July 12, 2022
What is the Nature Trust of BC and what is its role in its conservation efforts?

Dr. Jasper Lament

CEO, The Nature Trust of BC

Dr. Lament was born and raised in Vancouver and the Fraser Valley. He brings a lifelong love of wildlife and two decades of biology, conservation and non-profit experience to his role leading The Nature Trust of BC’s land conservation work.

He holds a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Biology and Geography from Queen’s University and a PhD in Biology from the University of Miami, Florida.

Prior to joining The Nature Trust of BC, Jasper worked in environmental roles at BC Hydro and at a conservation NGO in the USA. He hasmanaged coastal wetland restoration projects in California and served for five years on the staff of the North American Wetlands Conservation Council (US).

He now serves on the Ministers Wildlife Advisory Council, helping BC deliver on Together for Wildlife.

Jasper is a strong believer in conservation partnerships. He currently serves on the board of the Pacific Birds Habitat Joint Venture, which works across the Canada/US border. He also serves on the North American Wetlands Conservation Council (Canada). For the past 10 years, Jasper has led The Nature Trust of BC as CEO where he oversees their successful land acquisition and conservation program. This non-profit organization now protects 179,000 acres and over 500 properties across the province.

The Nature Trust is working to protect vulnerable habitats, to save species at risk and to help mitigate climate change through nature-based solutions. By caring for nature, nature will care for us.

Dr. Lament enjoys spending time exploring BC’s outdoors with his wife and young children.

Interactive Nature Trust of BC Property Map: https://tntbc.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=2d0f0c100a0147c49872e2b0bdfe5c50

Cornell Study: https://www.birds.cornell.edu/home/bring-birds-back/#:~:text=Forests%20alone%20have%20lost%201,North%20America’s%20ecosystem%20is%20unraveling.

Dr. Lament was introduced by Peter Speer.

Transcription Summary

With over 50,000 species, BC is Canada’s most biodiverse province or territory. However, over 90% of these species have not yet been assessed for their conservation status. Almost half of the assessed species are at risk of extinction. According to a recent study from Cornell University, North America has lost nearly 3 billion birds since 1970. The situation is looking pretty grim The Nature Trust of BC (NTBC) has been working over the last 51 years to help protect the biodiversity and habitats of BC. Their CEO, Dr. Jasper Lament, shared more about their work, their strategy moving forward, and how folks can support ongoing conservation efforts.

Founded in 1971, NTBC’s mission is to secure and manage ecologically significant lands to conserve BC’s biological diversity. Unlike many other organizations in the environmental sector, NTBC does not engage in advocacy or environmental education. They take a critical science-backed approach to select key properties for biodiversity conservation. Their board comprises a blend of business people, biologists, academics, and conservationists from across the province with complementary experiences and expertise.

One of the best ways to protect these species is to protect their habitat. To date, NTBC has secured over 500 properties totalling 180,000 acres for conservation purposes. The properties are concentrated in several regions of BC. These lands have the highest biodiversity, are most threatened, and have the highest percentage of BC’s privately-owned properties. These include the Coastal Douglas-fir zone on the east coast of Vancouver Island and on the mainland and the Dry Interior zone.

The Okanagan is a particularly vital area when it comes to conservation. It has Canada’s highest concentration of species at risk and is known as a biodiversity hot spot. NTBC’s Antelope Brush Conservation Area has more than 20 species at risk, including pallid bats, snakes, and the Behr’s Hairstreak butterfly, which cannot complete its lifecycle without antelope brush. The antelope brush ecosystem not only provides excellent habitat for many of BC’s endangered species but also lends itself to ideal grape-growing conditions for all of the delicious BC wine we enjoy so much, making it highly sought after.

The Southern Gulf Islands are another biodiversity hotspot. Unfortunately, most of this habitat has been fragmented into small lots. NTBC was lucky enough to come across an opportunity to purchase one sizeable 150-acre chunk of this intact habitat on Saturna Island recently, thanks to a conservation-minded individual who was willing to provide a discount on the land.

Our presenter’s favourite NTBC property is the Salmon River Conservation Area. This is a vital estuary for migratory birds and supports steelhead runs, all five salmon species, Dolly Varden, and Sea-run Cutthroat trout. The area has also, unfortunately, sustained large amounts of industrial and residential impacts. Over the course of 42 years, NTBC has made six acquisitions totalling 937 acres to protect and restore this habitat. They claim that the largest Steelhead on the Island come through there, and even grizzly bears have swum over from the mainland and recolonized the area to snack on the bountiful fish over the last couple of years. This property is part of the Enhancing Estuary Resiliency program, which works with Coastal First Nations to enhance the long-term sustainability and health of wild BC fish stocks. Through this program, 15 estuaries are being studied, with several undergoing restoration on Vancouver Island, the Central Coast, and Haida Gwaii. This science-based initiative uses field techniques developed by the National Oceanographic Association to study the resilience of estuaries in the face of climate change and sea level rise projections. Using this data, NTBC can prioritize the acquisitions of estuaries that are more likely to remain functional over the next century.

While it would be nice to simply move on to the next project after acquiring a property, they must also manage them. Every summer, NTBC trains a new batch of young environmentalists to join their conservation field crew. This next generation of conservation professionals control invasive species, repair fences, monitor plants, engage with the local communities, and work with wildlife researchers within the conservation areas. Of course, NTBC isn’t doing all of this work on its own. They also work in diverse partnerships with many governments, NGOs, and First Nations to manage the lands.

NTBC has been steadily acquiring about $3.3 million worth of land annually over the last 15 years, but over this period, the footprint of that conservation impact kept shrinking. With more and more people looking to buy in BC, the ever-rising cost of real estate has made it much harder to protect these high-competition areas of the province. In 2019, NTBC committed to accelerating land acquisition by seeking out larger properties as part of their strategic plan. By purchasing larger properties in the $3-6 million range, they’ll avoid the high competition common in the $1 million range and see more bang for their buck overall.

Indeed, acquiring these lands takes a lot of money. Folks can help NTBC achieve its mission by telling their friends and families about their work. The organization is hosting a fundraising gala on October 6th. You can donate today or leave a legacy gift for the future as Patrick Oswald did. The next property on their wishlist is White Lake Basin in the heart of the Okanagan. Donations help NTBC make bigger and bolder plays for biodiversity protection before land gets even more expensive and fragmented.

Q & A Transcription

Question: When it comes to your various partnerships, are you also connected with the academic institutions, particularly the universities, colleges, and even down to the secondary level in terms of getting young folks involved? You have your conservation field teams. Does it go beyond that? I didn’t see them on your slide with all of the various partnerships.

nswer: Great Question. I don’t think that we have them on that particular slide, but Simon Fraser University is a key partner in that. There’s a professor of salmon watersheds there, and he and his team of grad students are a key part of that partnership. We’ve assembled a scientific advisory committee to help oversee the work of the Enhancing Estuary Resilience Program, and those folks at SFU are a key part of that.

More broadly, in terms of how we engage academics in our work – I mentioned our ecological assessment tool that we use to evaluate all of our potential acquisitions of land. So that tool was developed in partnership with UBC, with the Conservation Biology Lab under the leadership of Dr. Peter Arcese. So Peter Arcese was another past chair of the Nature Trust, who was after Dick and Peter, and he and his postdocs and grad students helped us to develop a tool that uses Geographic Information Systems and the best available data to assess the ecological value of every property that we currently own and have conserved, and properties that we’re considering acquiring in the future. So it’s another example of academic partnerships.

And then the third one I’d say is BCIT. BCIT produces a lot of our conservation field crew members. We find that their Fish and Wildlife Restoration program is a great program for training students that have an interest in the work that we do on the ground. So, we hire a lot of them, and some of them choose to do projects on studying various aspects of our properties, mostly in the Lower Mainland. So there are some examples of how we work with SFU, UBC, and BCIT on that front.

Question from Tim: I understand from being involved with various charity organizations that it’s always much easier to raise money for capital projects than it is for operating expenses. You were emphasizing that you don’t just acquire the lands – you then have to maintain them. I just wonder what portion of your budget is operating expenses and how you manage to fund those? Have you built up an endowment fund which produces income? How is that handled?

Answer: Great question, Tim. I’d say that’s very true in our case. Fundraising for land acquisition seems to capture people’s hearts and wallets a lot more efficiently than fundraising for paying property taxes, Petro Canada invoices, BC Hydro bills, and the other things that are a necessary part of operating a conservation organization. So, one of the ways that we do that is we fundraise a land management endowment for each and every property that we acquire. So, we fundraise the purchase price and the transaction costs (which include real estate lawyers, real estate appraisals, that type of thing), but then we also fundraise a land management endowment. That land management endowment is invested, and then we use the proceeds from that to help cover those operating costs that are challenging to fundraise for. So that’s a key part of our model. When we were set up back in 1971, we were launched with an initial grant from the federal government under Pierre Trudeau. So that was $4.5 million in 1971, and the board of the day made the first of its very wise decisions, which was to use that as capital to fund future projects. So we actually still have that $4.5 million in our investment portfolio. Through fundraising and careful stewardship, we’ve grown that to about $40 million. So, the revenue from our endowment helps us to sustain our operating costs and, more importantly, to steward the properties that have been entrusted to us. So, those are some of the key tools and then we also are constantly writing grant proposals to do specific habitat restoration projects to go above and beyond just the basic operations and maintenance of our properties.

Question: Could you speak a bit more about your working relationships with Indigenous groups. They have a great reputation for conservation and wanting to protect that. But I would imagine that their views diverge from yours on land acquisition. I wonder if you could speak a bit more to those different issues, please?

Answer: Great question. I’d say that conservation in BC, like many aspects of life in BC, is definitely evolving in terms of the involvement and the relationship of Indigenous peoples in conservation. So, in my free time, I’m on an advisory council appointed by the provincial minister responsible for wildlife to advise them on how they are going to do conservation of wildlife in the future, and the province is undertaking a process to move towards co-management, that’s the word that they use. So managing Fish and Wildlife cooperatively with Indigenous groups. And so, that’s the direction that our government is going in, and it reflects a shift certainly in how government operates and how conservation is going to be done in BC. So I’d say our estuary project is a great example of building those partnerships by working together in the field. We find that working together on common goals in terms of like restoring habitat in an Indigenous group’s traditional territory is a good way to get to know each other, to build trust, and to find common ground. So that’s been key. You know, we have properties all across the province, and there are hundreds of Indigenous groups. So, it’s important to never paint all of them with one brush. Each one of them has their own individual, unique perspective on all issues. So, the relationships really are nation by nation and very location-specific. In the South Okanagan, one of the things that we’ve been able to do is to engage with Traditional Knowledge Keepers from the Penticton Band and from other bands within the Okanagan Nation to incorporate what they consider to be important – important plants, for example – into the habitat restoration work that we do.

So, that’s been really exciting because we’ve also been able to share that information with, for example, the highways department (which was impacting Nature Trust Land), and we were able to share with them information that we had obtained through our partnership with the En’okwin Center (an Indigenous knowledge organization in Penticton), and make sure that when the highways department was restoring habitat that they’d impacted, that they were incorporating the plant species that the Traditional Knowledge Keepers are telling us need to be part of the landscape. So, that’s an example of blending Western science with Traditional Ecological Knowledge. That’s another thing that’s really a key direction for conservation – how to bring together those two fields. So anyhow, there’s going to be more of it, and we’re certainly on a learning journey. There’s lots yet to learn, and you know that every relationship is different, and every relationship is important. We’re just going to continue to try to continuously improve, just like we continuously improve other aspects of our business, like our assessment of conservation opportunities.

Question: Do you get any special breaks on annual property taxes on Nature Trust properties?

Answer: So, the short answer is, it depends. So much of BC is located within municipalities, and municipalities make their own decisions about property tax exemptions. So, in the past, the Nature Trust owned some land in the District of North Vancouver, and they were not interested in providing a property tax exemption for us, so we left. But other municipalities, like Coquitlam, for example, have been very generous in providing property tax exemptions for properties like Addington Point Marsh. It’s our single most highest tax-assessed property in BC. And so, the tax bill for a $12 million marsh would be astronomical if we had to pay it. So, certainly thankful to those municipalities that provide those exemptions. Some smaller communities simply can’t afford to give up that portion of their tax base, and so we’re starting to see some properties where the municipalities are only providing a percentage tax relief to all nonprofits within that municipality. So, that’s kind of an emerging trend. But outside of municipalities, the decision is up to the province, and the province is certainly very receptive to providing tax exemptions on properties if there are no buildings and no business operations taking place.

Just one other note is that our two largest properties are working ranches in the Okanagan, and so they qualify for farm status. So, on those properties, we pay the farm taxes. So that speaks to the importance of fundraising that land management endowment because we use the proceeds from the land management endowment for those ranches to help us pay the property taxes on them. So, anyhow, that’s the complicated answer for the taxes on properties, but it’s one of the things that we build into our budget every year.

Question: How do you work with other organizations that are also involved in acquiring land for conservation, like the Nature Conservancy? How do you manage that?

Answer: So great question. The Nature Trust of BC was actually the second major conservation organization to start doing land acquisition in BC after Ducks Unlimited Canada. We have partnered with them in the past on acquiring a wetland property. So we actually jointly own quite a number of wetland properties with them. So that’s one way that we’ve partnered with another conservation organization with shared interests. Some government funding programs run through one organization or another, either provincial or federal programs. So often, we partner with Ducks Unlimited, or NCC, or other organizations to access government funds through whoever is the administrator of those funds. Sometimes it’s us. Sometimes it’s them. So there’s a lot of coordination there. And then at the regional level, in some of the regions, there are formal partnerships, like the Kootenay Conservation Program, where there’s a committee of land trusts that are doing conservation, who jointly share all of the information about potential land acquisitions, and rank them and then allocate them. So we might say, we really want to acquire property next to the Hoodoos, this is the one that we’re working on right now, and so then the other conservation organizations working in the Kootenays know not to contact that landowner, or if that landowner tries to contact them and start a bidding war, for example with us, they know that they can just call us. Because, you know, decades ago that did happen where a landowner tried to play two conservation organizations off against each other, and it’s not in anybody’s interest, and so being able to communicate with our colleagues in other organizations is really critical to avoiding that kind of problem. So overall, it works. It works well sometimes, sometimes things happen, but for the most part, everyone is pretty cooperative in trying to avoid those types of missteps.

Question from Harold: Is there a way for groups like this one to make arrangements to visit a Nature Trust property?

nswer: The short answer is yes. So, I mentioned Addington Point Marsh in Coquitlam. We’ve recently done a couple of tours of that property this time of year in particular. It’s a spectacular place to visit. There are some pretty large black bears there. There’s a lot of bird life, some breeding sandhill cranes. It’s just a really neat wildlife experience in Metro Vancouver. So, I’ve connected with Richard Earthy already, and we’ve made the offer to send our land manager out there to show PROBUS members around Addington Point Marsh and so happy to work with you if there’s interest in setting that up. And if you’re wondering if it’s worth your time, ask Peter Speer. He was just there a couple of weeks ago, and he can tell you about the experience. On a good day, it’s only about maybe a 25-minute drive from here. So it’s not far and a great way to get a little taste of Nature Trust nature.

Question: Is fire an issue on your properties?

Answer: The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that many of the landscapes, especially in our ecological areas of conservation concern, are or were fire-adapted ecosystems. So actually, the problem has been the absence of fire from these landscapes, especially over the last 150 years. The widespread use of forest firefighting at an industrial scale has really changed the composition of the plant communities on these landscapes, especially in places like the Rocky Mountain Trench in the East Kootenays. It’s some had serious negative effects on the biodiversity of those landscapes. So, there are really two things that we do to address that. One – in some locations, it’s just not really practical to reintroduce fire – maybe it’s too close to human infrastructure. So we can use forest thinning techniques that mimic the effects of fire on the landscape and can reestablish the type of plant community composition that supports thriving wildlife populations. So we call that ecosystem restoration or ER, and that’s a really critical and key activity, especially in the Kootenay Region and also in the Okanagan. And then, I’d say there’s increasing interest in reestablishing fire. The Indigenous peoples of much of BC used fire as a land management tool, so there’s growing interest in incorporating traditional fire practices into land management. Certainly, that’s one of the opportunities for potential future partnerships with Indigenous groups. Where they have Traditional Knowledge Keepers that are still using prescribed fire as a tool, then we could maybe use that on some of our Nature Trust properties to bring that back because that is certainly a key feature of the landscape that we need to bring back.

From a more practical standpoint, we do have fences on some of our properties to keep cattle off or to control where cattle are grazing. Now, the insurance companies won’t insure those fences, so when there’s a wildfire that rolls through one of those landscapes, we can lose kilometres of fencing at a time. And it costs tens of thousands of dollars per kilometre to replace the fencing. So, if any of you happen to have holdings in the fence post industry or barbed wire, call me! We actually have had some great support from Tree Island Industries in the past, but it is one of those operational expenses that is challenging to fundraise for, and so again, there’s this need for land management endowments to care for these lands in perpetuity.

Question: Is there any guide to your properties? Is public access encouraged or not?

Answer: So we have over 500 properties, and they range in terms of the allowed public access. There’s a very small number of properties that are managed as Ecological Reserves to protect extremely fragile plant communities, for example, endangered orchids or something that might have no public access. And then we have a few properties, most of which were acquired in the 1970s, that are nature centers, so they actually have visitor centers on them and in some cases paved paths or boardwalks, that type of thing. So Swan Lake Nature Center in Saanich or Scout Island Nature Center in Williams Lake are examples of that. So, those are kind of the two extremes. But the vast majority are more in the middle, where we allow foot access on the properties. So we don’t allow motorized access to our properties unless there’s a public road that goes through the property. We don’t typically encourage mechanized access (i.e. mountain biking or dirt biking) due to the impacts on the soil, the vegetation, and the wildlife on those properties.

In terms of a guide to the properties, again, I’ll reference the property map on our website, where you can click on each black dot and find out about the property that’s of interest to you. And if you have any questions, each property lists the Nature Trust land manager who manages it and who can address specific questions about access to a specific property. I’ll also just mention again that we have a couple of large working biodiversity ranches. So, some parts of those properties are close to public access because they have cattle on them and homes for the ranch staff and things like that. So, again, case by case basis for access to any given property.

Question from John: If you could have one wish come true, what would that wish be?

Answer: I love that question. If I had one wish, it would be a couple more people like the family behind MapleCross, that are willing and able to step up and make those million-dollar challenge pledges to acquire very large landscape-scale biodiversity conservation properties. So, when we have partners like that that can make that critical first pledge, conditional on fundraising the rest and on leveraging government grant dollars, that first pledge can allow a partnership to blossom to make something really large and impactful like Princeton Grasslands happen. So, we would love to find a few more families or organizations like that that are willing and able to come in alongside us and establish a partnership that can really get those big projects done. That’s the missing link for accelerating land acquisition in BC.

Question: How are you dealing with the impacts of climate change in terms of the existing properties and investments and in terms of the epigenetic effect on some of the plant species, etcetera?

Answer: I’d say one way that climate change is affecting our existing properties is by changing the composition of the plant communities. A major component of that is invasive plant species. More and more, our land management teams are dealing with plants that are not native to BC invading a given property. So, we’re working closely in partnership with some of the invasive plant societies to bring their crews in to do targeted applications of herbicides to remove some of those invasive plants. That’s one example. Also, those conservation field crews that you saw they do quite a lot of hand pulling of invasive weeds and then haul all that invasive plant material off-site for safe disposal. So that’s another key part of that.

I think our current conservation assessment tools are built around identifying where the biodiversity values are now and how to protect them. Part of our continuous improvement processes is trying to incorporate projections of climate change into that. So, where will the biodiversity values be in the future of BC? This is a pretty challenging and fuzzy crystal ball to look into. But that’s one thing that we’re looking for now to get a better understanding of how climate change is going to change the distribution of habitats. The Enhancing Estuary Resilience Program that I mentioned is an example of comparing one estuary against another so we can prioritize. If we only have a certain amount of money to spend on land acquisition and estuaries, we want to spend that on estuaries that are going to stay estuaries for the next 50 to 100 years rather than estuaries that will be submerged by sea level rising and will no longer contain those key intertidal habitats that birds like Western sandpipers depend on. So, it’s a few examples, but I’ll say that climate change is probably going to affect almost everything that happens on the landscape. It’s going to be a constant theme for everything we do in conservation. Thank you.