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The Journey to Ontario’s First Cross-border Conservation Easement – Echo Island

When Sam White’s heirs donated a conservation easement over Echo Island to American Friends, they and the Rainy Lake Conservancy (RLC) completed a multi-year journey and reached a preservation milestone. Because this gift was the first of its kind in Ontario, the journey turned out to be a slow paddle rather than a fast ride in a speed boat! This is the story of how RLC, the donors and American Friends got there.

Everyone involved knew from the start there would be the legal equivalent of stormy waters as we developed an easement document acceptable to the Canadian Revenue Agency, the US Internal Revenue Service, and the Province. Fortunately we were a good paddling team and we arrived at our destination none the worse for wear. We, at RLC, are proud that we protected a rare piece of Ontario’s endangered White Pine habitat and charted a course for others who will embark on similar journeys to preserve special places in Ontario.

RLC works to conserve lands and waters treasured by Canadians and Americans. Our area includes the famous Boundary Waters Wilderness Canoe Area, Quetico Provincial Park, the Rainy Lake Islands Conservation Reserve and many other protected places.

A number of metaphorical shoals created by title issues, appraisal questions and government procedures slowed us down at times. Passion, patience and good humor kept us all going to the end.

Having survived our maiden voyage, we are now in the process of protecting 3 more properties on Rainy Lake with American Friends. It has been rewarding to work with such professionals. They are first and foremost individuals committed to conservation, a shared goal that drives land trusts to venture into uncharted waters!

Dale and Phyllis Callaghan, Rainy Lake Conservancy

Dale and Phyllis Callaghan, Rainy Lake Conservancy

For more information, contact Dale and Phyllis Callaghan, Rainy Lake Conservancy, info@rainlakeconservancy.org.

Little Island Protected, Big Ontario Conservation Impact

Echo Island is small, but its permanent protection can have a major impact on cross-border conservation in Ontario. This conservation easement donated to American Friends is the first known instance of an American donor giving an easement over property in Ontario to a U.S. land trust. The gift provides a land protection road map for the many other American owners of priority conservation properties in the province.

Generations of the White and Wallis families have cherished echo island and rainy lake.

Generations of the White and Wallis families have cherished echo island and rainy lake.

The Rainy Lake Conservancy (RLC), a small all-volunteer Canadian charity, facilitated the gift from the White family, originally from the Chicago area. Three generations have cherished Echo Island’s forest, shoreline and simple cabin over the last 50 years. Desire to both have the retreat serve future generation of their family and to retain the pristine quality of Rainy Lake motivated the donors to make this pioneering gift.

Echo Island is one of nearly two thousand islands scattered throughout Rainy Lake’s 345 square mile area (890Km2) straddling the border of Minnesota and Ontario. Voyageurs National park is located on the southeastern corner of the lake on the US side of the Lake. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is also within the Rainy Lake watershed.

The conservation easement restricts future development, preserving the subject property and also reducing its market value. The latter outcome reduces Canadian capital gains taxes that are due when property is transferred from one generation to the next, whether the owners are Canadian or American.

echo-island-rlc3As a U.S. charity, contributions to American Friends are deductible against U.S. income, and can also reduce U.S. estate taxes. American Friends is a “prescribed done” in Canada, meaning that land and easement donations are effectively not subject to capital gains taxes. This special tax status granted by the Canadian government recognizes that successful preservation of large landscapes that are shared by Canada and the U.S., such as Rainy Lake, depends on the generosity of citizens of both countries.

echo island

Echo Island, Ontario (Rainy Lake Conservancy)

Echo Island is small, but its permanent protection is big news in Ontario’s conservation community. The pioneering gift of a conservation easement over the island is likely to have a ripple effect throughout the Province and the Great Lakes region. The gift is the first known instance where an American donor gave an easement over property in Ontario to a US land trust.

The Philadelphia family that owns Echo Island donated the easement to American Friends of Canadian Land Trusts (“American Friends”). American Friends mission is protecting Canada’s natural heritage. The owners are committed to keeping Echo Island in its current, relatively undeveloped condition. Three generations have treasured Echo Island’s forest, shoreline and simple cabin over the last 50 years.

American Friends accomplishes its mission through partnerships with Canadian conservation entities, such as the Rainy Lake Conservancy which facilitated this innovative gift, and US taxpayers who own priority conservation lands in Canada. Conservancy leaders and the members of the family that donated the easement are aware that this transaction is a milestone in “cross-border conservation” – the term for donations of ecologically significant Canadian land by US taxpayers. They hope protection of Echo Island will inspire other American landowners and Ontario conservation organizations to take similar action to preserve the Province’s special environments.

The Conservancy works to protect the flora, fauna, water quality and scenic character of Rainy Lake which are so important to the local economy and indigenous communities of the area. Echo Island is one of nearly two thousand scattered throughout the 345 square mile (890 km2) lake straddling the border of Minnesota and Ontario. Voyageurs National Park is located on the southeastern corner of the lake on the US side of the Lake. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is also within the Rainy Lake watershed as is the Quetico Provincial Park on the Canadian side.

Although the Echo Island easement is a first for Ontario, American Friends already holds easements in Nova Scotia and British Columbia that were also donated by American. In addition, in the less than four years since American Friends obtained the required tax status in Canada, it has received nine remarkable fee title gifts located in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Manitoba.

For more information on the Rainy Lake Conservancy visit the website http://www.rainylakeconservancy.org/

Feel free to contact Sandra Tassel, Program Coordinator, for more information about American Friends or donating land or an easement in Canada 360-515-7171 or info@afoclt.org