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The connection between Species at Risk and taxes

Courtney Baker

Something that Mark, our Executive Director always says to me is “Courtney, remember, even when you’re filing paper, or making phone calls what you are really doing is protecting land.” He says it to remind me of the importance of my role at The Couchiching Conservancy. It is a kind reminder when I hear stories from Meagan and Dorthea about being in the field with volunteers monitoring, or when Dave comes back from a stewardship visit with a great nature story, or when Mark and Tanya are taking a breather after a successful meeting, event or acquisition campaign.

Sometimes it is hard to feel like you’re doing real conservation work from behind a desk, but of course that is exactly what many of us do.

Here at The Couchiching Conservancy one of my duties is to manage our tax file. It can be cumbersome. With all properties we hold a title on, many of those properties consist of several parcels – it’s a thick file.

My objective with this file is to make sure I have exhausted all opportunities for a Conservation Land Tax Incentive Program (CLTIP), or Community Conservation Land (CCL) tax break. These programs are sponsored by the Government of Ontario; they reimburse local municipalities for the tax we would pay on our properties. Environmental not-for-profits such as the Conservancy can apply for these programs for any property we own. The program was set up to “recognize, encourage and support the long-term private stewardship of Ontario’s provincially important natural areas” and for the most part it works quite well at doing just that.  What this all boils down to is – if I can apply CLTIP to a property, the Conservancy doesn’t have to pay tax on it.

For an organization that has to raise every dollar they spend, this program is crucial.

There are 11 criteria that give property eligibility for the program.  Some criteria we will never be able to apply for, some are simple and straightforward and some are grueling investigations. For example, proving irrefutably that there are Species at Risk (SAR) on a property can be quite the task.

There are several properties in my file right now that still need eligibility. Our best option is to prove that the SAR that we know on our properties, are actually out there. We can only do this with pictures, GPS coordinates, dates and most importantly well-trained volunteers.

Thanks to our volunteers, proving SAR are on our properties is happening. For example, recently a team of Reptile and Amphibian monitors were visiting a property near Washago, with no CLTIP, where they found a group of Midland Painted turtles. These turtles have been newly added by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) to the list of SAR in Ontario as a Species of Special Concern. This means that when that decision is handed down to the Natural Heritage Information Centre (NHIC) I will be able to use the data we submit to the NHIC to gain this property acceptance into the CLTIP/CCL program, and therefore save money on taxes.

Like I said, it’s cumbersome, it’s complex…its acronyms. But to me it is exciting, and it allows me to do my part from my desk to help protect land.

So, to all of you volunteers in the field who are risking poison ivy, black flies, mosquitoes, and sun burns thank you. Without you and your quality reporting, I would have no chance of success with my work.

I rely on you every day and so I would like to say thank you, thank you, a million times thank you!

Courtney Baker is the Administrative Assistant at The Couchiching Conservancy, a land trust protecting nature for future generations.

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