COLUMN: Highlands covenants being monitored

Natural values of properties maintained through monitoring program

By Lesley Neilson

Special to the Gazette

Between July 28 and Aug. 1, stewardship staff from the Nature Conservancy of Canada will be making their annual visit to dozens of properties in Highlands to ensure that the natural values of those properties are being properly managed and cared for.

The properties all have conservation covenants registered on title to protect areas of mature forest and native habitat.

“We enjoy this chance to meet with the landowners and check in on the state of their conservation areas,” says Tim Ennis, NCC’s West Coast program manager.

“Most tell us how pleased they are to know they are helping to protect the undeveloped nature of Highlands. The private wooded and natural character of this area is often what drew them here in the first place.”

The covenants have been in place since the mid‐1990s, created as part of the Commonwealth Nature Legacy, an initiative that emerged following the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria in order to commemorate the goodwill and spirit of the Games. The legacy established much loved green spaces such as the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail and Gowlland Tod Provincial Park, but also inspired dozens of landowners in Highlands to protect parts of their properties that remained wild in nature.

These landowners, representing 31 properties, worked with the Nature Conservancy, Western Forest Products and the District of Highlands to place conservation covenants on their lands to protect in perpetuity the natural ecology found there. Many of these properties are located adjacent to Gowlland Tod park and serve to buffer the park and provide further protection to sensitive and endangered ecosystems in the area.

Collectively Highlands covenants protect nearly 100 hectares of good‐to‐excellent quality Coastal Douglas fir forest, including habitat for species at risk such as the sharp‐tailed snake.

This ecosystem is extremely special, due to its rarity and the extent of its loss. Found only on southeast Vancouver Island, the Gulf and San Juan Islands and the mainland between Powell River and Vancouver, the Coastal Douglas fir zone occurs nowhere else on Earth. Yet the majority of it has been lost to urban, suburban and agricultural land uses, as well as being heavily logged.

“Covenants are a very effective tool in conserving biodiversity and protecting the environment,” Ennis says. “They are a valuable addition to a parks and protected-area system and are often desired on behalf of landowners to ensure the lands they own will be cared for by future generations in a healthy and intact way.”

A covenant is a legally binding agreement that is registered on a property’s title, and so stays with the property regardless of changes in ownership. A covenant restricts what kinds of activities can take place on the land. The Nature Conservancy partners with covenant holders to provide guidance on how to best care for their lands, while landowners give valuable feedback on changes to their lands or on the wildlife found there.

The Highlands covenants ensure the area’s forested lands remain standing and undeveloped through the ages.

For more information on Highlands covenants, or on conservation covenants in general, please contact the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s Victoria office at 250‐479‐3191 or bcoffice@natureconservancy.ca, or online at natureconservancy.ca/bc.

Lesley Neilson is B.C. Region communications manager for the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

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