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:

KELÁ_EKE Kingfisher Forest matching campaign update

Jun 21, 20222 min read
Altogether, we have raised a total of $571,222.69 since we announced our intention to purchase and protect KELÁ_EKE Kingfisher Forest.

The story of Coastal Douglas-fir forests: An ancient legacy, a critical future

Jun 20, 202210 min read
Eleven and half thousand years ago is a mighty long time for a major forest ecosystem. Yet, that is how long Coastal Douglas-fir forests have existed on Canada’s west coast, longer than most other forested biogeoclimatic zones in British Columbia!

The story of Coastal Douglas-fir forests: The interconnectedness of people and place

Jun 13, 202211 min read
After thousands of years of evolution alongside Coast Salish peoples, the story of Coastal Douglas-fir forests and associated habitats is inseparable from the story of those who shaped them.

Project TEACH Solutions Session

Jun 10, 20224 min read
On June 23rd, the teachings from these sessions will be mobilized at an in-person gathering we are calling the Solutions Session.

Sponsors & supporters

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