Vital Ground: A Partner in History-Making Conservation Deal in Canada

As a member of the Board of Advisors for The Vital Ground Foundation, I am happy to promote the following news item out of Missoula, Montana:

Vital Ground is proud to announce that it is a fundraising partner in the largest single private land conservation acquisition in Canadian history.

The effort is being lead by the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), which has made the bold commitment to protect 212 square miles of remote valleys, mountains and lakes in an area known as Darkwoods in south-central British Columbia.

Vital Ground has entered into a memorandum of understanding with NCC, and will be providing a grant and other fundraising assistance over the next two years.

“This is a unique and immediate opportunity to conserve a landscape roughly the size of the entire Island of Montreal,” says John Lounds, President and CEO of the Nature Conservancy of Canada. “Darkwoods is a conservation initiative of global significance. It’s part of a greater vision that will set new standards for conservation success.”

Darkwoods is situated between the towns of Nelson, Salmo and Creston in the West Kootenay region of British Columbia. The previous owners, the Pluto Darkwoods Forestr y Corporation, had owned and operated the land since 1967. The property connects a network of protected lands and wilderness management areas to create a vast tract covering more than 250,000 acres—enough for wide-ranging animals such as grizzly bear and caribou to roam freely.

The project cost is more than $125-million, which includes not only the purchase of the land but the endowment funds needed to ensure Darkwoods will be cared for in generations to come.

Darkwoods supports a tremendous range of biologically rich habitats: rare old-growth forests, sub-alpine meadows, serene valley bottoms, productive creeks and lakefront lands. These habitats are home to 29 provincially-listed species at risk, such as bull trout, red-tailed chipmunk, western screech owl and a streamside orchid called giant helleborine.

“Conserving Darkwoods is essential to the recovery of the South Selkirk caribou population,” says biologist Trevor Kinley. “It could also significantly affect the viability of the local grizzly population, and it will definitely influence the retention of natural biodiversity.”

Because of its great scale and topographical diversity, Darkwoods offers sensitive plants and animals a chance to adapt in the face of global climate change. Species will be able to migrate to different latitudes or elevations as temperatures fluctuate.

The Darkwoods announcement comes on the heels of an announcement by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and The Trust for Public Land (TPL) of a landmark agreement to purchase approximately 320,000 acres (500 square miles) of western Montana forestland from Plum Creek Timber Company for $510 million.

Dubbed the Montana Legacy Project, the effort will keep forests in productive timber management and protect the area’s clean water and abundant fish and wildlife habitat, while promoting continued public access to these lands for fishing, hiking, hunting and other recreational pursuits.

The lands to be purchased also offer habitat for wide-ranging big game animals, grizzly bears, lynx, wolverine, bull trout and numerous other wildlife. These lands are also some of the most popular recreation areas in the western United States.

The plan is for the purchased lands to be transferred into a mixture of private, state and federal ownership. The lands sold into private ownership will be subject to conservation easements that will restrict subdivision and home development.

Vital Ground is working closely with TNC and TPL and other stakeholders as the project unfolds.

“This has been an incredible month for conservation,” says Vital Ground’s executive director, Gary Wolfe. “Darkwoods is the largest private land conservation transaction in

Canada’s history, and the Plum Creek deal is the largest private land conservation project in

U.S. history. It’s exciting that Vital Ground is aligned with both of these efforts.”

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