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Learning from our peers: The OLTA Gathering

Grant's Woods Taken by Tanya Clark

Conferences were always a bit of a mystery to me, before I joined the Couchiching Conservancy as a staff member. My only impression of them was from films of people running around hotels in suits. Little did I know how fun and informative they can be.

The staff from your local land trust have just returned from the Ontario Land Trust Alliance (OLTA) conference. We were busy little beavers, honing our craft and learning from our peers how to better serve our community, our supporters and our land.

“We were busy little beavers, honing our craft and learning from our peers how to better serve our community, our supporters and our land.”

This year, there were a couple of overarching themes at the gathering. One subject that came up repeatedly was good governance. Land trusts are charities; we have to raise every dollar before we spend it. With this in mind, we must be transparent and demonstrate we are using our funds well to instill confidence in our community. With environmental charities, according to Canada Helps, getting only 3% of all charitable giving in Canada, it is essential we employ the best practices we can when handling the generosity of others. We learn these practices, and review them every year at the OLTA.

We as a land trust are also responsible for assuring all conservation easements we hold are legally tight — meaning when we tell you we are protecting land forever, we mean it, and have the appropriate legal backing. Legalities can be daunting and that is why we come together to learn from legal professionals and one another’s experience to better our processes. It is a great opportunity for us to learn to be the best land trust we can be.

The next big topic was climate change — something that has and will continue to dominate the floor at environmental meetings for some time. There was a whole session on climate change and what land trusts are doing to address it. The Couchiching Conservancy is already taking great steps in this direction with our species-at-risk and water-monitoring programs, all powered by local volunteers with a passion for conservation, and co-ordinated by staff.

A further discussion that addressed climate change and conservation was around Ontario’s Aichi biodiversity target. The target states, “By 2020, at least 17% of terrestrial areas and inland water, and 10% of coastal and marine areas, are conserved through networks of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures.” If you read this column regularly, you will have read a discussion of the 17% pledge to protect nature. That pledge states land trusts should be included in this measure. It seems your local land trust is ahead of the curve on this topic as we already have more than 2,000 local pledge signers in support of this goal.

We spent our last session going over funny stories from the past year. The Couchiching Conservancy’s funny story had to do with a homemade cake for a volunteer event. Stories of swamps, bats and canoes are great for a laugh, but also a great reminder why we do the work we do.

Land trusts are essential because we act locally to protect our region. We are conservation professionals who can make strategic plans to save local species at risk, land at risk and wildlife corridors. The province of Ontario has a total land mass of approximately 1.076 million square kilometres. That is huge. If conservation was left to one large body, it might not prioritize Simcoe County, or the Couchiching region, or the forest across the street from your house as places that need a conservation focus. But because we are here to protect it, we can make sure the Couchiching region stays beautiful, natural and diverse forever with the support of our peers across Ontario and the continued learning the OLTA conference provides.

To sign our 17% Pledge to Protect nature click here! 

Courtney Baker is the administrative assistant and a  volunteer at the Couchiching Conservancy, a non-profit land trust dedicated to protecting nature for future generations.