After years of trying, Ducks Unlimited Canada has finally bought the almost 200-hectare (488-acre) St. Luke’s Marsh, one of the few remaining coastal wetlands on Lake St. Clair in Southwestern Ontario.
“It’s huge,” manager of land securement Erling Armson said of the organization purchasing the land in Dover Township, near Pain Court. “In terms of cost, this has been the biggest acquisition we’ve ever done in Ontario. It was a few million dollars.”
Armson said the next step will be developing a management plan for the provincially significant area, which also includes other mixed wildlife habitats.
“We’ll be taking into account all kinds of things,” he said. “First and foremost, this will be protecting and making sure the wetland remains intact and is valuable for waterfowl and other wildlife and species at risk.”
Ducks Unlimited will also be looking at “what kind of people uses may be permitted there in the future,” Armson said.
He added this could include bird watching, public access and potential hunting.
St. Luke’s Marsh is located beside the publicly owned 357-hectare (882-acre) St. Clair National Wildlife Area, which shelters more than 60 species of birds and 35 federally listed species at risk, such as king rail, least bittern and eastern fox snake.
Given the proximity of the two properties, Armson said Ducks Unlimited would be “open to a lot of options,” including an access link between the two wetland areas.
The development of the marsh’s management plan will involve speaking with interested parties, including the Canadian Wildlife Service, which manages the wildlife area, he said.
Armson said Ducks Unlimited had wanted to buy this wetland – originally owned as a hunting club property by a group of Americans with the St. Luke’s Club – for years.
When Ducks Unlimited first approached the previous U.S. owners a number of years ago about buying the land, the deal would have included selling it through a U.S. corporation, Armson said.
The property was then listed for US$3.5 million.
However, Armson said the most recent owner, an Ontario resident, agreed to sell the property in Canadian dollars, not requiring Ducks Unlimited to purchase a U.S. corporation in the deal.
He said there were some U.S. buyers interested in the property but, then COVID-19 hit.
Since the pandemic closed the Canada-U.S. border, the interested American buyers were unable to visit to view the property.
Chatham native Paul Brisco, who specializes in hunting properties through his London-based company Corland Realty Inc., brokered the sale.
“I’ve sold a number of hunting club properties and they are expensive properties, absolutely,” Brisco said. “What’s unique, this time, is the seller was successful in severing off the lodge site, which I still have for sale, and allowing Ducks Unlimited to just preserve the marsh separately.”
A longtime Ducks Unlimited supporter, Brisco, a life sponsor and past board member, said he was “very pleased and proud to see Ducks Unlimited acquire (this property).”
He added Ducks Unlimited members would like to see the conservation organization “find some way in their management plan to accommodate some hunting.”
But Brisco noted that decision is up to how Ducks Unlimited sees it from a management perspective.
The project was supported by the federal government’s Natural Heritage Conservation Program, which is part of Canada’s Nature Fund.
The purchase of the marsh supports the Government of Canada’s target of conserving 25 per cent of Canada’s lands by 2025 and its objectives for the recovery of wild species listed under the federal Species at Risk Act, stated a media release.
In congratulating Ducks Unlimited for acquiring the the marsh, federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson noted “wetlands provide clean water, flood mitigation, important wildlife habitat, and play a role in the fight against climate change.”
St. Luke’s Marsh is one of 22 conservation properties held by Ducks Unlimited Canada within the Great Lakes watershed, accounting for almost 2,833 hectares of protected habitat.