Donors who paid The Land Conservancy (TLC) $860,000 to purchase Wildwood Forest in Yellow Point in 2010 are speaking out: If Wildwood is sold privately, they want their donations back.
Peter Jungwirth, Chair of the Ecoforestry Institute Society (EIS), says, “Some of the original donors have told us they believe the proposed sale of Wildwood to a private individual by the TLC Board is a violation not only of the TLC’s promise to Merv Wilkinson, but also an action that brings into question the whole purpose of donating to a cause. EIS is one of those original donors.”
Jessica Wolf, a member of the Wildwood Protectors, states “As a member of The Land Conservancy since 1999, I am outraged by this violation of trust. TLC promised donors they would protect Wildwood forever — now they are going to sell to a private buyer. This precedent will severely impact the entire Land Trust movement.”
Among those asking for the return of their donations is Lorraine Bell, who gave close to $216,000 to pay off the remaining mortgages for Wildwood in 2011. Ms. Bell donated because “I saw the co-operation between TLC, the Ecoforestry Institute and Merv Wilkinson. I was impressed by the dedication and commitment of Jay Rastogi to Merv Wilkinson’s vision of a sustainable, functioning and productive ecosystem. Wildwood has the capacity to inspire change.”
Not a wealthy woman, Ms. Bell was willing to make her significant donation provided Wildwood would be protected in perpetuity. Aware of TLC’s tenuous finances at the time, she offered the donation “on the condition, agreed to verbally with TLC, that Wildwood would be protected in Merv Wilkinson’s vision, and from the family and other private interests, in perpetuity. It is my belief that this was also Merv Wilkinson’s wish.” Ms. Bell’s donation is the reason TLC declared Wildwood “inalienable.”
For its part, EIS gathered approximately $20,000 in donations from supporters to give towards the purchase price. If Wildwood is sold privately, they want that money back and will make their best efforts to return it to donors, who gave it to them in trust for Wildwood.
Merv Wilkinson was quoted in the Nanaimo Daily News, January 13, 2001: “I want to guarantee the continuation of this property as an educational unit that is now recognized by the rest of the world. People are coming here from all over. I want to preserve, as best I can, a facility that needs to be in use for all people.”
Now, in 2016, TLC has been in creditor protection for almost three years, and the people and societies that trusted TLC with unsecured loans have been told they may now receive only 29 cents on the dollar. Adding fuel to the fire, TLC has just announced the sale of Wildwood to a private individual. Many members of the general public are outraged and many donors want their donations back.
TLC will need court approval for the private sale and, in seeking that, will have to ask the court to lift their bylaw on inalienability regarding the sale. That bylaw only allows transfer during bankruptcy to “an organization having similar purposes to the Society.”
Other donors willing to speak out include Maria Gauley, who not only wants her donation back, but payment for all the hours she worked as a volunteer for TLC, a large portion of those hours devoted to helping protect Wildwood. Roblyn Hunter is another, stating, “I want my donation back. I did not donate to the purchase of Wildwood for it to be sold to a private individual. I donated to protect a precious forest for public interest.” Other donors may want to join the I Want My Donation Back campaign to demand the return of their donations if Wildwood is privatised. We also encourage people to post selfies or photos of Wildwood to social media with the hashtags #iwantmydonationback and #savewildwood. For more information, please contact Kathy Code, EIS Communications Director, at CodeKat999 [at] gmail [dot] com or Jessica Wolf of the Wildwood Protectors at Wild [at] JessicaWolf [dot] ca, or visit www.facebook.com/wildwoodecoforest/ and www.savewildwood.com.
The Wildwood Protectors are an informal citizens group that oppose the sale of Wildwood to private interests, and are working to ensure this legacy remains in the hands of a not-for-profit charitable trust or society.
These public voices are representative of community members, naturalists, forestry professionals, conservation biologists, ecologists, university professors, citizen scientists, advocates of wilderness preservation and environmental sustainability, as well as members of TLC and donors to the campaign to purchase and protect Wildwood.