The Alfred Bog, a domed peat bog is a little piece of boreal forest, hundreds of miles South of anything like it. Yet, at 4,200 hectares, it is the biggest bog of its kind in Southern Ontario, big enough to give refuge to many plants and animals that are rare or endangered, some of national significance. In fact, the bog has been designated by the Ontario Ministry of Resources as a "Class 1 Wetland" and an "Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI)".
Although early settlers found the bog of little use for farming and an obstacle to road building, drainage around the margins has reduced it to about one third of its original size.
In 1983 the Vankleek Hill Nature Society and the Ottawa Field Naturalists appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board a decision by the local municipality to change the zoning of a large block of the bog from Conservation to Agriculture. The appeal was denied. Subsequently a meeting was convened of thirteen agencies representing people who were concerned about the future of the bog as a natural area. At that meeting, the Alfred Bog Committee was formed. It was made up of representatives from the Vankleek Hill Nature Society, the South Nation River Conservation Authority, The Ottawa Field-Naturalists, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and the Nature Conservancy of Canada. Frank Pope was named Chair of the Committee and has remained in this position to date.
The Alfred Bog Committee is dedicated to preserving the bog and the endangered plants and animals within it for future generations. It promotes use of the bog for research and education.
The first break came in 1987 when the block of land that had been rezoned for agriculture came on the market. Led by the Nature Conservancy of Canada which negotiated a funding arrangement whereby the purchase price was covered one third each by federal, provincial and private funds, we managed to acquire the property. Although most of the private funds were raised by the Nature Conservancy, the Ottawa Field Naturalists and Vankleek Hill Nature Society conducted major fund raising drives.
Subsequently, as they came onto the market, other properties were added.
Aside from watching for acquisition opportunities, the Committee initiated a number of activities including the preparation of a management plan, a major report on the plants, animals and hydrology of the bog, contacts with other land holders in the bog, the preparation of educational brochures and articles and field trips into the bog. Because walking in the bog is destructive to bog flora and hazardous to walkers, a 1,000 ft. boardwalk was constructed. Management of the bog was undertaken by South Nation
The scene changed over the last decade. Peat extraction became quite profitable and pressure to exploit the peat reserves ramped up. The Alfred Bog Committee was expanded to cover any organization representing stakeholders in the bog. The United Counties of Prescott and Russell produced its first Official Plan and the bog was designated a wetland, protected from development. This led to a challenge to this aspect of the Plan and a protracted OMB hearing which has yet to be resolved. In the meantime, a local group of activists officially drew the attention of the Ministry of Environment to the necessity for permission before water is drained from the bog for peat extraction. The Ministry ordered peat extractors to apply for a permit, a number of them appealed the necessity to do so and the Environmental Tribunal hearing for this case is also ongoing. Pope, as Chair of the Committee, has appeared at both these hearings.
Recently, a second opportunity to acquire a large block of land in the bog arose. The procedure followed in the first major fund raising effort was repeated and on International Bog day last July, the Nature Conservancy celebrated the acquisition of this second block of the bog, bringing the area protected to over 75% of the bog. Although the Nature Conservancy retains title, the property will be managed by Ontario Parks as a Provincial Nature Reserve.
Once the legal questions are solved, the Alfred Bog Committee will focus on management in support of Ontario Parks which has management responsibility but no funds allocated for the purpose.