North Pender Island, BC: Two charitable conservation organizations based on the coast of the Salish Sea have come together to purchase a 13 acre property on North Pender Island in response to widespread land conversion throughout the Gulf Islands. In September of 2020, Raincoast Conservation Foundation and the Pender Islands Conservancy Association entered into talks, and submitted an offer to purchase the property in mid-November. They have up to 8-months to raise the $395,000 needed to purchase the property and place it under a protective covenant.
This acquisition project aims to address the urgent need to protect intact Coastal Douglas-fir (CDF) forests and associated habitats. “There are over 2 decades of data telling us that these ecosystems are being destroyed by development,” says Shauna Doll, Gulf Islands Forest Project Coordinator at Raincoast, “Forests continue to be destroyed while we work to change behaviour and improve policy.” As of 2010, the ecosystems in the CDF biogeoclimatic zone had the highest rate of conversion of 16 such zones in the province: a staggering 46% (over twice the rate of the next most converted zone). With other stressors, such as climate change impacts becoming increasingly severe, and levels of biodiversity and abundance plummeting, it becomes increasingly important to protect and maintain ecological integrity and resiliency at a local scale.
The property in question is located on the Traditional Territory of the W̱SÁNEĆ people, who know Pender Islands as S,DÁYES. It is representative of rare and increasingly threatened Coastal Douglas-fir forests and associated habitats and forms the edge of one of the few remaining contiguous forest patches on the Island, stretching from the Magic Lake Estates subdivision all the way to the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. These forests are essential habitat for native songbirds and the wetland near the property’s north-western corner is a significant nesting site for numerous bird species. According to Dr. Erin O’Brien, ornithologist and Community Outreach and Project Coordinator for the Conservancy, “Olive-sided flycatchers, in particular, find their homes in the fringes of forests bordering wetlands but have been federally listed as ‘threatened’ due to habitat loss.” She goes on to say that Gulf Islands forests are among the few places these birds are thriving. As a species linking forests and wetlands, the Flycatcher has become the namesake of the place, dubbed S,DÁYES Flycatcher Forest.
In addition to providing essential habitat, S,DÁYES Flycatcher Forest has significant hydrological value due to its location in the Buck Lake Reservoir watershed that supplies Magic Lake with drinking water. Local regulations would have allowed up to 1,000 gallons of water to be pumped from the wetland per day had the property been purchased for residential use. The covenant will not only protect the wetland from destruction, but will also protect an essential water source for the majority of North Pender Islanders.
While Raincoast Conservation Foundation has purchased five commercial hunting tenures in the Great Bear Rainforest, and the Pender Islands Conservancy co-manages 20 conservation covenants on North and South Pender Islands and has participated in land acquisition projects in the past, this is the first time either organization has purchased land with the intention of long-term management and restoration. It will be managed to maximize ecological integrity and resilience, and it will become a significant community asset as a site for learning, research, and connecting with nature. “The best way to ensure land is protected is to own it,” says Doll, “This project is intended to safeguard these ecosystems in perpetuity.”