Gulf Islands Forest project

Coastal Douglas-fir forests and associated habitats are among the most threatened ecosystems in the country.

Photo by Alex Harris /
Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

With a limited geographic extent, including only the southeastern edge of Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, and a sliver of BC’s mainland, it is essential that these ecosystems are protected and conserved before it is too late. 

Understanding biodiversity loss, climate change, and anthropogenic impacts

Raincoast’s Gulf Islands Forest Project is focused on addressing biodiversity loss, climate change and other human-caused stresses on Coastal Douglas-fir (CDF) habitats. Globally unique to the south coast of British Columbia, this collection of highly diverse ecosystems includes sand dunes, estuaries, Garry oak meadows, and rocky outcrops, among many other ecological communities. Forests here are characterized by tree species like coastal Douglas-fir, western red cedar, and arbutus. The CDF covers less than 1% of provincial land area, with the Salish Sea’s Gulf Islands hosting over 30% of its provincial extent.

Almost all of the original CDF forests have been logged since the early 1900s and a further 30% of second-growth has been converted to rural, urban, agricultural, and industrial use since 2008. The province’s last State of the Forests report, released in 2010, found that the CDF is BC’s most converted zone, with nearly twice the amount of deforested and fragmented land compared to the next most converted zone. This includes the province’s highest road density that profoundly fragments CDF habitats. Currently, 127 native plant and animal species characteristic to CDF ecosystems are on the provincial “Red” list. This includes iconic ecological communities  characterized by the presence of arbutus and Garry oak. Further, recent anecdotal reports of deterioration of arbutus, western redcedar, grand fir and coastal Douglas-fir indicate that climate change is already influencing these important ecosystems.

In the southern Gulf Islands and Saanich Peninsula, much of the Coastal Douglas-fir forests and associated habitats exist within W̱SÁNEĆ territory. These unceded lands have been inhabited by the W̱SÁNEĆ people, also known as the Saltwater or Coast Salish People, since time immemorial. Brought here by the creator, XÁLS, following the great flood, the W̱SÁNEĆ people were given the responsibility of caring for their relatives: the Islands of the Salish Sea. As such, in addition to their ecological significance, these habitats hold tremendous cultural and spiritual value.

Informed advocacy and community engagement

Using Raincoast’s signature approach of informed advocacy, the Gulf Islands Forest Project combines community engagement with science and policy review to achieve tangible conservation outcomes. Our work includes working with local Nations, civic governments, organizations, and community members to slow and reverse the destruction of these fragile, ecologically important, and culturally significant places through advocacy, community science initiatives, ecological investigation, and most recently, permanent land protection through property acquisition. Our preliminary focus is on North (S,DÁYES in the SENĆOŦEN language of the W̱SÁNEĆ) and South Pender Islands. As our work expands to other Gulf Islands, we commit to honoring the lands and culture of additional First Nations who call these Islands home. 

The Story of the CDF

Educational webinar series

We have had two educational webinar series with sessions on a range of important topics. For descriptions and video recordings, slide decks, and more, check out our previous webinars series:

The story of Coastal Douglas-fir forests: All about Hornby Island

Sep 29, 202212 min read
This installment is the third of several articles seeking to explore the ways ecosystems  differ between the islands within the Coastal Douglas-fir (CDF) biogeoclimatic zone. Grant Scott, chair of the Hornby Island Conservancy and trustee on the Hornby Island Local Trust Committee, describes how historic land management regimes continue to shape the ways forests are…

Art supporting science

Sep 28, 20226 min read
There is a silent auction at EcoFair and the proceeds will go towards permanently protecting KELÁ_EKE Kingfisher Forest.

KELÁ_EKE Kingfisher Forest fundraising update 

Sep 12, 20222 min read
We have until the end of the year to reach our target.

Synthesis of the Gulf Islands Webinar Series

Sep 9, 202215 min read
This article is a synthesis of the key takeaways from that series to address the twin biodiversity and climate crisis on a local scale. 

Sponsors & supporters

A tiny mushroom sits in the bright green of a Gulf Island Forest.
Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.