Following a recent trend of conserving islands, part of Northern Ontario’s plentiful untouched wilderness has been purchased by a local group devoted to the study of natural areas.
On one of the Thunder Bay Field Naturalists’ hikes amid the wilderness that surrounds Lake Superior, participants will hear fascinating lectures about the natural history and resources of the region – but this organization also puts its money where its mouth is. In March of 2012, it was announced that the Naturalists has successfully completed the purchase of a large portion of Bowman Island, a sprawling piece of woodland in a remote corner of the lake. Buying this land, which had been publically listed with a local brokerage, completes the protection of the island, as the remainder is virtually all owned by the Crown.
Established in the 1930’s by several environmentally-minded military personnel, Major L.S. Dear and Colonel S.C. Young, the Naturalists quickly became Northern Ontario’s organization of choice for those interested in bird watching, botany, and nature hikes. It flourished around the Lakehead region throughout the 20th century, and gradually transformed into an active participant in environmental projects, allied with larger groups like the Nature Conservancy of Canada and the World Wildlife Fund. Its founders could hardly have anticipated such a great success – the Naturalists now have more than 1,000 acres of wilderness under their direct management.
A significant portion of that protected wilderness takes the form of islands in Lake Superior. The land on Bowman Island was of particular interest to the group because they happened to own its neighbour, Paradise Island, and intended to incorporate Bowman into an already-established nature reserve. The 60-acre Paradise Island was purchased by the Naturalists in late 2007 for $320,000, through a combination of donations, government assistance, and in-kind gifts from landowners. The island is highly unique, as it’s chilly, unsheltered location has created an arctic-style environment with flora typically seen only at higher latitudes, like crowberry and lichens.
Another island under the Naturalists’ domain is the tiny Hare Island, a 4.5 acre speck that, despite its small size, is an important bird habitat and even has a resident pair of Bald Eagles. This island, which was publically listed for sale as a place to build a vacation cottage, was purchased by the group in 2008, through the financial assistance of the friends and family of Gordon and Elizabeth McLaren, two of the earliest members of the group who were there for its 1933 beginnings. With the new acquisition of Bowman Island making three isles under protection, the Thunder Bay Field Naturalists are adding to a legacy that has flourished for almost 80 years, and will no doubt continue for many more.
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