Sooke landowner Ken Van put an irreversible preservation covenant on 10 of the 15.5 hectares of his property

Sooke landowner Ken Van put an irreversible preservation covenant on 10 of the 15.5 hectares of his property

Covenants save green space forever

Land trusts help protect and preserve special places

Ken Van and Patti Homer first hiked the lower peak of Sooke’s Christopher Goodman Mountain in 1985.

The trail is on a private parcel of land that runs north along the east side of the Sooke River, not far from the potholes. In 1994, Van and Homer bought the 15.5-hectare parcel, which includes the smaller peak of Goodman Mountain.

They’ve since transcended from environmentally sensitive property owners to its guardian angels, by placing a conservation covenant on the title.

“We considered making it a park but then it’s open to the public,” Homer said.

“There was a tacit understanding when we bought the land, which was owned by our friend, that we would protect it.”

Other than building their home near its entrance off Phillips Road, they’ve done nothing to harm the property. The covenant is co-managed with The Land Conservancy and Habitat Acquisition Trust. The federal government is also on the covenant.

It prevents them, and anyone else, from taking as much as a shovel to 10 of the 15.5 hectares.

“We wanted a multi-party covenant so it couldn’t be broken. It’s irreversible,” Van said.

Properties under covenant are monitored annually and are subject to fine, though HAT’s never issued one.

Obviously there’s more to the property than a good hike.

It’s a refuge for a variety of wildlife, including the red-listed sharp-tailed snakes. There’s plenty of deer, black bears, cougars (including a den full of bones), pine marten, and the recent encroachment of Roosevelt elk, Van said.

“Two of the ecosystems present are provincially red-listed, the Garry oak ecosystems and Coast Douglas fir forests, as well as two that are conservationally valued, the riparian corridors and ephemeral streams,” said Wendy Tyrell, HAT’s covenants and acquisitions coordinator.

In all, Habitat Acquisition Trust co-holds 28 covenants in the Capital region with numerous land trust partners, 16 of which are with TLC.

It’s no secret TLC’s economic status was not strong going into 2013. TLC owns and manages 300 protected properties worth $32 million across the province – including the Sooke Potholes almost adjacent to the Van and Homer property – and is currently undergoing massive restructuring after its bank accounts were temporarily frozen by the Canada Revenue Agency in 2012.

Andy McKinnon was chair of HAT’s board of directors in the 1990s and was on the ground floor when HAT began acquiring covenants for the purposes of preservation.

“We deliberately established these covenants as co-held with other land trusts, so we could work together and ease the workload on each trust,” said McKinnon, a research ecologist with the province.

“To have at least two covenanters guards against that situation.”

Regardless of what happens to TLC, HAT will be OK, said executive director Adam Taylor.

“In the short term, we anticipate this will mean more work for HAT as we are called on to do more to maintain these natural areas and the legal agreements that protect them,” he said.