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Environment Canada: Generous Donation to Canadians-Milestone-Ecogift Protects Rare Alvar Habitat

Press release from Environment Canada | June 13, 2006

Orillia, Ontario - The Honourable Rona Ambrose, Minister of the Environment, today announced the donation of Canada's 500th ecological gift, namely the Prairie Smoke nature reserve.
"The donation of the Prairie Smoke property marks an important milestone in the Ecological Gifts Program. It will become part of the 46,000 hectares of donated private land already in protection under this program - a significant contribution by Canadian landowners"
- Minister Ambrose


This brings the total value of ecological gift lands to more than $150 million dollars. The property is 275 hectares of a rare type of habitat and is located near Orillia, Ontario.

The Ecological Gifts Program enables landowners to create a natural legacy and protect family lands, while benefiting from specific tax benefits. Many Canadians who own wetlands, woodlands and other wildlife habitats cherish their land and want to see its natural features preserved.

"The donation of the Prairie Smoke property marks an important milestone in the Ecological Gifts Program. It will become part of the 46,000 hectares of donated private land already in protection under this program - a significant contribution by Canadian landowners", said Minister Ambrose. "This is a realistic, results-oriented approach to protecting our environment," added Minister Ambrose. "The Government's introduction of a new tax incentive for donations of sensitive lands demonstrates our firm commitment to real environmental solutions and economic benefits to Canadians."

The Prairie Smoke nature reserve, donated by Karen Popp of Brechin, Ontario, to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, is the latest addition to a network of nature reserves across Canada. Prairie Smoke is part of the Carden Plain, home to globally rare occurrences of alvar, a prairie-like ecosystem situated over limestone bedrock. This seemingly harsh environment is home to many rare and uncommon species - from a blanket of native wildflowers, such as the namesake Prairie Smoke, to endangered birds, such as the Eastern Loggerhead Shrike. In addition, the donated land is in the centre of an internationally recognized Important Bird Area (IBA). IBAs are sites that provide essential habitat for one or more species of birds.

In recognition of these generous donations of land by Canadians, the Government of Canada announced in Budget 2006 that Ecological Gifts made after May 2, 2006 will be exempt from the capital gains inclusion for income tax purposes.

An ecological gift is a donation of land or an interest in land - such as a conservation easement, covenant or servitude - that has been certified as "ecologically sensitive" according to specific national and provincial criteria, to an approved environmental charity or any level of government. Ecologically sensitive lands are areas or sites that currently, or could in the future, significantly contribute to the conservation of Canada's biodiversity and environmental heritage. In exchange for their gift, donors of certified ecologically sensitive lands enjoy special income tax provisions specific to their gift. Ecological gifts receive tax treatment that is different from most other charitable gifts. Some benefits that they may receive are reduced taxable capital gain on the disposition of the property; no income limit for calculating the tax credit/deduction; donation value certified by the Government of Canada; and a tax liability for donees that do not protect the gifted land.


editors note BACKGROUNDER

Ecological Gifts Program

The Ecological Gifts Program (EGP) was established in 1995 through changes to the Income Tax Act. Budget 2006 proposes further enhancements regarding the elimination of the capital gains inclusion on donations of ecologically sensitive land.

The EGP is a significant tool that can be used to conserve biological diversity on private lands. It is donor-driven and completely voluntary.

To protect the public interest, Environment Canada is responsible for certifying:

- the eligibility of charitable recipient organizations;

- the ecological sensitivity of the donation; and

- the fair market value of the donation.

To ensure the perpetual protection of the donation, there are special tax liabilities for recipients of ecogifts if changes to the gift are not authorized by Environment Canada.

Since 1995 hundreds of Canadians have donated 504 ecological gifts, protecting over 46,000 hectares of ecologically sensitive land, valued at nearly $150 million. More than one-third of these ecogifts contain habitats designated as having national or provincial importance and many include rare or threatened habitats for species at risk. Ecological gifts have been made in every province in Canada, ranging from tidal flats in Nova Scotia to rare Garry Oak savanna communities on British Columbia's gulf islands.

Ecogifts can be donations of outright title or certain interests in land, including conservation covenants, easements and servitudes.

Donations of conservation covenants, easements and servitudes are only possible because of complementary legislation enacted by the provinces and provide an excellent example of federal/provincial cooperation in the conservation of natural capital and biological diversity on private lands in Canada.

Prairie Smoke Nature Reserve

The Prairie Smoke Nature Reserve, located near Orillia, Ontario is the 500th milestone gift for Environment Canada's Ecological Gifts Program. Its flat limestone landscape forms a globally-rare type of habitat known as an alvar. These unique windswept communities are situated on limestone with very little or no soil, resulting in a vegetation community consisting mainly of wildflowers, grasses and juniper shrubs, many of which are only found in this type of specialised ecosystem. The land is subject to spring flooding and summer drought.

Alvars occur only in the eastern European Baltic region or in the North American Great Lakes basin. Of the North American alvars almost 75% occur within Ontario. Due to the limestone at the surface, alvars are most at risk from quarrying activities.

Prairie Smoke is within the Carden Plain, an internationally recognized Important Bird Area (IBA). IBAs are sites that provide essential habitat for one or more species of birds. In this case, Carden Plain is a nationally significant bird breeding area because of the endangered Eastern Loggerhead Shrike and other grassland birds.

The Prairie Smoke donation is an excellent example of the partnerships and flexibility involved in using ecological gifts to protect Canada's natural capital, involving contributions from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, the Nature Conservancy of Canada, and Couchiching Conservancy.

Important Bird Areas (IBA)

The Prairie Smoke nature reserve is located on the Carden Plain - an area which has been designated an IBA. The IBA Program is an international conservation initiative that is science-based. Co-ordinated by Birdlife International, the program aims to identify, conserve and monitor essential habitat for bird populations.




For further information, please contact:


Ecological Gifts Program
Environment Canada - Canadian Wildlife Service
4905 Dufferin St., Toronto, ON, M3H 5T4
(416) 739-4286
Email: Ecogifts.Ontario@ec.gc.ca

Article has been adapted from a news release issued by Environment Canada.

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