Giving back to nature

Backus Woods

Photo: Backus Woods


Barbara Heidenreich

Natural heritage

Published Date: May 25, 2006

Southwestern Ontario sustains the richest array of flora and fauna in the country. Known as Canada’s deep south, this area includes sassafras, flowering dogwood, tulip trees and southern flying squirrels. It also contains the most threatened, rare and endangered species in Canada.

The largest parcel of intact Carolinian forest in Southwestern Ontario was owned by John Cornelius Backhouse and is situated in the Norfolk County. This land (known as Backus Woods) was sold by the Backus Family to the Big Creek Conservation Authority (which became part of the Long Point Region Conservation Authority – LPRCA) in 1956. What makes Backus Woods so unique is its intermingling of exclusively southern species in the upland forest areas with native beech, sugar maple, red maple and oak.

Over the years, the initial 651-acre (260-hectare) purchase has been augmented through a unique partnership that includes the Ontario Heritage Trust, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and the LPRCA. The 86-acre (35-hectare) Barrett-Sanderson Tract in South Walsingham was recently transferred to the LPRCA. (Harry Barrett was an LPRCA member from 1976-81 and former Board member of the then-Ontario Heritage Foundation. Floyd Sanderson was a member of the LPRCA from 1982-2003 and a signatory of the original 20-year conservation easement agreement for Backus Woods held by the Trust.)

The Barrett-Sanderson Tract is a prime example of how partnerships work at their best. Purchased by the NCC, ownership of the site was transferred to the LPRCA, subject to a conservation agreement between the LPRCA and the Trust that restricts subdividing and disturbing the property in any way. The LPRCA, in turn, contributed an additional $30,000 to the Backus Woods endowment fund that the Trust administers.

Stewardship and restoration are to be undertaken according to a plan developed by the NCC. The Backus Woods Advisory Committee – formed of representatives from the LPRCA, MNR, the Trust and the Norfolk Field Naturalists with input from other natural heritage experts as required – reviews stewardship plans and authorizes the release of funds from the interest generated by the Backus Woods Endowment Fund.

Two agreements were signed to direct the stewardship of Backus Woods - the Backus Woods Conservation Agreement and the Backus Woods Endowment Fund. While the documents were signed by the Foundation (Trust) and the LPRCA, they reflect the collaborative interests of many groups. These two agreements have successfully guided, for several years now, all aspects of the conservation of Backus Woods, and will continue to do so until January 2010 – and hopefully beyond.

The transfer of the Barrett-Sanderson Tract in the fall of 2005 to LPRCA officially launched the Backus Woods Enhancement Campaign – a $500,000 fundraising initiative supported by the Ontario Trillium Foundation. The campaign aims to strengthen stewardship, research, monitoring and land securement – all of which will better protect Backus Woods. Supporters of the Backus Woods Campaign give back to nature, ensuring that the forest, now standing at 1,129 acres (457 hectares) is well tended and growing.