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Pandemic has served as a reminder of nature's 'awesome power'

'In this age of apps and smart phones, who would have predicted we’d soothe our souls with a simple walk in the woods?' says Couchiching Conservancy official

Today marks exactly one year from the time a global pandemic was declared.

Just days before that declaration, The Couchiching Conservancy hosted its annual general meeting (AGM), with over 250 members, volunteers and supporters coming together (in person!) to celebrate the organization’s accomplishments.

Although this year’s AGM looked a lot different, the enthusiasm was still there. Over 350 people registered for the virtual event on March 6 to learn about the organization’s activities and enjoy a mini film festival highlighting the year’s accomplishments.

Despite the challenges of 2020, there was lots of good news shared, especially for those who love the outdoors and value nature.

In his annual report to the AGM gathering, Couchiching Conservancy Executive Director Mark Bisset opened his remarks with the idea that “nature is rising.”

“In the before times, I was thinking about an aspirational idea… I was thinking about all the small organizations working on their small patches of the world slowly turning the tide against the wholesale destruction of nature,” said Bisset.

He went on to explain that he was certainly not expecting to think about nature rising in the form of a pandemic, reminding him that, “we don’t just need to embrace and protect nature; we also need to respect its awesome power over us.”

While adapting to the new realities of 2020, the Conservancy noticed some unexpected things starting to happen.

“Instead of pushing environmental issues into the background, the pandemic seems to have created a bit of an ‘ah-ha’ moment in the public consciousness,” said Bisset. “There is increasing talk of the need for more park space. Our headlong rush to destroy wild habitat has even been linked to the pandemic itself.

“All of a sudden, people were seeking nature in numbers we hadn’t seen before," said Bisset. "Struggling with isolation and enforced quiet, people went into the woods. In this age of apps and smart phones, who would have predicted we’d soothe our souls with a simple walk in the woods?”

This new mindset had an effect on how the Conservancy survived and thrived during 2020.

“Donors rallied to our aid. People contacted us to let us know that they would be making their donation much earlier in the year, and that we were to use them for whatever was most needed,' Bisset said.

As staff members completely re-created events and programs, participation and results were encouraging. The annual Carden Challenge was adapted and offered as an “at-home” event, which resulted in triple the number of participants and exploded previous fundraising records.

Citizen science volunteers monitored 31 reserves and easements and ended up breaking a record in submissions of conservation data to the province. More than 320 species-at-risk observations were made, including the first sighting of a spotted turtle (an endangered species) in 29 years in one of the Conservancy’s priority areas.

In addition,  two new properties were added to the list of special areas protected by the Conservancy – the Dr. Ron Taylor Nature Reserve and the Whitney Wetland Nature Reserve.

The challenges of 2020 have led to some remarkable accomplishments by the Conservancy, thanks to its many volunteers and supporters, along with a creative staff team.

Encouraged by the noticeable mind shift of 2020, Bisset wonders if it will create the conditions for change, when it comes to the preservation of nature.

“I think it’s bound to move people a little closer to the idea that wild places are more than just empty spaces to be paved over. And that’s one of the conditions we need to realize a world in which nature is rising," he concluded.

You can find a full recap of the AGM proceedings, as well as the mini film festival at The Couchiching Conservancy website.