch Butterfly, Endangered
  • Butternut Trees, Endangered
  • A variety of frogs, including Green Frog
  • A variety of Warblers, including Blackburian Warbler
  • Wild Bergamot (alvar associate)
  • Halloween Pennant Dragonfly (alvar associate)
  • Great-spangled Fritillary Butterfly
  • Eastern Wood Pewee, Special Concern
  • Black Bear

What is needed to protect this property?

$347,000, which includes taxes, stewardship endowment, staff and acquisition costs. We have $102,000 in confirmed pledges, with $210,000 left to raise by October 31, 2019.

  • Use the online donation form below to donate securely through Canada Helps
  • Send an e-transfer through your bank to
  • Give us a call and we can take your information and credit card over the phone: 705-326-1620
  • Download a Donation Form and mail to our office (Box 704, Orillia, ON L3V 6K7)

If you have any questions, please reach out to Tanya Clark – 705-326-1620 or