Chelsea couple’s gift bolsters Gatineau Park eco-corridor
If you love something, set it free.
This catchphrase captures the spirit of the recent substantial land donation made by Chelsea couple, Mark Wilson and Maryse Dionne, to Action Chelsea for the Respect of the Environment (ACRE).
“It is quite something that Mark and Maryse had this big piece of land that they love, with a lot of economic value, and they gave it away to a land trust,” said ACRE’s Olaf Jensen. They officially signed the land over to ACRE, a non-profit organization made up of concerned citizens working towards an environmentally-healthy community, on Oct. 3
The 42-acre Forêt Wilson-Dionne Forest is one of the few remaining, large, undeveloped properties in Chelsea. The tract of land lies east of Hwy. 5 and west of the Larrimac golf course. It is also adjacent to the Jolicoeur-McMartin property, another large piece of forest ACRE is in the advanced stage of acquiring.
The couple have a long history in the Hills. They built their home and raised their family in Chelsea and said they have always enjoyed using the land.
“In winter, we would go up and clear off one of the ponds to make a rink,” said Wilson.
“Even this morning we were there walking the dog,” added Dionne. “I said to Mark, ‘Wow, it’s so great to know the land is going to stay like this.”
Stephen Woodley, president of ACRE, described the gift “as a really special one.” Not only is it a substantial and beautiful property, he explained, but it is part of the Larrimac ecological corridor.
In 2010, the National Capital Commission (NCC) undertook a mapping study to identify ecological corridors or areas adjacent to the park, important for maintaining its ecological integrity. ACRE then stepped in, according to Jensen, and decided to focus on protecting the lands that fall within these areas.
“That’s why Mark and Maryse’s land is so important,” explained Jensen. “It helps not only protect the biodiversity and the environment in Chelsea, but it helps protect the ecological integrity of the Gatineau Park as a whole.”
There is momentum in land trust work, and gifts like these are, in part, a result of the twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change, said Jensen.
“There’s a lot of interest right now in conservation and protected areas. There’s funding available to support this work and the communities are super engaged, so it’s a good time to have a land trust operating in the area,” Jensen explained.
There is federal and provincial grant funding available but, “the only way to access that funding is to find matching funds within the community,” Jensen added.
He described the high level of community engagement in ACRE’s conservation work as, “perhaps the most interesting part of this story.” He observed that people are increasingly aware of the threat of climate change and biodiversity loss, and they want to do something about it. “People have been very, very generous,” he said.
For their part, Wilson and Dionne said they want people to know, “it’s not that hard to make a donation.” They describe the gift as a “win, win, win,” and explain that you can stick with your values, preserve and share the land, while still getting some financial benefit. They describe ACRE as an impressive organization and “wonderful to work with.”
Public support is part of the creative approach Woodley said Canada needs to meet its 2030 target of protecting 30 per cent of all lands, seas, and freshwater.
Currently the country is protecting 13.5 per cent, so there is some work to do. Quebec is at 16.7 per cent, according to Jensen. He said, “Quebec is doing fairly well and is one of the few jurisdictions in Canada that has made a commitment to those big international targets and really wants to make progress.”
As most land in Canada is not federal but provincial Crown land, Canada can’t reach that target without the support of the provinces and territories, explained Jensen.
Members of the public can make land donations through the Ecological Gifts Program. The program is administered by Environment and Climate Change Canada and the Quebec’s Ministry of the Environment, and was key to the success of the Forêt Wilson-Dionne Forest project and others like it, according to Jensen.
“In the past, you could donate a painting to a museum and receive a charitable tax receipt,” explained Jensen. “About 20 years ago the environmental movement said, ‘How come you can donate a painting of a landscape and get a tax credit, but you can’t donate the landscape and get a tax credit?’”
Now the program offers a charitable tax receipt for gifts of land of ecological value, and this provides an incentive for donors, he explained.
Forêt Wilson-Dionne contains mature sugar maples, hemlocks, and white pines, ponds, wetlands, and several species at risk, including painted turtles and trilliums. It is an important corridor for animals and connects wildlife to the Gatineau Park.
Existing trails in the forest will be maintained by ACRE. A commitment ACRE makes to all donors and the community is that the public “will have access to the land to connect with nature, ski, snowshoe, walk, cycle, and do all the things we like doing here,” said Jensen.
Wilson and Dionne said they love this land. Through their donation, now everyone in the Hills can too. ACRE expresses that it is “very grateful for their generosity.”
ACRE is involved in several other land trust initiatives in Chelsea, La Pêche, and the Pontiac, including the Hundred Acre Wood in Wakefield. Some have been finalized and others are still in the works. To see ACRE’s protected areas and initiatives, go to acrechelsea.qc.ca. For maps of the NCC eco-corridors see natureconservancy.ca.