The following speech was given by Larry Cornelis, Board Member and Head of the Outdoor Committee for Lambton Wildlife, at the recent 50th Anniversary event held at the Sarnia Public Library Theatre. Larry is also a past President.
It’s with great pleasure and pride that we share on overview of the accomplishments and achievements of Lambton Wildlife since the clubs inception in 1966.
For the first 5 years, as the “Lambton Field Naturalists”, the focus was on nature appreciation and typical naturalist activities such as bird watching and visiting nature parks and conservation areas. One of the first achievements was organizing and participating in an annual winter bird count/census and so in 1966 the first annual “Kettle Point and Pinery Area Christmas Bird Count (CBC)” was completed. This is part of an internationally organized event for North and Central America. The Kettle Point CBC is a valuable citizen science event and a wonderful club social activity with the gathering of participants at the end of the day for a traditional chili dinner.
Around 1970, a new focus came to the club. In addition to, and probably because of nature appreciation, the club became protector of natural habitats and wildlife in Lambton County. A true milestone was adopting the practices of a land trust and purchasing a 25 acre wooded parcel of land in Mandaumin, thereafter named “Mandaumin Woods”. During the fundraising to acquire this property, it became obvious that having charitable status would have been a big help, so the club took steps toward becoming a charitable organization and in 1973 was incorporated as “Lambton Wildlife Incorporated”. The club became fully engaged in habitat protection and turned to many other conservation groups for partnership on many important land/habitat purchases. These include (and the partner) Mystery Falls (ABCA), Wawanosh Wetlands (SCRCA), Karner Blue Sanctuary (CCC &NCC), Port Franks Forested Dunes (NCC), Ipperwash Dunes and Swales (NCC), Bickford Oak Woods (NCC & Ont Parks), expansion of the Karner Blue Sanctuary (NCC) and most recently the Sydenham River Nature Reserve (Ontario Nature). LWI continues to own Mandaumin Woods and the Karner Blue Sanctuary and has Stewardship Agreements with NCC for the Port Franks Forested Dunes and Ipperwash Dunes & Swales properties.
During this period of land acquisitions, Lambton Wildlife also became focused on scientific studies. Participation in the annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) has been ongoing for 5 decades now due to the support of LWI members. In 1991, Lambton Wildlife spearheaded a mollusc inventory of the Sydenham River by Dr. Arthur Clarke. In 1994 there was an organized biological inventory of the Karner Blue Sanctuary (KBS), and in 1996 an insect inventory of the Port Franks Area on Natural and Scientific Interest was conducted by Dr. Jeff Skevington with the help of Lambton Wildlife members, in particular Ken Stead. Lambton Wildlife raised over $35,000 for this insect inventory. Members have also worked on numerous surveys and inventories including a wild lupine count at KBS, a forest study at PFFD, a biological survey at BOW, a bio blitz at Mandaumin Woods and most recently at the Sydenham River Nature Reserve.
In 1991, Lambton Wildlife was instrumental in developing a new “Carolinian Canada Program”. The mandate of this new program was to identify and preserve remaining portions of Carolinian forest and ecologically significant habitats in southwestern Ontario. As a result, 38 signature sites were identified of which 5 are in Lambton County. As the Carolinian Canada program grew it became the “Carolinian Canada Coalition“ and as a huge supporter, Lambton Wildlife took on the role of the Fund Administrator (Treasurer) for the Coalition in 1995, a role which it held for over a decade.
We would be quite remiss not to mention the hard work of Lambton Wildlife members towards the creation of the “Howard Watson Nature Trail”. When CNR announced its intention to abandon its rail line that ran east from Sarnia through the Blackwell community, Lambton Wildlife stepped forward and proposed the creation of a linear park. The Municipality agreed and this became one of the most controversial and heated issues that the Sarnia area has ever seen. Adjacent landowners wanted the lands added to their existing lots and were against letting people hike, bike, walk and bird watch behind their properties. It became a battle between pro-trail groups and anti-trail groups, between Lambton Wildlife and the public/landowners. There was even controversy within our own membership. Lambton Wildlife eventually struck a deal with municipal council and in 1988 signed a 3 year trail management agreement. After a one year trial period, the linear park/trail concept was a huge success and the trail was officially named the “Howard Watson Nature Trail” (HWNT) after Councillor Howard Watson who fought for and supported the linear park concept from the beginning. Of all the projects Lambton Wildlife has undertaken, the HWNT was the most controversial and really moved Lambton Wildlife into the public eye.
Lambton Wildlife’s remarkable success is thanks to many people who have not been listed here because there have been so many over the years. You know who you are and we, the members of Lambton Wildlife and the community of Sarnia – Lambton thank you for all you do and have done. Thank you for an amazing legacy of protecting endangered species and endangered spaces and providing us with opportunities to learn about, appreciate and enjoy nature in some of the most ecologically significant and biologically rich habitats in Ontario.