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A Voice for the Land

One group’s efforts to grow good stewardship


A Voice for the Land

Imagine spending summer days at your own lakeside cottage, far from the nerve-fraying city, soaking up birdsong, the croaking of frogs, and gentle rustling of trees. Yet what if, in doing so, you risked unravelling the very natural spaces you sought respite in?

Ontario’s “cottage country” exemplifies this dilemma, its ecology struggling mightily under our ever-increasing appetite for a slice of country life. Luckily, this delicate landscape has an ally that has heeded its cry for help. The Land Between (TLB), an exemplary grassroots charity, is working to bring long-term resilience to the bioregion amid development pressures.


More than meets the eye

The organization takes its name from the place it represents―The Land Between being another term for cottage country, a lake-spangled swath of southwestern Ontario often seen as merely a rugged backdrop for holiday recreating. In fact, the region is an intricate and vital interplay of species and natural processes, especially diverse and unique because of its location at the meeting place “between” two distinct ecoregions―the Canadian Shield and the St. Lawrence Lowlands.


A braided belt

TLB’s founder and chief operating officer Leora Berman describes the significance of the area eloquently: “I call it a braided belt because it’s undulating; it goes from high to low, wet to dry, and it’s a patchwork of amazing habitat diversity.”

It can be hard to fathom just how valuable a functioning ecosystem like this is, but everything from pollination and seed dispersal to habitat up and down the food chain are key to our own long-term resiliency. Rare and beloved species depend on The Land Between’s uncommon geography.


Buffering change

Berman points to the region’s essential water services: “It’s a ‘headwaters’ for a majority of southern Ontario. Because we have an abundance of wetlands, which are dynamic and they’re interconnected with lakes and other water resources, the entire system is more elastic and will continue to provide base flows of water and flood control, which is a major issue during climate change.”

Ah yes, climate change. A healthy bioregion can help us weather a changing climate in complex ways, but Berman sums it up simply: “Higher diversity is higher resilience. There’s inherent resilience in this landscape … so it has greater buffering capacity for climate change impacts.”


City meets country

So how might cottage life be undermining this precious landscape and its ecosystem services? Berman describes it as “death by a thousand cuts.” It seems folks are bringing their urban aesthetic with them as they take up residence lakeside―cutting down trees, spraying insecticides, putting up night lights, displacing the forest duff with lawn.

This has cascading effects, one of which is a decline in water quality. “We can show an absolute correlation between increasing phosphorus [eutrophication] and shoreline development,” she says. “Studies show that when you take out all the trees and plants around a shore, it increases phosphorus loading quickly.” Septic systems and fertilizers are also contributors.


Save the … flies?

Then consider the much-maligned black flies and mosquitoes. It seems harmless enough to spray or otherwise confound them with nighttime lighting―haven’t we all wondered what those pesky insects could possibly be good for anyway? It turns out, they form the basis of the food chain in The Land Between, where 59 species at risk reside.

“The black fly and the mosquito would congregate here. Those two would feed amphibians and fish and birds―95 percent of the birds rely on insects,” Berman explains. In other words, aiming for a bug-free lakeside retreat creates a profound disruption in the ecosystem.


People meet place

Our misguided actions stem, in part, from our disconnection from wild spaces and our increasingly digital lives that leave us viscerally unaware of how ecological communities serve us.

The brilliance of TLB’s approach is that it doesn’t seek to simply cordon land off for preservation, but to build a culture of deep stewardship and responsible human integration. Its initiatives include empowering property owners to protect the lake they reside on, providing research and tools for municipalities to develop more sustainably, and engaging volunteers in citizen science projects.


Make ripples

While preserving the integrity of a pivotal bioregion from the march of development can feel like an overwhelming endeavour, Berman is unequivocal in her conviction that we can all be agents of conservation.

“What people do in their backyard is extremely impactful. They may not think it, but the changes on their own properties can have profound ripple effects,” she says. Some of her top suggestions:

·         Turn off outdoor lights (or use a timer/sensor).

·         Never use insecticides.

·         Connect and restore natural areas using native plants (TLB can offer guidance).

·         Share what you’ve learned about The Land Between.

TLB can always use volunteers for community science projects including moth monitoring, snake supervising, and turtle nest-sitting. Being a grassroots charity run entirely on microgrants and donations, TLB also gratefully accepts monetary contributions, and it would be thrilled to have anyone with financial or charity management experience join the board. Whatever your own bioregion, any local group advocating for the land likely has similar needs and opportunities for you to jump in and lend support.


Take inspiration

If we need encouragement to make those everyday ecological choices or to take a more active stewardship role in the lands that sustain us, we can look to what motivates the staff and volunteers at TLB.

“We all want to be part of the solution,” says Berman. The Indigenous council members, in particular, feel called to provide a voice for those who don’t have voices―wildlife and future generations. Although they do the work free of charge or for little pay, its whole crew is clear: “There’s no other way we would walk through this life.”


Many voices

The Land Between takes diversity within its organization as seriously as ecosystem diversity. “We hear from settler and Indigenous, from conservative right wing and left wing, from younger and elder―our [council] is very dynamic that way. To fully understand situations and issues, you need to hear the full stories,” says Berman.

In particular, it walks the talk on reconciliation by deliberately incorporating Indigenous participation throughout its governance structure. TLB uses a Talking Circle process for its meetings, practises consensus decision-making, has at least half Indigenous people on its council, and one council delegate appointed to represent the region’s Curve Lake First Nation. Western science and traditional ecological knowledge are embraced equally to inform the charity’s actions on the ground.


What’s an ecotone?

No, it’s not an earthy colour palette. An ecotone is an area where one ecosystem transitions into another and, as a result, is especially rich in diversity. Shorelines are one ecotone; the entirety of The Land Between is another.


Plants matter

How a shoreland property is designed and planted can make or break it in terms of pollinators, habitat, erosion, and invasives. The Land Between offers consultations, workshops, and online resources to help you do it right.

This article was originally published in the June 2024 issue of alive magazine.



No Proof

No Proof

Matthew Kadey, MSc, RDMatthew Kadey, MSc, RD