• The Nature Conservancy of Canada has protected five kilometres of waterfront along the Bartholomew River, a tributary of the Miramichi River and significant Atlantic salmon spawning ground. (Photo: Mike Dembeck)

The Nature Conservancy of Canada has protected more than 800 hectares of forested land adjacent to New Brunswick's Bartholomew River, an important spawning ground for at-risk Atlantic salmon.

The acquisition represents the largest private-land conservation project in the province's history and creates a continuous corridor of protected land between two tributaries of the Miramichi River, one of the biggest producers of wild Atlantic salmon in North America.

Atlantic salmon numbers have been in steep decline in Canada since the 1990s, with 2014 described as a "crisis year" by the Atlantic Salmon Federation.

"The big concerns with Atlantic salmon tend to be more about international fishing and survival at sea, but within our watersheds in New Brunswick we have significant and healthy salmon runs," said Paula Noel, program director for the NCC in New Brunswick.

"We need to make sure we’re doing all we can to protect the integrity and health of the spawning grounds."

The new protected area includes five kilometres of waterfront along the Bartholomew, within which are found two deep cold-water pools — an important rest stop for salmon as they make their way upriver to spawn.

The NCC also identified three at-risk bird species — the eastern wood pewee, common nighthawk and rusty blackbird — nesting on the property, as well as habitat supporting moose, black bears, coyotes, weasels, beavers, snowshoe hares and a variety of amphibians and waterfowl.

"There's so much diversity and so many different habitat types within the area," Noel said. "Our goal for the reserve is to manage it and ensure all the species it supports continue to thrive."

The protected area will be named the Foxner Reserve in honour of the Fox and Faulkner families, who donated the land to the NCC through the Government of Canada's Ecological Gifts Program.