Half-Day Cross Border Conservation Workshop – October 24, 2022

American Friends Hires Executive Director

The American Friends of Canadian Conservation (AF) is pleased to announce that David Hillary has accepted the position of Executive Director for the organization. After an extensive search that attracted more than 160 applicants from both sides of the border, AF’s Board unanimously agreed that Hillary brings to American Friends the ideal combination of relevant conservation experience in a leadership role paired with deep and wide-ranging connections in the US and Canadian conservation communities.

Hillary most recently held the position of Director of Corporate Development & Strategic Partnerships at the Canadian Wildlife Federation and is a former Director of Development for the North American Partnerships Initiative at the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), serving as the primary fundraiser in the US for NCC. Hillary is also a founding member and current board vice-president of the Heart of the Rockies Initiative, a transboundary land trust organization.

David Hillary has extensive experience in a leadership role in large landscape conservation projects, as well as in program and organizational management, community development, external and governmental relations, and fundraising, in addition to his hands-on conservation experience in strategic partnerships and trans-boundary, international, collaboration. He has been at the center of some of the largest private and public conservation initiatives in Western Canada over the past 20 years.

Beginning October 1, David Hillary will be working remotely from his home base in British Columbia. Watch this space to learn more about Hillary’s efforts in leading American Friends to the next level of conservation success!

By facilitating donations of land and funding from US taxpayers to Canadian conservation organizations American Friends of Canadian Conservation supports the conservation of Canada’s natural resources. AF partners with Canadian conservation organizations and American owners of environmentally and ecologically significant lands to protect Canada’s natural lands, clean water, abundant habitat, and quality of life for citizens of both countries. 

Since completing its first transaction in 2011, American Friends of Canadian Conservation and its Canadian partners have protected 31 remarkable properties in 6 provinces through gifts of land and easements with an appraised value of over $18 million USD.

Promoting Awareness and Best Practices for Clean Water

Blue Massawippi focuses on the preservation of Lake Massawippi and its watershed. While the role of the Trust is to conserve land, Blue Massawippi’s mission is to inform, educate, influence and act on environmental issues threatening water quality, the health of Lake Massawippi. The organization and its partners monitor water quality and promote awareness of best practices among water users, municipalities and government. Their projects include identifying and preventing invasive aquatic species and curbing surface erosion and pollution. Blue Massawippi works closely with the Foundation, which funds some of the organization’s initiatives.

Canadians and Americans work together to conserve a watershed in Quebec’s Eastern Townships

The border between Canada and the United States may be the world’s longest international border and the friendliest, with long-standing positive relationships between the residents of both countries. Quebec’s Eastern Townships is one region where that close connection is very apparent. Two Canadian organizations have been successful in their efforts to conserve the natural, scenic and historic features in one part of the area, and now American Friends of Canadian Conservation is partnering to support their future success.

North Hatley’s waterfront. Photo: Sebastien Rigault

Just 30 minutes or 36 km from the Vermont border, the charming town of North Hatley, Quebec traces its origins all the way back to 1792 when American Captain Ebenezer Hovey encountered Lake Massawippi during his explorations of the area. Of course, the first people to discover the 15-square-km lake were the Abenaki First Nation who named it Massawippi, meaning “abundance of clear water.”

Whether hundreds of years ago or today, there seems to be firm agreement that the landscape of the Massawippi area possesses great ecological and aesthetic value.

In 1968, citizens came together to form what is now known as Blue Massawippi, an organization dedicated to protecting the ecological health of the Massawippi watershed area through research and education. More recently, concerned local residents and landowners from the US established the Massawippi Foundation (FMF) and the Massawippi Conservation Trust (MCT), to directly protect the ecological integrity of the Lake and watershed area. While the Foundation supports many activities that benefit the people of the region, the purpose of the Trust is to conserve the natural state of the land adjacent to Lake Massawippi and its tributaries, and to steward that land in perpetuity.

Robert Salthouse

Massawippi’s clean water relies on intact upland forests. Photo: Robert Salthouse

Currently MCT’s work is focused on undeveloped land on the west slopes of Lake Massawippi, stretching over six kilometers and rising up to the high ridge. Experts have noted the ecological value of the old growth forest and a wide variety of rare or threatened flora and fauna on these lands. Tom Wilcox is one of the founders of the Trust – his family has been escaping summers in the US and spending time in the Massawippi area for five generations.

“My great grandmother and grandfather came in 1890, making my brother’s grandchildren the sixth generation,” says Wilcox. “As development pressure on the ecologically sensitive lands increased, we saw an opportunity to create a means to protect the valuable resource.” MCT employs several methods to conserve land including: acquiring land through purchase or donation; establishing easements or servitudes (as they are known in Quebec); educating landowners about the ecological and tax benefits of limiting the types of activities permitted on their lands; and helping landowners understand the effect of over-development on the health of the Massawippi watershed.

The Wilcox family (including young Tom in the striped shirt) arrive at their camp in 1955.

Wilcox has had many proud moments over the past ten years during which time the Trust has raised more than $5,000,000. He does not take much credit for the Trust’s success however. He says, “Margot Heyerhoff, the President of the Foundation, is the driving force behind our success. Pat and I have been helpful, but it is Margot who has gotten us to where we are.”

 “In addition to the cash, we have received donated properties and servitudes worth more than $3,000,000. Thanks to our donors and partners, we have become a leading voice for ecological health and sustainability,” said Patterson Webster, Chair of the Massawippi Foundation.

In June 2019, the community celebrated the dedication of the Massawippi Trail. Representatives from First Nations, English and French-speaking residents, families, and elected officials officially opened the trail system that provides public access to what was once private property. In recognition of the original Abenaki people whose territory included this land, Métis Paul Carignan and his wife Sylvia Bertolini sang an Anishinaabe Sun Song. “The work we do with the Trust not only ensures land conservation in perpetuity, it provides access for families to appreciate and learn about nature – which over the past 18 months we have come to understand is even more essential to the well-being of our community and the planet,” said Tom Wilcox.

Ethan’s Beach and 85% of the mountainside are protected by MCT. Photo: Massawippi Conservation Trust

Both The Massawippi Conservation Trust and Blue Massawippi are now grantees of American Friends of Canadian Conservation,  making it possible for US taxpayers to support their work with a gift that is tax deductible in the US.

“We are very grateful to American Friends,” said Wilcox. “I would advise any American who might be considering the future of their property in Canada to investigate American Friends. With the tax benefits available, you can ‘do well, by doing good’.”

You can help protect and conserve property in the Massawippi Valley by making a tax-deductible contribution of cash or securities, by donating online at American Friends’ secure site or you can donate stocks, bonds, or mutual fund shares to American Friends to avoid US capital gains taxes while receiving a tax deduction for the current value of your securities. Contact Sandra Tassel at 360-515-7171 or sandra.tassel@conservecanada.org for instructions.


Saving Our Songbirds

Birds herald the spring with their songs, protect our crops from pests, and astound us with their beauty and versatility. The Vancouver Avian Research Centre is working to guarantee the future of these remarkable creatures.

Photo courtesy of VARC

The haunting minor-key song of the Varied Thrush announces the arrival of spring in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia’s coastal forests.

The annual north/south migrations of many bird species connect Canada and the US.  Canadians, referred to as “snowbirds,” arrive each autumn in their southern US habitats and return home in the spring. In non-pandemic years, Americans travel north to their summer environs in Canada and head back to the US  ahead of winter. Real bird migrations follow the same rhythm but for them migration is a matter of survival.  Covid-related border closures don’t stop the seasonal avian journey, but many hazards make their migrations dangerous. Since 1970, North America has lost 2.9 billion birds!

The Vancouver Avian Research Centre (VARC), one of American Friends’ newest partners, works to safeguard birds and their habitats to ensure their long-term survival.  VARC studies  the health and populations of bird species that migrate through western British Columbia, providing valuable insights to guide effective conservation.

VARC, which is operated almost entirely by volunteers, strives to communicate that migratory birds need winter and summer homes, and secure sites to rest and refuel on their grueling annual trips. One of those sites is Colony Farm Regional Park, a 260-hectare (650 acre) park at the confluence of the Fraser and Coquitlam rivers, in suburban Vancouver where the old fields, hedgerows and wetlands provide habitat for over 200 bird species.

Photo courtesy of VARC

Yellow-breasted Chat is the largest member of the warbler family. It winters in Central America.

VARC’s field station at Colony Farm is where they monitor and band migratory birds. This work also increases public awareness of environmental issues through the inspiring experience of interacting with wild birds. Since 2009 VARC has banded more than 50,000 birds of 99 species, many of which stopped at Colony Farm during migration. See if you can identify the species in this video! Data gathered by VARC is submitted to the North American Bird Banding Program.

Photo courtesy of VARC

Short-eared Owls hunt in open fields, like those at Colony Farm, during the day.

Derek Matthews, a North American Banding Council (NABC) certified trainer and his wife Carol, co-founded VARC. They conduct workshops for adults including an introduction to Bird Monitoring and Banding and a Bird Identification Workshop.  Participants are thrilled to see birds up close, and to learn about their life cycle and habits. VARC also offers programs for students, at schools and summer camps.

Photo courtesy of VARC

Banding records reveal that Golden-crowned Kinglets that nest in Canada migrate into the US for the winter, but many US populations stay put.

Recently VARC launched  the “Saving Our Songbirds” (SOS) initiative to supply 7 simple actions we can all take to protect the world’s bird populations. Currently VARC is focused on preventing “window strikes” which kill up to one billion birds each year in North America.  SOS educates the public on this issue and encourages  homeowners to act right away to create a safer urban environment for migratory birds.

Photo courtesy of VARC

Lazuli Buntings are flashy spring/summer residents of the western US and southern BC. Western Mexico is their home during fall/winter.

Learn more about Vancouver Avian Research Centre by watching the video created for Giving Tuesday  or the one about banding hummingbirds. American Friends of Canadian Conservation is pleased to support VARC’s research, conservation and education initiatives. Contribute today to help migratory birds continue their remarkable seasonal journeys for generations to come. You can make a secure (US) tax deductible donation online, or get a Canadian tax receipt by contributing on VARC’s website.

Protecting Our Parks in British Columbia: A Happy Convergence

It is a huge challenge to manage and protect 644 provincial parks, four of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites,  24 others are UNESCO Biosphere Reserves. The BC Parks Foundation is there to help!

Jason Headley

Gwillim Lakes, Valhalla Provincial Park.

Canada’s westernmost province is promoted as Super, Natural British Columbia for its reputation as a destination where visitors can  renew themselves through interactions with nature. British Columbia (BC) Parks is the provincial agency that protects and sustains the network of more than 1000 parks that make those interactions possible. It is a huge responsibility because BC has the 6th largest park system in the world. In recent years the agency really needed a partner to help shoulder the burden. The BC Parks Foundation was formed in 2018 as the official charitable partner; creating  a “happy convergence,” in the words of CEO Dr. Andrew Day. The Foundation is bringing governments, businesses, communities and donors together  to create great parks and park experiences, ensuring long-term protection for the province’s vast natural resource.  According to Day, their “big, hairy, audacious goal” is simply that British Columbia has the best parks system in the world, supported by an active local and international community (yes, that’s all!)

Day is proud of the work achieved in less than three years. “It’s thanks to the goodwill of supporters through donations and volunteerism that we have been able to protect more than 3000 acres on seven parcels of land.” A great example is the Foundation’s purchase of properties in Princess Louisa Inlet – the “Yosemite of the North”– following a $3M fundraising campaign that went viral around the world.  The magnificent, pristine inlet is a world-renowned destination, home to marine life, grizzly bear, cougars, and old growth forests.

BC Parks Foundation

A beach at the southern tip of West Ballenas Island.

The Foundation’s small team  handles much more than fundraising and land acquisition. For example, their  new  “Healthy by Nature” initiative in which the healing powers of nature are delivered through programs such as “Park Prescriptions” and “Outside Unplugged.” The first – a fascinating innovation – involves working with healthcare professionals to prescribe time in nature to those who will benefit most. And the “Outside Unplugged” program provides youth, refugees, and other vulnerable populations with much-needed time outdoors.

BC Parks Foundation

Aerial view of a boat entering Princess Louisa Inlet.

The real estate market in BC is very hot right now, and the Foundation is working on several potential land acquisition projects to expand  BC’s permanently protected natural spaces. This includes the protection of the famous Lonesome Lake – the place where trumpeter swans were brought back from the edge of extinction. That means purchase funding is needed soon. Recently BC Parks Foundation became a grantee of American Friends of Canadian Conservation to make it possible for US taxpayers to support the Foundation’s goals and programs with tax deductible donations.

Dr. Day appreciates the valuable role  American Friends can play in land transactions  or monetary gifts from American donors. “I am so impressed with the spirit of the Friends, bridging the goodwill in both of our countries to achieve great conservation outcomes.” He notes that the American Friends’ expertise and bi-national tax status can influence US donors’  decisions to give. The Foundation may target a property owned by US taxpayers, in which case the partnership with American Friends could be pivotal.

BC Parks Foundation

A Discover Parks Ambassador interacting with two park visitors.

If you are passionate about BC’s wild lands, make a US tax-deductible gift to invest in the future of BC Parks or receive a Canadian tax receipt by donating on the Foundation’s website. To learn more, visit the BC Parks Foundation.

Gathering Of People | Mabou Highlands

Fiddles and bagpipes call people from around the world to the town of Mabou, on Cape Breton Island, at the northern end of Nova Scotia. They are the sounds of the Ceilidh tradition, celebrating Celtic culture brought by 19th-century immigrants. The Gaelic word translates to “Gathering of People.”

In 2019, a Gathering of People celebrated the protection of 2000 acres on the wild coast of the Mabou Highlands and a new tradition of conservation, let by 20th-century settlers from the United States, and the Nova Scotia Nature Trust.

Protecting Place with Its People

Darkness is increasingly rare in North America but remains abundant in the St. Croix River watershed of Maine and New Brunswick. Nighttime satellite images show it as an inky corridor connected to a broad swath of protected landscapes in northern New England.

This obsidian expanse of intact forest, wetlands, rivers and streams, located within an eight-hour drive of 11 million people in Canada and the US, is a notable transborder conservation and Indigenous reconciliation opportunity.

The St. Croix River is the easternmost boundary between the US and Canada, but the plants, animals, air, water, and people demonstrate it is a continuous and relatively pristine region. The native people with the longest connection to this place are leading an effort to protect it for the future, with support from the Nature Trust of New Brunswick, the province of New Brunswick, American Friends of Canadian Conservation and funders from both countries.

Conservation without Borders – A new initiative in British Columbia

Beautiful, bountiful and balmy British Columbia (BC) has been a magnet for Canadians and Americans alike. Ecosystems, watersheds, wildlife corridors and Indigenous cultures extended on both sides of the 49th parallel north that now divides our two countries. Businesses including timber, shipping, fishing and tourism were relatively borderless, until recently. As a consequence of this interwoven history, US taxpayers own extensive acreage in BC. For example, data from the Islands Trust, the planning entity for the Southern Gulf Islands, indicates that approximately 30% of the private lands are American-owned.

BC land trusts working in some of the province’s most ecologically-significant and scenic landscapes recognize that US taxpayers own high priority conservation properties. In response, the Land Trust Alliance of British Columbia and American Friends of Canadian Conservation (American Friends) launched the Conservation without Borders program. We are grateful to the McLean Foundation and Vancouver Foundation for providing core funding for this new initiative.

Our overarching goal is to increase the capacity of BC conservation organizations to secure important properties owned wholly or partly by US taxpayers – referred to as “cross-border conservation.” We will achieve that goal by ensuring that LTABC members know how US and Canadian income tax benefits make gifts of land financially attractive for U.S. owners. Conservation can be an important estate-planning tool!

In the first phase of Conservation without Borders, LTABC and American Friends will be working with land trusts to:

  • assess the opportunities for cross-border conservation
  • determine how best to support organizations serving areas with high levels of American ownership
  • provide resources and education for these organizations, and
  • create a framework and budget for a multi-year program, if we learn that LTABC members feel it would be valuable.

Two BC cross-border transactions – one on Mayne Island, the other on Gabriola Island – offer a glimpse into the potential impact and benefits from our Conservation without Borders program.

We are building on the excellent groundwork developed through a similar program in Ontario that concluded at the end of 2018, after three productive years. One product was Save Some Green: a handbook for US taxpayers who own land in Canada which is the single best resource for anyone interested in cross-border conservation incentives. LTABC and American Friends will be creating BC versions of some of the Ontario materials while also implementing new approaches based on lessons learned.

If our work and outreach during Phase I reveal that there is strong interest on the part of BC land trusts, and opportunities for important conservation outcomes, LTABC and American Friends will initiate additional phases of Conservation Without Borders.

For more information on the program, how to participate or to donate to help the partnership and cross-border conservation, contact Sandra Tassel, American Friends’ Program Coordinator, sandra.tassel@conservecanada.org or Paul McNair, Executive Director, LTABC, paul@ltabc.ca