The Cameron Ranch was, until recently, a privately owned 1,100 ha ranch on the Carden Plain east of Dalrymple Lake, in the City of Kawartha Lakes, about 40 km northwest of Lindsay. The owners put the ranch up for sale in 2001. A group of non-government nature and conservancy organizations purchased it with funds raised from various private and public sources. The ranch is now owned by the Nature Conservancy of Canada, and is the largest privately protected natural area in central Ontario.
The land is of special interest because it is an alvar, a unique physical landform distinguished by a thin layer of soil resting on limestone bedrock. Since their thin soils hold little water, alvars are prone to flooding during spring run-off and to drought in summer. This produces a unique, albeit rather harsh, natural habitat where some unusual plant and animal species flourish. Alvars thus serve a critical ecological function wherever they occur. Their uniqueness has also brought them international attention in recent years.
Because of their thin soils, alvars in the Great Lakes region have seldom been used for growing crops. The Cameron Ranch, for example, was being used for cattle ranching. This same feature, however, makes them an ideal source of limestone, since very little overburden needs to be removed to gain access to the rock, so they are under increasing threat of disturbance by quarrying operations.
The Carden Plain was not, and in fact still is not, a natural feature with any special government designation. It does contain several woodlands and wetlands, which are fairly well protected by provincial policy, but since it is a habitat more than a feature, it has not been well served by current feature-based policies.
In the 1990s, the Nature Conservancy of Canada sponsored a three-year study of Great Lakes alvars and the plant and animal communities they support. This study confirmed that the Carden Plain is an excellent example of an alvar ecosystem, supporting some unusual species of shrubs and grasslands, as well as several rare and endangered species of birds. The study also drew attention to the Cameron Ranch as a large parcel of undisturbed land on the Carden Plain with a single owner. The Nature Conservancy then joined together with a number of other organizations, among them the Couchiching Conservancy, the Federation of Ontario Naturalists, and several local groups, to raise the funds needed to purchase the entire ranch. This was accomplished on April 30, 2003. Management of the land was then turned over to Ontario Parks.
The Cameron Ranch is now well protected, although what land uses will be permitted have yet to be settled to everyone's satisfaction. But this protection is a result of private initiative and fundraising rather than government action - although some of the funds raised for its purchase came from government sources. The provincial government, the traditional custodian of public resources in Ontario, played only a very minor role in bringing the land into protection, although it will now take on a more active management role.