Man has axe to grind with nature conservancy

Area resident concerned about continued use of lands

Published on January 8, 2016
The Salmonier River and part of the land that’s the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s Salmonier River Conservation Project.
Submitted photo by the NCC

The sound of the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) moving into a man’s neighbourhood on the Salmonier Line isn’t a soothing one for him.

“Leave it alone,” Richard Didham says.

Didham lives in Mount Carmel on the Salmonier Line near where the NCC aims to purchase two properties in Mount Carmel-Mitchell’s Brook-St. Catherines. That will add 278 acres to the 158 acres of land already protected by the NCC in the area. As with other lands acquired by the conservancy, these are privately owned pieces of property that the owners wish to sell to the NCC.

Leaving it alone is exactly what the NCC wants to do with it, according to Andrew Holland, communications and government relations director for the NCC.

“Nothing changes. It’s accessible to the public for walking, hiking, bird watching, photography, playing hide-and-go-seek with your kid, geo-caching, canoeing, kayaking and like recreational uses. And in addition to that, legal activities like legal hunting, fishing and trapping,” Holland says.

Didham is skeptical that activities like hunting and fishing will remain accessible.

“I don’t trust the people, b’y. That’s the whole thing,” he says.

Didham is afraid strict rules on land use will come into effect, even though Holland assures that’s not the case, and points out it’s not the case for the more than 13,000 acres the group already owns in the province.

“The suggestion that we don’t want people to use these lands is silly,” Holland says.

“We don’t put a bubble over it and watch the grass grow. We want people to use the lands.”

One thing that isn’t allowed on NCC land, though, is wood-cutting, and that is a point that’s knawing away at Didham.

“We’re buying these lands to protect the forest. To have people cut wood on them would be contrary to the reason why we’re buying the land,” says Holland.

Since the NCC is acquiring the land from private owners, technically it’s not as if people in the community are losing any legal right to cut wood on the land, as they wouldn’t have had a permit to do so anyway.

Really, they never needed one, though. Didham says the landowners allowed people on their land to cut wood. This issue of no cutting is the thin end of the wedge for Didham. If the land is so pristine to the NCC, Didham has a question about its natural stewards.

“Who kept it that way? We did. So what are we doing wrong that they’ve got to come in and tell us how to look after that forest? It’s not right b’y. It’s just not right.”

Holland says the NCC doesn’t like fires on its land, either. The land is preserved by the NCC for people to use, though, in any legal way and it’s only the already existing laws that govern how people can use their property.

“In fact, we often rely on local residents to quite often be our eyes and ears in case there’s fires, in case there’s illegal dumping, in case there’s other issues on our property that we need to be made aware of,” he says.

The NCC — which is a non-profit charity — still has just over $10,000 to raise before it can purchase the lands. The NCC says there is a strong possibility there will be footpaths and trails put on the land once the organization has it.

Didham held a meeting on the issue Saturday in St. Catherines.

• This story was updated on Jan. 10.