One of Canada’s most prominent conservation groups has reached a deal to buy the largest privately owned island in Lake Superior, a move that will protect it from development.
Batchawana Island, located 45 kilometres north of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., is set to be acquired by the Nature Conservancy of Canada for $7.2 million once the organization raises an outstanding $1.2 million for the purchase.
“The impact of conserving Lake Superior’s largest privately owned island cannot be understated,” Kaitlin Richardson, the Nature Conservancy’s northern Ontario program director, wrote in a statement.
“The communities of plants and animals that rely on Batchawana Island are unique and precious,” the statement reads. “I can’t wait for the day when we can say they get to stay that way forever.”
The roughly 2,100-hectare island is home to several significant animal and tree species and has been owned by American investor Joe Acheson for the last 20 years.
Acheson owns several parcels of land in Ontario’s Algoma District and listed Batchawana Island for sale in February 2022, the Nature Conservancy said.
Rob Cormier, the president of Sault Ste. Marie natural resource surveying company R&B Cormier Inc. that has worked with the island’s American owner since 2012, said Acheson had for years intended to establish an exclusive sport fishing, hunting and Olympic training club funded by logging. But local opposition to a mainland barge dock and some necessary permits got in the way of that plan.
Michigan logging companies interested in bringing the island’s lumber to their markets were deterred by the same complications, Cormier said, noting Batchawana is home to valuable sugar maple, yellow birch, white and black spruce and northern white cedar.
Richardson said the Nature Conservancy competed with cottage developers and logging operations for the island but eventually won out.
The non-profit needs to buy properties at fair market value, which can be challenging when property prices are inflated, she said.
When housing markets are hot, “it’s harder for the NCC to compete because there are so many offers flying around and people have a lot of expendable income,” she said. The economic downturn in the U.S. may have made the island’s return on investment less attractive to other possible buyers, she added.
The island’s 27 kilometres of shoreline includes features ranging from sand beaches to cobblestone and rock cliffs and provides habitats for 36 provincially significant birds, Richardson said.
The island is also home to forests teeming with moose, wolves and bears, as well as wetlands with potential to store carbon that’s equivalent to the energy used by 500,000 homes, the Nature Conservancy said.
The island is within the ancestral land of the Batchewana First Nation, who the conservancy kept informed on the status of their island bid throughout the past year, Richardson added.
Contributions to the conservancy’s purchase effort came from major private donors, foundation partners, government grants and the community at large, Richardson said, adding she’s confident the organization will be able to raise the outstanding funds required by May 9 to secure the deal.
The purchase, she said, will mark a significant achievement.
“We’ll be talking about it for years. And we won’t have to talk about it as the one that got away,” she said. “We’re really excited.”
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.