This is another of my recent articles in Ontario Out of Doors magazine. As per my practice, this is an unedited version.
Owning land where one of the main objectives is to manage it for wildlife is widespread in some places around the world, but not so much in Canada. In parts of Texas and the American west, large tracts of private land are for wildlife – and hunting – often combined with ranching. In parts of Africa, particularly in the south, huge chunks of land are managed for wildlife – and hunting – again, often combined with ranching.
Looking after our 200+ acres is really nothing like being in charge of tens of thousands of acres, but it’s something.
One more thing. The office locations, addresses and suggested links were at one time all valid, but things change quickly these days so some of the information in the article may no longer be correct or valid.
Growing up, I always thought it would be great to own a big chunk of undeveloped land. My grandfather lived on what was once farmland outside Sudbury near the hamlet of Wahnapitae, a haven with a beaver pond to hunt ducks on and a woodlot where I could chase snowshoe hares and ruffed grouse. From a very young age, acquiring land was high on my wish list.
Life may get in the way of dreams, but dreams never die. Finally, when I was about 40 years old, Lil and I bought a long abandoned homestead. A few years later, we built a house and started our country life.
One of the main reasons we wanted to live in the country, on our own land, was to manage it for wildlife. Lil also needed space to accommodate her needs associated with being a wildlife rehabilitator – it can be awkward looking after loud and squawking injured critters in the suburbs.
We knew what we wanted to do, but needed direction to be in compliance with pertinent laws and regulations. The Managed Forest Tax Incentive Program (MFTIP) provided that direction.
The MFTIP was a good fit because it could be used specifically to manage private lands for wildlife and also “offer a reduction in property taxes to landowners of forest land who prepare a plan and agree to be good stewards of their property”.
To qualify for enrollment in MFTIP, there must be > 4 ha (9.99 ac) of forest land owned by a Canadian citizen or resident who has a commitment to good land stewardship. Then a stewardship plan has to be prepared and subsequently approved by a Managed Forest Plan Approver.
I have to admit the preparation and writing of a stewardship plan for our property was a lot more difficult than we had surmised, despite the fact both Lil and I had degrees in Biology and had written numerous articles, papers and plans. My friend Brian Hutchinson – a Parks Canada biologist – expressed similar sentiments when he wrote a plan for his property near Ottawa.
A major tenet for the plan is a requirement to identify general property objectives – improving wildlife habitat was one of ours – and how to achieve those objectives.
The plan requires maps showing the location of the property and the surrounding area, the location of buildings, roads, trails, hydro lines, etc., and property ‘compartments’.
Compartments are areas with similar vegetation, topography and soils. For example, on 232 acres we have a bog, a marsh, mix-woods of deciduous and conifer trees, as well as rocky, thin soiled hills of mostly jack pine. With the help of aerial photography, we identified and mapped more than a dozen compartments.
For each compartment, forms have to be completed that identify general characteristics pertaining to soils and drainage and provide specific details on vegetation and forest cover (e.g., shrubs present, tree species and their abundance). There is also a section on history of the compartment, where things like past logging or grazing by cattle is included.
And that’s only a fraction of what the stewardship plan requires – one onerous requirement is a schedule of planned activities for each compartment for 10 years, as well as keeping a record of activities actually carried out.
Lists of animals, fish, insects, rare plants as well as habitat features (e.g., snags, dens, wildlife trails) also have to be prepared.
Writing a stewardship plan is a lot of hard work – but it certainly made us focus on how, specifically, we could achieve our goals and objectives.
Some of Our Stewardship Plan Activities
- Annually mow, or burn, our old field and hay marsh compartments to arrest forest encroachment.
- Harvest 80 acres to remove over-mature aspen.
- Plant white and black spruce, white pine and red pine on appropriate sites.
- Erect nesting boxes for wood ducks, bluebirds, tree swallows and owls.
- Build and maintain walking/hiking trails.
- Maintain brush piles as wildlife cover.
There’s a myriad of other things we’ve done and plan to do on the property, including – with the help of some of Lil’s rehabilitated and released beavers – build and maintain a pond in front of the house. It’s almost unbelievable the amount and diversity of wildlife associated with our pond. In the spring, the cacophony of singing frogs and toads is so loud we have to shut the door to talk on the phone or listen to the TV.
Oh, and yes, hunting activities, including planting food plots, are perfectly acceptable as goals and objectives in an MFTIP. We enjoy hunting ruffed grouse and deer on our property.
Despite what I believe is needless complexity, the MFTIP is a good way for property owners to enhance wildlife values, while simultaneously reducing the tax burden.
In brief, it’s a 10 yr program. Eligible land is taxed at 25% of the municipal tax rate set for residential properties. After the plan has ended, a new plan for a further 10 year period can be submitted.
For information contact:
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
Managed Forest Tax Incentive Program
300 Water Street, Peterborough, ON K9J 8M5
You can also call, toll free 1-866-296-6722, the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation, web is www.mpac.ca.
Other Programs for Rural Landowners
There are various stewardship councils in much of southern/central Ontario that can be consulted to help one manage wildlife and natural resource habitats. Visit www.ontariostewardship.org.
If you are interested in planting trees, visit www.treesontario.ca.
If MNRF has identified natural heritage features on your land, you may be eligible for property tax exemptions. Call 1-800-268-8959; your local MNRF office; visit the website Ontario.ca/CLTIP or email firstname.lastname@example.org.