It’s a crisp fall morning. The leaves crunching under our feet betray the silence as Rowena Lawlor and Faren Buote accompany me into the Buote Heritage Woods Natural Area in New Glasgow. The stand of old white pine trees greeting us at the entrance to the trail have a stoic presence. The forest is looking unusually skeletal for this time of year thanks to the recent destruction of Hurricane Fiona. Only a few isolated red and amber patches are visible, indicating some leafed branches were spared the intense winds that tore through the rest of the canopy not long ago.
‘This is the spot where my siblings and I came across a large owl last year,’ says Rowena, one of eight siblings who – as a family – donated the woods to Island Nature Trust in 2021. Her voice crackles with emotion. ‘Walking together in the woods it suddenly appeared ahead of us in the trees. It felt like the owl was our mother Clarice proudly looking down on us. She would have been so happy to know that this land is now protected, forever’.
The Buote Heritage Woods Natural Area is a 39-acre parcel in central Queens County, consisting of upland hardwood forest and habitat to old white pine and hemlock. It is habitat to iconic species such as little brown bats, ruby throated hummingbirds, and brook trout. Despite recent storm damage evident throughout the scenic trail system, it was these healthy and intact forests that prevented a more devastating outcome. This space is resilient, and nature will heal if given the space and time to do so. Buote family members, who have lived with this forest for over half a century, know and appreciate this sentiment and the many benefits healthy and intact forests provide. One of which is their knowledge that this forest is a bastion for their family spirit. Nevertheless, it’s the unifying memories that anchor them to this space – the knowledge of their parents’ deep respect for this land.
Families just like forests are hosts to constantly shifting, changing, and evolving lives. As these woods play a part in a larger story of partnership in which flora, fauna and fungi work together to create thriving ecosystems, the Buote family’s association with Island Nature Trust enhances a common good – conserving natural areas for the benefit of both people and wildlife. The intertwining of these two fates exemplifies a respect for nature’s life-sustaining and protective qualities these ecosystems provide to not just the Buote family, but to all Islanders.
In their youth, the siblings worked tirelessly on the land, helping their mother and father maintain and run the farm. As the children came of age, they inevitably flew from the roost to pursue career opportunities in other provinces across Canada. At some point on their separate journeys, all the children longed for their family home. It’s the land and the sea that speaks to them. The memories and ‘good times’ are infused into the fabric of a beautiful landscape that all Islanders can appreciate. Today, it’s the knowledge that their pocket of land will be protected forever by Island Nature Trust that connects them. Yet, coming to a consensus on what was the best way forward for the land was challenging.
‘It was no easy feat for our family to agree on a vision for this land but that’s when Island Nature Trust stepped in,’ says Faren.
‘Firstly, it was clear that Island Nature Trust had the patience and flexibility to shift the pieces of our puzzle into place to help our family see a clear long-term plan for the woods. Even if it meant entertaining many different and sometimes conflicting needs of the siblings.’
‘Secondly, we felt that the Trust at its core had the best interests for both wildlife and people. For our family and others to enjoy and appreciate the space was very important for us.’
‘Thirdly, it was a pleasant surprise for the family to receive significant tax relief because of the land donation’s ‘ecologically sensitive’ status.’
The Buote’s donated their property through the Ecological Gift Program, a federal program providing a way for Canadians with ecologically sensitive land to protect nature and leave a legacy for future generations, while providing tax relief.
Normally, even donated land is subject to capital gains tax. This can be significant if a property has been owned for many years and experienced a large increase in value. The Ecological Gifts Program removes this capital gains tax.
Since the family has owned the property for a considerable period, they elected to use the Ecological Gift Program to eliminate this tax. The Trust applies for this program on behalf of the land donor. In addition to the tax relief, a charitable tax receipt was provided for the fair market value of the donated land.
The family members are in staunch agreement about one thing. They never want the forest cut down. Over the decades, the family witnessed clear-cutting on adjacent woodlands – alarming them all. With 87% of the Island privately owned, the looming threats of continued development on the Island are palpable. There is a pressing need to save what untouched land remains with land donations from families – such as the Buotes – being pivotal to the Trust’s mission to preserve our Island for people and wildlife.
When Ernest Buote, the sibling’s father purchased the land in 1960 for $1000 it was for practical reasons. By harvesting wood for fuel and barn building, they were able to live self-sufficiently. Once the land was donated, the Trust applied for the PEI Natural Areas Protection Act, to put a restrictive covenant on the property and protect the woods from deforestation. This commitment to preserving the forest in its current state and to ensure that it endures forever was vital to the family’s peace of mind. Typically, wood is not cut in INT natural areas, however, the Trust worked with the Buotes to develop a management plan, which included a clause that would allow the family to continue accessing a small amount of wood on the property for firewood.
The other family desire was to make the space accessible to all. It was Faren’s vision to have an active footpath system on the property – supported by the entire family who wanted Islanders to enjoy the space.
The primary mandate of INT is, as a private land trust, to conserve the wild nature of the land. It maintains footpath networks in 6 of its 66 natural areas for the use and enjoyment of neighbours. A healthy balance between recreation and land conservation has and always will be a challenge. Thriving ecosystems are not compatible with sustained encroachment from the public. However, INT understands the Buotes sentiment of sharing the land with Islanders, especially since the mental health and physical wellbeing of Islanders is reliant on their immersion in nature. Consequently, the Trust created a management plan to allow for stewardship of the footpath system existing on the property. Maintenance of the property is drawn from a stewardship fund to help pay for planting native trees and shrubs, footpath maintenance, surveying, and other important efforts.
‘One of the most important goals for our family was the ability to name the trails in honour of our parents Clarice and Ernest, as well as the siblings. A kind of living memorial,’ says Rowena
And today, I see just that. Walking through the Buote Legacy Trail, I’m surrounded by the family spirit. Turning down ‘Rowena’s Twist’ opening to ‘Vernon’s Flyover’, bifurcating to ‘Vera’s Run’, I can sense the vibrancy of their personalities and their lives imprinted on this space. In these homemade footpath signs, the symbol of family legacy permeates the fabric of this vibrant enclave for nature continuing to endure in parallel with the Buote’s heartwarming Islander spirit.
‘As young siblings we bonded over long and strenuous hours on our adjacent farm. The forest gave us, and especially my father a place of peace. We respected it. It’s given so much to our family over the decades and now we as a family have a chance to not just give back to the forest, but also gift it to Islanders as well,’ says Faren.
As we walk out of the heritage forest towards the parking lot, the cathartic sounds of forest nature fade away, replaced by the rumble of trucks and construction machinery in the adjacent lot.
Faren turns to me with a wry smile, ‘Protecting this place is the best thing our family has ever done!’
By Ben Russell
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