‘I have to protect this land’

Original article from CBC News

The 155-acre property was donated by Lu Carbyn, a U of A wildlife biologist

By Anna Desmarais

CBC News

January 18, 2018 at 12:00 p.m.

 The Lu Carbyn Nature Sanctuary is a unique marshland and boreal forest conservation area approximately 90 kilometres west of Edmonton. (Pam Wight)

The Lu Carbyn Nature Sanctuary is a unique marshland and boreal forest conservation area approximately 90 kilometres west of Edmonton. (Pam Wight)

The Lu Carbyn Nautre Sanctuary is a unique marshland and boreal forest conservation area approximately 90 kilometres west of Edmonton. (Pam Wight)

Lu Carbyn fell in love with the property, full of expansive marshes, at first sight.

The 155-acre parcel, 90 kilometres west of Edmonton near the Lily Lake Natural Area and the community of Darwell, is an undisturbed quarter-section of wetland surrounded by boreal forest that hums with the songs of 95 bird species.

"It's unique," said Carbyn, a wildlife biologist at the University of Alberta. "You have so many marshes with such a diverse complement of birds in a very small area."

After Carbyn purchased the land in 2014, he decided it should serve as a conservation area and a wildlife study area for students, clubs and other members of the public.

He approached the Edmonton and Area Land Trust, a non-profit conservancy working to preserve biodiversity in and around the city, and asked for their support.

"I thought, I have to protect this land ... to make sure that the future generations can have access to it," Carbyn said.

He officially donated the land to the conservancy in 2017. In his honour, it has been named the Lu Carbyn Nature Sanctuary.

 Lu Carbyn poses in one of the property's marshlands. (Pam Wight)

Lu Carbyn poses in one of the property's marshlands. (Pam Wight)

"It's really wonderful that there are people like Lu who want to give their land away for this purpose," said Pam Wight, the land trust's executive director.

The conservation area is expected to open in the spring after an inventory of the sanctuary's wildlife is complete.

'Extremely bio-diverse'

Carbyn has a passion for wildlife and the biological sciences.

An adjunct professor of renewable resources at the U of A, he became a biologist with the Canadian Wildlife Service in 1967 and a research scientist in 1974. He has studied predatory mammals across Canada and and the world, with a focus on the survivability of wolves.

Carbyn originally bought the parcel of land, which is in Lac Ste. Anne County, land to use as his own playground. He would take his wife and children out on early spring hikes to look for rare species of birds.

He has since brought his ornithology students to the property to learn about the different bird species that live in close proximity to one another.

He said its unique biodiversity makes the conservation area one of the best birding sites within 100 kilometres of the city, and a perfect outdoor classroom for novice biologists.

The mixed wood habitat is teeming with songbirds, waterfowl and a diversity of wildlife including lynx, beaver, moose and deer.

 The trumpeter swan is an 'at-risk' species visitors might be able to see in the sanctuary. (Pam Wight)

The trumpeter swan is an 'at-risk' species visitors might be able to see in the sanctuary. (Pam Wight)

"It's like a laboratory where you can actually try things by experiencing them first-hand, " Carbyn said.   

Within the boundaries of the sanctuary, there's a chance to spot trumpeter swans, loons, great blue heron and several types of bats that are on the province's at-risk species list, he said

The forests expand to other properties, where it might be possible to see moose, dear, coyotes and cougars living among the trees. 

"It's extremely bio-diverse," Wight said. "It may be the most bio-diverse property that we have secured." 

 A group of volunteers hike up an esker, a naturally carved walking path, to see the stunning views ahead. (Pam Wight)

A group of volunteers hike up an esker, a naturally carved walking path, to see the stunning views ahead. (Pam Wight)

Land will remain mostly untouched

The sanctuary will be open to anyone, but is intended as a refuge for those interested in the outdoors.

Wight said the land trust has no plans to add any infrastructure except basic signage. It wants to keep the area untouched.

The area is already primed for hikers with a network of naturally-formed ridges called eskers that will act as walking paths, she said. 

"The idea is to keep the value of what is there."

The sanctuary was doubly appealing to Wight and the land trust because its proximity to other provincially protected areas, like the Lily Lake Natural Area, that could potentially be expanded in the future.  "This could be part of a core, protected area."

Wight said conversations with the province about a larger protected area west of Edmonton will be on the land trust's agenda in the near future.

anna.desmarais@cbc.ca

@anna_desmarais