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Lake Superior islands purchased for protection

An eight-island archipelago on Lake Superior will be protected from development and mining and preserved for wildlife and rare plants under a $7 million international conservation deal to be unveiled today.

Wilson Island
Wilson Island is part of an eight-island archipelago in Lake Superior near Rossport, Ontario, that will become a Canadian federal natural area. (Submitted photo)

An eight-island archipelago on Lake Superior will be protected from development and mining and preserved for wildlife and rare plants under a $7 million international conservation deal to be unveiled today.

The Wilson Islands, just off Rossport in Ontario waters near Nipigon Bay, have been purchased from private owners and will become a Canadian federal natural area under the joint deal backed by the Nature Conservancy, government of Canada and government of Ontario.

The islands are popular with Northland kayakers and boaters.

The eight islands, totaling more than 4,700 acres, the largest of which is Wilson Island, are situated in the heart of the recently established Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area, the largest freshwater protected area in the world.

Rare coastal wetlands and thick forests, rugged cliffs, bedrock shoreline and rare sand beaches on the islands support rare species such as mountain fir moss and northern woodsia fern. Wilson Island's high cliffs provide nesting habitat for peregrine falcons, while the smaller, off-shore islands provide important nesting habitat for shorebirds.

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"The Wilson Island group presented an unmatched opportunity to protect large-scale, ecologically significant and relatively untouched habitat," said Chris Maher, regional vice president of the Nature Conservancy Canada, in a statement. "This project has been on the conservation community's wish-list for many years.''

Much of the money raised for the purchase came from U.S. donors.

"This project represents a major step forward in our bi-national effort to conserve the Great Lakes' vanishing coastal areas," said Dennis McGrath, assistant state director for the Nature Conservancy in Michigan. "This project is important not just to Canada, but to the entire Great Lakes region.''

Doug Thompson, who heads the Nature Conservancy's Duluth office and who worked on the deal for two years, agreed.

"I'm hoping that this acquisition sets the tone for future cross border and international projects on the lakes that seem too challenging to tackle [on a] state by state basis or by the Province of Ontario,'' Thompson said.

Wilson Island map

Related Topics: ENVIRONMENTLAKE SUPERIOR
John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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