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Vancouver Islanders Tweet to Save Parkland, One Meter at a Time

Bob McMinn, a former Mayor of the District of Highlands on Vancouver Island, Canada, writes how at age 86 he has learned that Twitter can help his life-long campaign to create a 107-acre conservancy, linking some of the island’s fragmented parkland and helping save numerous species living in threatened dry coastal Douglas fir habitat.

By Bob McMinn

Mary Lake is an astonishing 107-acre piece of land in the District of Highlands, a small municipality on Vancouver Island on the west coast of British Columbia. Known for the abundance of wildlife, trees and terrain, this area provides a wonderful backdrop for all who live here and is home to a special endangered ecosystem in Canada.

As a resident of this area for the past 57 years (over 2/3 of my life), I know all too well how easily this land can be lost to development. I have seen it happen many, many times.

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The 7-acre lake on the Mary Lake property allows many amphibians, including the rough-skin newt to lay their eggs in the lake and their young tadpoles to grow to maturity. Habitat for newts and other amphibians in the Mary Lake region has been reduced by over 80 percent.

Photo by Todd Carnahan, Habitat Acquisition Trust

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This Pacific chorus frog (formerly known as the Pacific tree frog) serenades the other wildlife at Mary Lake with amazing night-time choruses during the spring. Like the newts, their habitat in the region has been reduced by almost 80 percent.

Photo by Todd Carnahan, Habitat Acquisition Trust

Mary Lake was private property until recently, when it was put up for sale. Although I rarely had a chance to visit this land because it was private property, I found I was always astounded by its natural beauty whenever I did manage to see it. While I was Mayor of the District of Highlands, I consistently advocated for the conservation of land for parkland in the District. When the Mary Lake property came on the market, I realized that it would be a true shame if this land was developed for housing.

The Mary Lake property is special for numerous reasons.

Mary Lake is surrounded by a fine example of the imperiled dry coastal Douglas fir ecosystem; less than 6 percent of this globally significant ecosystem is permanently protected.

The Mary Lake property is the missing piece of land that provides a valuable link between two other pieces of preserved parkland. It provides critical habitat for many species from otter to rough-skin newt. Habitat for newts and other amphibians in British Columbia’s Capital Region has been reduced by 80 percent.

The Mary Lake property also acts as a natural carbon sink removing CO2 from the adjacent urban areas.

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The 107-acre Mary Lake property is nestled in the District of Highlands, one of Vancouver Island, Canada’s, smallest regions. The property is part of the extremely imperiled coastal Douglas fir ecosystem.

Photo courtesy of Save Mary Lake

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Water trickles through the streamside riparian habitat.  More than 80 percent of this region’s riparian ecosystems have been lost to development, the same risk that faces Mary Lake today.

Photo courtesy of Save Mary Lake

While we’ve had incredible support locally, we knew that in order to meet our ambitious goal — to raise Canadian $4.5 million — we would need to reach out to the global audience. On October 24, the Mary Lake Conservancy launched the Save Mary Lake campaign, asking people worldwide to buy a square on the digital map from our website at www.SaveMaryLake.com. For as little as Canadian $10, you can contribute to saving a vital treasure.

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In less than two months we have sold over 12,000 square meters to people from as far away as Japan, Australia and Denmark. It’s been an incredible lesson, seeing how social media can truly connect nature lovers around the world. In fact, it inspired me to step into the social media battlefield myself.

My late wife used to write a column in our local newspaper about the beauty of the District of Highlands. I’ve realized that Twitter can be used in the same way, but instead of just sharing the discoveries I make daily at Mary Lake with my small community — like the vibrant green of the moss that just reappeared on the forest floor after being covered by a short-lived blanket of snow or the sound of rushing water in creeks running at full tilt — I now can share these discoveries with the entire world.

At the age of 86, I’ve seen some dramatic landscapes, but I truly believe that Mary Lake has the ‘wow factor’ that sets it apart from most.

To find out more about Save Mary Lake visit our website at SaveMaryLake.com, and find us on Twitter@SaveMaryLake and on our Facebook page.

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The jarring bright bark easily identifies this tree as an Arbutus tree.  Arbutus trees are restricted to a narrow band on the south coast of Vancouver Island. The largest Arbutus tree in the world is located near Mary Lake in the South of Vancouver Island.

Photo courtesy of Save Mary Lake

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A coastal black-tailed deer fawn enjoys the undisturbed forestland.  Vancouver Island’s native deer is much smaller than the mule deer in the rest of North America. These deer migrate to older forests like Mary Lake during the wither that are critical to their survival, providing a winter shelter.

Photo by Todd Carnahan, Habitat Acquisition Trust