Plans underway for Boreal Wildlands Project, called the largest private conservation agreement in Canada

Nature Conservancy Canada (NCC) says plans are underway to create the Boreal Wildlands Project, the largest single private conservation project in Canada, in northern Ontario after the non-profit group reached an agreement with Domtar.

Nature Conservancy Canada reaches pact with Domtar for 1,500-square-km land parcel in Ontario's north

The Boreal Wildlands Project will cover an area approximately twice the size of Toronto and be home to several species of mammals, like the moose, according to Nature Conservancy Canada. (Submitted by Nature Conservancy Canada)

Plans are underway to create the Boreal Wildlands Project, the largest single private conservation project in the country, in northern Ontario, Nature Conservancy Canada (NCC) said Friday.

The non-profit organization had been in discussions with paper industry titan Domtar to purchase the 1,500-square-kilometre parcel of boreal forest west of Hearst for $7 million below its market value, the company said in a news release.

The federal and provincial governments are also chipping in, matching the land value with funds from the Natural Heritage Conservation Program and Greenlands Conservation Partnership, respectively. 

A large private tract spanning 1,450 square kilometres of boreal forest that was managed as a wood supply to Domtar's pulp and paper mills will now be managed for research and conservation by the NCC.

The area, part of the Hearst Forest, is recognized for its extraordinary ecosystem and abundant wildlife.

When the deal is finalized, the protected area will be roughly twice the size of Toronto and home to several at-risk species, including woodland caribou and over 300 species of birds. 

Once complete, the Boreal Wildlands will support Canada's targets to conserve 25 per cent of the country's lands and waters by 2025 and 30 per cent by 2030, the NCC said, and will connect with two other provincial parks —Nagagamisis and Missinaibi — to form an ecological corridor. 

Location of the Boreal Wildlands project, near Hearst in northern Ontario. The area covered by the project is highlighted in orange. (Submitted by Nature Conservancy Canada)

Kristyn Ferguson, a program director with NCC, said the project is a chance for the group to act locally, but have a global impact.

The forests, the plants, the wetlands on this property already store and continue to store so much carbon, pulling it right out of the atmosphere, cleaning the air we breathe and reducing carbon emissions from the air," Ferguson said. 

"Currently, the property is storing the equivalent of the lifetime emissions of 3 million vehicles, and there's only more carbon storage to come. So we see it as a really important piece to address climate change."

The Boreal Wildlands Project will encompass a 1,500-square-kilometre parcel of boreal forest west of Hearst, Ont. (Supplied by Nature Conservancy Canada)

Ferguson said the NCC also consulted about project plans with neighbouring First Nations.

"We're working closely with communities who have traditional territory on the site, like Constance Lake First Nation," she said. "We're pleased to be in the early stages of building what we hope are long-term, meaningful, respectful relationships to honour Indigenous relations to the land, respect their rights and find out where we can work in collaboration together and do even more great things jointly on the land." 

The group is still soliciting donations, hoping to raise $13 million for the completion of the project.

Ferguson said the project has a targeted completion date of August.