The Haliburton Highlands Land Trust is reaching out to landowners in hopes of enticing them to join the Trust in protecting an important wildlife corridor.

The Highlands Corridor in southern Haliburton County has been identified as important and a few private landowners live within the corridor.

The Trust has received a grant of more than $60,000 from Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Habitat Stewardship Program and about $7,500 has been allotted to produce land management plans for a few of the landowners, said Shelley Hunt, chair of the Trust.

“Private landowners are an important piece of the puzzle, and we hope that offering a few free management plans (that will go towards enrolment in MFTIP – managed forest tax incentive program – and property tax savings) will reward and encourage good stewardship as well as raise awareness of the Highlands Corridor,” Hunt said.

She added the rest of the grant is for activities that will help them to understand more about the habitats within the corridor, for example, more wetland mapping and evaluation, and to raise the profile of the corridor as an area that needs good stewardship and protection.

The Trust doesn’t yet know the identities of the landowners who will receive the plans. They have sent letters to landowners whose properties have been identified through mapping as high-priority, asking if they would be interested in the offer.

“In return, we are asking to be able to visit the property and do an on-the-ground assessment of its ecosystems and habitats. This helps us gather more information about the corridor, as well as going towards the development of the management plans,” she said.

She said they hope to do the work this fall and the grant will help efforts to build climate change resilience and improve habitat connectivity for wildlife.

The Highlands Corridor is a broad swath of land that connects three provincial parks: Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands; Kawartha Highlands; and Silent Lake.

The area is rich in natural forests, rock barrens, wetlands and lakes, and home to a diverse community of wildlife including species-at-risk such as Blanding’s Turtle and Whip-poor-will. “Wildlife needs to be able to move safely across the landscape in order to thrive, and so it’s critical not only to protect these habitats, but also to maintain their connectivity,” Hunt said.

She added that climate change adaptation also relies on nature-based solutions such as protecting forests, wetlands, large natural areas and natural corridors. She said it helps to build the resilience that is an important part of Canada’s climate plan.

“Natural solutions can help to mitigate impacts like flooding and drought, conserve biodiversity, protect ecosystem services, connect landscapes and capture and store carbon. Canada has committed to protecting 30 per cent of our landscape by 2030. In Ontario, only 10.7 per cent of our landscape is currently protected.”

HHLT and partners such as Ontario Nature have been working to study and document the ecological values of the corridor. This has included the evaluation of 3,300 ha of wetland, mapping and classifying wetlands in the townships of Snowdon, Lutterworth and Glamorgan, modeling wildlife movement between the provincial parks, and building a database of species-at-risk observations.

Much of the land within the corridor is unceded Crown land that is in need of greater protection, but private landowners have an important role to play through good stewardship of their own land, Hunt said.

The MFTIP program reduces property tax rates in exchange for managing private, forested land with the environment in mind. This can include sustainable harvesting, or managing for wildlife or recreation, or a combination of land uses.

HHLT can offer up to five management plans to eligible landowners. “If you are contacted by HHLT, be sure to respond quickly if interested,” Hunt said.

For more information contact Hunt at chair@haliburtonlandtrust.ca or Christel Furniss, office administrator at admin@ haliburtonlandtrust.ca or 705-457-3700.

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