The work of the private land conservation community provides multiple benefits to Canada on matters that are a priority for Canadians and can make a contribution to Reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
Achieving the objectives of Canada’s Nature Legacy and Nature Smart Climate Solutions initiatives in the southern landscapes of Canada will depend on contributions from the private land conservation community.
The private land conservation community is responsible for a significant conservation land estate that is critical to achieving conservation objectives in the southern ecosystems of Canada where additional conservation actions are urgently needed.
Canada’s Nature Legacy call to increase private land acquisition through the Natural Heritage Conservation Program acknowledges the role that the private land conservation community has in contributing to protected areas targets in landscapes where much of the land is privately held.
The people engaged in the private land conservation community are highly knowledgeable and committed to the conservation of nature, healthy ecosystems and species at risk through sound land stewardship and legal protection of their conservation lands and agreements.
As compared to other Canadian charitable sectors, the private land conservation community faces unique challenges to sustain the benefits and effectively steward their conservation lands over the long term as the effort to respond to biodiversity and climate emergencies intensifies. In addition, the community has few insurance instruments to backstop legal protection of their conservation lands and agreements.
The majority of private land conservation organizations function with capacity challenges, such as few or no paid staff, not aligned with the importance of the natural assets they protect and steward. Generally, they are managing through a variety of strategies, including support from highly dedicated and motivated staff and volunteers, that enable them to fulfill their core stewardship responsibilities for their conservation lands and agreements, and build effective relationships with landowners to avoid potential legal issues.
Federal and provincial grant and contribution programs prioritize the securement of conservation lands and agreements. These programs also play key roles in providing financial support for stewardship activities that would not otherwise be implemented.
To augment their stewardship activities beyond core responsibilities, private land conservation organizations pursue grants and contributions, an effort that takes staff and volunteer time away from other organizational activities and may not lead to the securement of additional funds resulting in needed stewardship activities going unactioned.
Private land conservation organizations are primed to benefit from increased investment. Most private land conservation organizations are endeavouring to generate revenue streams and/or create restricted or endowment funds to provide greater financial security and predictable cash flow for long-term stewardship of their natural assets and other infrastructure.
Most private land conservation organizations identify the need to increase their restricted funds or have access to legal defence support as a priority. While many have not faced legal challenges yet, they anticipate dealing with an increase in compliance issues, particularly when the ownership of conservation agreement lands changes hands in the future.
A legal claim that goes against a private land conservation organization could have negative repercussions for the entire sector. An increase in investment in restricted funds for legal protection would help protect a conservation estate valued at over $2.3 billion and growing.
Similar to securing funds for stewardship, raising funds for legal protection is challenging for the private land conservation community and competes with their efforts to raise funds for core operations and stewardship.
Support for establishing and growing restricted or endowment funds for stewardship and legal defence could be provided through various means. For example, grant and contribution programs:
could accept investment in these funds as an eligible expense
support the development and implementation of a program specifically focused on establishing and growing endowment funds
support the development and implementation of an insurance program to serve the private land conservation community with legal support and protection