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See “Our Places – Chignecto Isthmus

Sound Science, Strong Partnerships and The Moose Sex Project

Enhancing Wildlife Connectivity in the Chignecto Isthmus Linkage

The Chignecto Isthmus—a narrow land bridge linking Nova Scotia with New Brunswick, Canada—has something positive going for it that no other Staying Connected Initiative linkage possesses: Charismatic megafauna in love.

©  Nature Conservancy of Canada

In 2012, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) launched the Moose Sex Project to raise public awareness regarding the urgent need to protect connectivity on the isthmus. This creative campaign urges the conservation of key wildlife corridors so that New Brunswick’s moose population, numbering 29,000 animals, can connect with Nova Scotia’s endangered moose herd, numbering fewer than 1,000 “lovelorn” individuals.

This “bull meets cow” story is easily the most clever conservation tool yet devised by a Staying Connected Initiative (SCI) partner. The campaign has sparked the public imagination, garnered worldwide publicity, and is helping bring in donations to improve connectivity between the two Canadian provinces. “Certainly the idea of a lonely moose looking for love, trudging from New Brunswick to Nova Scotia, does tug at peoples’ heart strings,” notes Nature Conservancy of Canada’s Major Gift Officer, Faith Flemming.

This clever way of framing a conservation priority to capture public attention is, however, just one element in a multi-pronged conservation strategy employed by resourceful SCI partners in the linkage.

“The key to connectivity on the isthmus is managing the interface between public and private lands. We need to bring everyone together, raising awareness and cooperation among public land managers and private property owners, so all can participate.”

Roberta Clowater Executive Director, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, New Brunswick Chapter

Maintaining Connectivity Across the Chignecto Land Bridge

© Staying Connected Initiative

Canadian conservation groups recognized the strategic importance of the Chignecto Isthmus to connectivity long before the Moose Sex Project. Biologists understood that when Ice Age glaciers retreated, the isthmus was the only pathway by which large mammals like moose and bear could repopulate Nova Scotia. In modern times, the linkage remains vital to biodiversity and genetic resilience.

In the early 2000s, Two Countries One Forest and Wildlife Conservation Society Canada identified the isthmus as one of five critical linkages in the Northern Appalachian / Acadian ecoregion. “They did preliminary mapping, showing how road development and population pressures on the isthmus were pinching off the possibilities for ecological connectivity across the land bridge,” says Roberta Clowater, Executive Director for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society New Brunswick chapter (CPAWS). “Shortly after that we got involved.”

“I’m very optimistic about conserving connectivity on the Isthmus. We’re securing properties, habitat restoration is underway, and we’re building partnerships with regional planning commissions, local communities and landowners. It’s very inspiring!”

Margo Morrison, Manager of Conservation Science, Nature Conservancy of Canada, Atlantic Region

Between 2004 and 2005, CPAWS chapters in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia worked together to assess connectivity opportunities and challenges on the isthmus. Through workshops, interviews and literature reviews, CPAWS crafted a picture that brought together both local knowledge and conservation science. Their comprehensive 2005 report warned that development—especially on the west side of the isthmus between the fast growing towns of Moncton and Shediac, New Brunswick—threatened to permanently cut Nova Scotia off from migrating wildlife.

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© Dave MacKinnon

“We realized that the closest New Brunswick conserved lands on the isthmus were quite distant from Nova Scotia conserved lands,” says Clowater. Since the report, CPAWS has helped catalyze interest in connectivity with land trusts, public land managers, regional and community planners and private property owners. They hosted several field training sessions for landowners to show how natural areas can be conserved as stepping stones, and they also hoisted the connectivity flag at a number of conferences for community planners.


Conserving Corridors, One Parcel at a Time

“Our involvement started in 2008,” relates Margo Morrison, the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s Manager of Conservation Science for the Atlantic Region. “Since then, we’ve made the isthmus one of our priority areas. We’re now working with Environment Canada and Eastern Habitat Joint Venture, developing habitat conservation strategies—conservation plans that identify areas of high conservation value, the threats, and actions needed to abate those threats.” NCC is also conducting detailed GIS computer modeling to delineate the best corridor lands.

“Nature Conservancy of Canada’s primary conservation tool is land securement, and we’ve gained a lot of help from our Moose Sex Project which went viral on social media,” Morrison adds. “Obviously, we’re not only interested in moose connectivity, but in a host of species that can use corridors.” To date, NCC has completed 13 land protection projects on the isthmus, totaling 863 hectares (2,130 acres). Negotiations are underway to secure five additional parcels.

Moose photo - Mike Dembeck
© Mike Dembeck

“We’re speaking to private land owners directly, sometimes purchasing land, and also receiving land donations within the corridors,” says Paula Noel, NCC Program Manager for New Brunswick. “We’re especially interested in linking up provincially protected lands in Nova Scotia’s Missiquash Marsh with New Brunswick’s Tintamarre National Wildlife Area. We’re almost halfway across, creating stepping stones of forested corridor lands between those two larger protected areas.”

“It’s been exciting, watching the puzzle pieces fall into place,” says Morrison. “We’re steadily filling in the gaps between major government protected lands and other private protected areas.”


Outreach to Regional and Community Planners and to Private Land Owners

Connectivity has not traditionally been part of the regional or town planning process, but SCI partners on the Chignecto Isthmus are changing that. “We’ve been approaching regional planning commissions and community planning partners interested in building biodiversity values into their rural and municipal plans,” says Morrison. “The town of Shediac, for example, may be expanding its town boundaries, and wants input regarding connectivity from us. That’s very important since this is one of our major pinch points.”

One recent success story involves the town of Amherst, Nova Scotia. A collaboration between town and provincial government officials and SCI partners has resulted in the enlargement of the Chignecto Isthmus Wilderness Area by 2,000 hectares (4,942 acres) to protect drinking water and a vital wildlife corridor.

“Nova Scotia is close to being an island, with only the Chignecto Isthmus land bridge connecting it to the North American continent. Much of the isthmus is still in natural cover—in woodlands and marsh—so there is a great opportunity for conservation here.”

Craig Smith, Program Manager, Nature Conservancy of Canada, Nova Scotia

With about 70 percent of land on the Chignecto Isthmus privately held, SCI partners—including NCC, CPAWS, Community Forests International, and the New Brunswick Community Land Trust—are also helping assure future connectivity by actively reaching out to private woodlot owners who want to retain ownership of their properties.

“We run workshops in sustainable forestry, helping property owners balance economic and ecological values on working lands,” explains Daimen Hardie, Program Director for Community Forests International (CFI). “Our organization also runs a native tree nursery on the isthmus, providing native tree saplings to communities and woodlot owners who want to maintain local genetics and biodiversity. We’ve also provided nesting boxes to get land owners thinking about the role their parcels can play in the larger connectivity puzzle.” CFI is currently constructing a Rural Innovation Campus in New Brunswick where landowners can learn hands-on sustainable forestry practices.


Institutionalizing the Staying Connected Model

As in other Northern Forest linkages, SCI partners on the Chignecto Isthmus are steadily progressing from the innovative pioneering stages of their work, toward finding ways to institutionalize, perpetuate and permanently fund the connectivity effort.

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© Dave MacKinnon

In the past, government and private land trusts have focused primarily on land protection as a conservation tool, explains Clowater. But that approach simply isn’t feasible for entire wildlife corridors, which means rethinking conservation strategies to institutionalize programs that educate and encourage private woodlot owners to manage not only for selective harvesting, but for connectivity too.

“That way, you get the best of all worlds. People who want to harvest trees and also preserve wildlife benefit,” Clowater says. “Unfortunately, there is currently no permanent government, academic or NGO-run extension service to offer guidance to property owners. It’s a missing piece of the connectivity puzzle.”

“The key,” she concludes, “is that such a program be ongoing, and that it provide advice, draft management plans, and manuals that land owners can adapt to their own properties. The ideal would be to work with woodlot owners across the region, involve all the neighbors, and develop a connectivity management plan across all of their woodlots.”

“We’ve seen great support for connectivity among woodlot owners, especially with the younger generation who are showing more and more interest in doing something positive for nature.”

Daimen Hardie, Program Director, Community Forests International

Nova Scotia is close to being an island, notes Craig Smith, Program Manager for the Nature Conservancy of Canada, Nova Scotia. “In modern times our province was isolated and lost its caribou and wolves; lynx were mostly wiped out and moose endangered. Thinking long-term, regarding migration, genetic diversity and climate change, the only way we’ll prevent biodiversity decline is to preserve an effective habitat corridor on the Chignecto Isthmus.”

The heartening good news: SCI partners are off to a great start.