Tracking Raincoast into 2020
Table of contents
When evidence informs advocacy
When evidence informs advocacy, a potent approach to conservation becomes available. This philosophy underpins everything we do at Raincoast. One of the primary vehicles to support our unique delivery of what we call informed advocacy is the Raincoast Applied Conservation Science Lab at the University of Victoria. Partnered with a science-based non-profit and dedicated to applied research, it is the first university lab of its kind.
Operating in a university environment provides extraordinary value and influence, and allows us to harness tremendous intellectual and infrastructure resources. We also provide outstanding educational opportunities to the undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral trainees who are passionate to partake in work that will make a difference in the real world. Finally, the scholarly environment demands that we submit our research to peer-review; an important process to maintain the rigour of our work and the resulting authority it is granted.
Although the benefits of the university model are legion, we enthusiastically endeavor to escape from the ivory tower. Whereas we investigate problems and opportunities with research, we also strive to inform and inspire. Raincoast provides opportunities for our team to interact directly with policy processes. Doing so helps us not only design applied work, but also inform policy makers in a timely fashion with new knowledge we provide. Knowing that policy makers often need a nudge from the public, outreach and communication about our research inspires the public to ask governments to respond with the intensity and urgency often required.
How we do our research matters to us. We are guided by a set of core values, among them social and ecological justice, Indigenous rights, and animal welfare. Guided by these values, we work respectfully with diverse partners and knowledge systems, especially via collaboration with Indigenous Nations.
Each year the scope and urgency of our efforts increases and, as our team grows, so does our need for support. Monthly donors provide a more stable funding environment. This type of investment also bolsters the independent scientific research Raincoast conducts, as well as education for the next generation of applied conservationists and wildlife advocates.
Raincoast Conservation Foundation
Killer whales and court rooms
We have to go back to the last century (1999) to begin our story of killer whales and court rooms. It was then that both Northern and Southern Resident killer whales were recommended for listing, respectively as threatened and endangered. Their listing under Canada’s Species at Risk Act came in 2003.
In September 2008, without consulting the Recovery Team, Fisheries and Oceans Canada issued a Protection Statement purporting that Resident killer whale critical habitat was protected by existing laws and policies. Raincoast and other NGOs disagreed. In the fall of 2008, our first lawsuit for the Southern Residents was filed, argued and later won, with Ecojustice. It was largely based on the Protection Statement’s failure to protect all aspects of critical habitat – biological (food), chemical (water and food quality), and acoustic qualities. Following challenges by the federal government, the appeal court upheld the lower court decision in 2012, again ruling in favour of the whales.
The Species at Risk Act has a clear purpose – to prevent Canadian wildlife species from going extinct and to recover those that are extirpated, endangered, or threatened. It’s still this tool we are using today in the context of the threats posed by the Trans Mountain expansion’s tanker traffic. These threats are due largely from more vessel traffic noise that interferes with the feeding of hungry killer whales.
While the government says increased tanker traffic is a small percent of total vessel traffic, an extra tanker per day will mean the whales will spend more time in the presence of ships and less time successfully feeding. This makes their recovery all but impossible.
After the Trans Mountain project was first approved by the federal cabinet in 2016, we filed a lawsuit to prevent the seven-fold increase in oil tanker traffic through critical habitat. The case was heard before the Federal Court of Appeal in October 2017 and in a landmark decision for the Southern Residents, we won this lawsuit in 2018. However, the project was again approved by the federal cabinet in June 2019 after “reconsideration.” We appealed this decision and in October, the Federal Court of Appeal declined to hear our case. This brings us to our current appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada that we filed in November 2019.
The legal dispute is not about whether the project will negatively affect the Southern Residents. The National Energy Board was clear in its reconsideration decision that more oil tankers would accelerate their decline. Our case argues that cabinet can’t just ignore the federal laws designed to prevent extinction and justify the loss of these killer whales as a trade-off for economic pursuits. The Act is in place to protect endangered wildlife from going extinct.
Southern Residents and recovery
In 2019, we saw the most significant threat reduction measures the Canadian government has taken to date to support recovery of Southern Resident killer whales. Through coordinated legal, scientific, and public outreach strategies, and government negotiations, Raincoast and our partners compelled the federal government to implement more ambitious measures for endangered whales. These included Chinook (and other salmon) fishing closures, three interim whale sanctuaries, an increased whale watching/vessel approach distance of 400 m, slow downs of commercial freighters and tankers through Haro Strait, and a move to end commercial whale watching on Southern Residents in their critical habitat.
Our engagement with federal departments helped establish five cross-sectoral Technical Working Groups that focus on specific areas for killer whale recovery. We also started Chinook salmon (primary prey) habitat restoration in the Fraser estuary, and completed two successful rounds of filming for our upcoming killer whale documentary, with a final round of filming scheduled for 2020. In addition, we continued to garner extensive coverage in regional, national, and international media outlets such as the CBC, Globe and Mail, Seattle Times, the BBC, and Helsinki Times.
Although we have made progress, there is much more to achieve. We are still working to halt major shipping and industrial projects, including the Terminal 2 expansion on Roberts Bank in the Fraser estuary, which would further industrialize critical habitat in the Salish Sea. We also need to change the unsustainable management of Chinook salmon, the primary prey for these whales.
Wild salmon – strength and resilience
Every year the situation for British Columbia’s wild salmon worsens. And every year the same actions are repeated by governments and society. We clearcut and pave their watersheds, dam and extract water from their rivers, pour toxins on the lands that drain to their rearing grounds, mar their migration routes with open-net fish farms, dump millions of hatchery fish into the ocean, and harvest salmon in mixed-stock fisheries that catch unsustainable numbers of at-risk, immature, and mature salmon.
Each year, Raincoast commits significant staff time and energy working to change salmon management. It requires meetings and calls, participating in technical and stakeholder forums, producing analyses and submissions, and engaging with government. While small steps are made, change is not happening fast enough. Increasingly, we are having to call for fisheries closures as a last resort solution to protect threatened and endangered salmon from entrenched and flawed management decisions.
Chinook salmon are a case in point. Chinook are the oldest and largest of the Pacific salmon, and were once present almost year round. This is partially why Resident killer whales evolved to depend on them. Yet many of the attributes that make these salmon magnificent are now compromised by fisheries that catch them before they are mature, overharvest the biggest and oldest fish, and reduce their size and diversity. Hatcheries have, for the most part, only made these problems worse.
Changing how and where we fish, along with making land use decisions that use salmon as an overarching indicator of sustainability, would make a big difference for all species (humans and non-human) that depend on these fish. In 2020, we will be working on big picture solutions to the systemic problems of salmon and fisheries management.
Join the Raincoast Team
Raincoast is a team of conservationists and scientists empowered by our research to protect the lands, waters, and wildlife of coastal British Columbia. We use rigorous, peer-reviewed science, education, and community engagement to further conservation objectives. Support our conservation efforts and give a tax-deductible donation today.
Searching for the Lower Fraser’s lost streams
In support of our efforts to conserve and restore wild salmon habitat, we’ve worked with Dr. Tara Martin’s Conservation Decisions Lab at the University of British Columbia to quantify the lost streams of the Lower Fraser River. This research has been motivated by a desire to understand what fraction of the area’s historical salmon habitat remains accessible today.
What the maps don’t show
The initial attempt to map lost streams followed Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s approach of digitizing historical maps. However, historical mapping focused primarily on locating valuable timber or farmlands, not mapping streams. While some larger rivers exist on these maps, smaller streams that may have been important for salmon were largely overlooked. In order to sharpen the historical picture, it needed to be viewed in a different way.
Digital elevation models can be used to infer where you might expect streams given the topography of the landscape. In BC, the Freshwater Atlas has systematic mapping of existing streams at a 1:20,000 scale. By comparing a stream network created from a digital elevation model with those in the Freshwater Atlas, streams that may have existed historically (but have since been replaced with pipes, drainage ditches or canals) can be identified.
By combining the extent of lost streams with information on barriers to fish passage (like dams, culverts, flood gates), the amount of historical salmon habitat that remains accessible to salmon today can be determined. The inclusion of lost streams is important to inform our understanding of remaining habitat, as it guards against shifting baselines and can inform restoration goals. By considering the costs and benefits of restoring access for salmon beyond existing human barriers, these historically productive ecosystems could be restored in a way that is economically efficient and ecologically valuable.
Reconnecting Fraser estuary salmon habitat
In March 2019, we broke new ground in the Fraser estuary, literally. After three years researching how juvenile salmon use the Fraser estuary, we began physical habitat restoration to improve their access into habitats that support them. The Fraser estuary has been highly modified by dikes, causeways, and other structures. This includes the Steveston Jetty, an eight km long wall that separates the main arm of the Fraser River from adjacent marsh habitats. Phase one of our restoration efforts is addressing this barrier by creating 50 m breaches in the first three kms of this jetty.
100 years of obstruction
The Steveston Jetty is only one of the many structures dividing the Fraser estuary, altering the movement of salmon, freshwater, and fine sediments to Sturgeon and Roberts Banks. Starting in the 1880s, these walls were built to control the main channel and aid navigation. They restrict the natural processes necessary for a healthy estuary, and interrupt the migratory pathways of juvenile Chinook and other salmon species into nearshore habitats. They likely force juvenile salmon into the deeper waters of Georgia Strait before they are ready.
In 2017, with support from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, we began hydraulic modelling to investigate a range of project ideas, and acquire baseline data on the abundance of juvenile salmon, marsh growth, and water quality from potential restoration sites. Based on our modelling and surveys, we identified the Steveston Jetty as the first project, anticipating benefits to juvenile salmon and the estuary without negatively affecting navigation.
When we created the breaches in the Steveston Jetty, our strategy was to remove sections of the wall and then let the flow of the river create natural channels onto Sturgeon Bank over time. To sample salmon in these breaches, we work with specially designed nets that funnel fish through an opening where they are then caught, identified, measured, and released.
Habitat restoration succeeds
In just 45 minutes on our first day of sampling at the east breach, March 26th 2019, we caught dozens of juvenile Chinook and chum salmon moving through the breach and into the safety of the marsh. It worked! We continued our sampling of the breaches through the spring and summer, and captured 454 juvenile salmon on 13 sampling days.
From our previous research, we know that May is the peak of the outmigration for juvenile chum in the Lower Fraser and the peak for juvenile Chinook from the Harrison River. These tiny salmon are barely four to five cms long. These juvenile salmon likely need to spend at least a few tidal cycles in the marsh before they are ready for saltier waters. As such, these breaches should play a critical role in supporting their growth and transition.
In November 2019, we began phase two at each of our jetty breach locations to further reduce their elevation and ensure the breaches allow salmon movement and flow on all but the lowest low tides. We will continue monitoring salmon passage and marsh recovery, so stay tuned for further updates.
Toward a vision for wild salmon in the Lower Fraser
In parallel to our research and habitat restoration efforts, we have been working with our project partners to articulate a vision for wild salmon in the Lower Fraser River. Our new report identifies the ongoing erosion of salmon habitat caused by a governance system that prioritizes the conversion of salmon habitat into goods and services at a cost to an irreplaceable cultural, economic, and ecological asset – wild salmon. The report identifies the failure of siloed governance bodies with incompatible land use objectives as a systemic cause of the salmon crisis.
Following visioning workshops and meetings with close to 100 individuals, including members of the Kwantlen, Kwikwetlem, Shxwhá:y Village, Stó:lō, Sts’ailes, Tsawwassen, Tsleil-Waututh, Tzeachten, Kwakwa’apilt, and Yale Nations, the report reflects how a range of organizations and individuals envision a future for the Lower Fraser River that can put salmon, and their habitat, on a trajectory that enables their resilience.
Collectively, these groups identified bold aspirations focused around a number of key themes including education, fish friendly policy, rebuilding of research and monitoring capacity, and education. An overarching theme was the need for engagement of Indigenous Nations and people. Our recommendations to all levels of government, funding agencies, and all those with an interest in wild salmon, are as follows:
- Ecological governance and regional planning that honours Aboriginal rights and title and the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP),
- Collaborative habitat conservation and restoration,
- Formation of a watershed plan for the entire Fraser River,
- Sustainable funding mechanisms,
- Rebuilding monitoring and research capacity,
- Implementation of fish first policy,
- Investment in wild salmon education.
Throughout 2020, we will be working to support the uptake of these recommendations with our broad range of partners. A key component will be our support for the development and successful implementation of a Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance led fish habitat strategy.
Raincoast Applied Conservation Science Lab
The importance of salmon diversity
One of the most important characteristics of science is its ability to improve understanding about the natural world. Often that means questioning ‘established’ knowledge. For years, we have advocated for increased allocation of salmon for wildlife.
We typically thought of allocation simply as the total biomass available to bears and other ecosystem recipients. Our recent work, however, has shown how that focus was too narrow. Although allowing enough salmon biomass to escape the nets of fishers is clearly important, so too is the diversity of salmon species available to wildlife. A recent paper, led by Dr. Christina Service, showed how salmon consumption by black bears increases not with extra salmon biomass, but instead with the availability of more salmon species. Having different areas and times of spawning, multiple salmon species offer black bears more access to salmon across watersheds and the spawning period. This new knowledge helps inform local management decisions relating to safeguarding (or restoring) smaller, less commercially valuable salmon runs.
Although the Raincoast lab is known for its work on grizzly, black, and Spirit bears, we also conduct applied research on other organisms. Our general rule of thumb is to work on plants, animals, or relationships in the natural world that are important to people and places. Lab members are now working on projects related to mountain goats, sea otters, culturally-modified trees, and environmental assessment processes.
The next generation of conservation scientists
One way that our work is magnified is by helping create the next generation of applied conservation scientists. In 2019, several of our long-term students graduated and are now applying their abundant skills and passion. Newly minted MSc Bryant DeRoy is now working in collaboration with the Kitasoo/Xai’xais Stewardship Authority on developing new biocultural spatial models to support environmental decision making in the Territory. Similarly, the aforementioned Dr. Service serves as Research Coordinator with the Kitasoo/Xai’xais Nation; in part to apply the results of her PhD research. Dr. Megan Adams is continuing applied research on relationships among wildlife, salmon, and people of coastal BC as a Postdoctoral Fellow with the Conservation Decisions Lab at the University of British Columbia. To these and other recent graduates, we pass on our best wishes!
Royal Society of Canada honours Chris Darimont
In 2019, Raincoast Chair Dr. Chris Darimont was elected to the Royal Society of Canada. This 137-year old council of distinguished scholars and leaders is recognized as the country’s foremost academic honour. This is well-deserved recognition of Darimont’s rigorous scholarship, passion for applied research, deep curiosity about the natural world, community impact, and inspirational leadership.
Safeguarding coastal carnivores in the Kitlope
One of our greatest achievements at Raincoast has been our role in ending the trophy hunting of grizzly bears throughout British Columbia. Acquiring the remaining commercial hunting tenures in the Great Bear Rainforest extends similar protection to all coastal carnivores in this vast region. Having successfully raised funds for the Nadeea tenure at the end of 2018, this past year we have made significant progress on our next goal, the Kitlope hunting tenure.
The Kitlope represents the world’s largest intact coastal temperate rainforest watershed, with trees more than 1,000 years old. It is home to a stunning variety and abundance of wildlife, ranging from mountain goats, to grizzly bear, black bear, wolf, and wolverine. At the head of Gardiner Canal, one of the longest fjords in the world, is one of the largest and most productive river estuaries on the BC coast, home to more than a hundred species of birds, from waterfowl to raptors.
Raincoast’s Brian Falconer first visited the Kitlope in 1990 aboard the Maple Leaf at the invitation of the Haisla and Xenaksiala people, who were fighting to save their homeland from clearcut logging. His relationship to this place was forged in large part in with Cecil Paul, a hereditary chief of the Xenaksiala. Cecil was instrumental in winning protection for this stunning place back in August of 1994, when the Province of British Columbia and the Haisla Nation announced that the Kitlope would be fully protected from industrial activity and jointly managed.
As Brian Falconer’s long time friend, Cecil has shared three things he hoped he would see in his lifetime. The first was an end to logging in the Kitlope, which happened in 1994. The second was a return of the Gps’golox pole from a museum in Sweden, which happened in the early 2000s. The last hope was seeing an end to commercial trophy hunting in the Kitlope. Raincoast shares that hope and we are currently raising funds to purchase commercial hunting rights in the Kitlope tenure.
In July 2019, we secured the $100,000 deposit for the Kitlope tenure acquisition. We now have until December 2020 to raise the remaining purchase price and take a step closer to safeguarding all coastal carnivores and realizing Cecil’s dream.
The past year saw Achiever and crew as busy as ever with research projects, monitoring visits to our hunting tenures in the Great Bear Rainforest, and playing a central role in our expanding program of youth education in the Salish Sea and beyond. Achiever was also on hand to provide extra accommodations for Heiltsuk Nation guests as they opened their stunning new Gvukva’áus Haíɫzaqv (house of the Haíɫzaqv) with a five day potlatch celebration.
The new year will see a new skipper for Achiever as we say a very fond farewell to Nicholas Sinclair. Over seven years, Nick has guided many of our supporters through the estuaries of the Great Bear Rainforest and along BC’s coast. His skills as a mariner have kept research crews on track and safe, and he has shared his infectious passion for sailing with youth from BC and around the world. We will miss you Nick and wish you well in your new job.
With changes in mind, 2020 will see the establishment of a new Achiever Fund to provide stable support for ourmarine operations program. With Achiever as our core platform for coastal research, wildlife monitoring, and education, we are looking for donors to support our new marine operations funding model. Achiever helps us implement our mandate to safeguard the lands, waters, and wildlife of coastal British Columbia. As a floating classroom for experiential education, it also inspires future generations of stewards.
Gulf Islands forest project
British Columbia’s Coastal Douglas-fir (CDF) zone is a rare forest type that lines the southeastern coast of Vancouver Island, crosses through the Gulf Islands, and reaches the Sunshine Coast. Heavily impacted by historic and ongoing logging and development, the CDF is the least protected zone in the province with the highest number of species at risk. It is also showing signs of climate stress. In response to this, Raincoast has initiated a project to characterize forest health throughout the Gulf Islands, identify measures to protect forest habitat, and promote ecosystem resilience at a time of rapid climate change. Preliminary observations indicate that climate change and land use decisions are stressing these forests and biodiversity is being lost.
Recent peer-reviewed journal articles
Habitat use by juvenile salmon, other migratory fish, and resident fish species underscores the importance of estuarine habitat mosaics
Ecology and Evolution: Functional response of wolves to human development across boreal North America
Previous research on how wolves are affected by human development have been limited in scope and location and the results were mixed. Wolves adapted in a range of ways depending on contextual factors like road or cutblock density. Research undertaken by a team of conservation…
Empowering youth leadership
The Salish Sea Emerging Stewards program is based on the idea of consilience – the convergence of principles from different disciplines to form a comprehensive theory. In this case we seek to weave academic, scientific, and Indigenous perspectives on stewardship of the Salish Sea.
Now in its fourth season, we have continued to successfully engage a broad network of community partners to provide students with experiential nature-based learning that is hands-on and immersive. Partners now include Ocean Networks Canada, Parks Canada, Peninsula Streams, SeaChange, archaeologists, ethnobotanists, Coast Salish knowledge holders, our own educators (Maureen Vo and Nathanial Glickman), and our team at the Raincoast Applied Conservation Science Lab. We work with those serving Indigenous and underserved youth, the Cowichan school district, and the Red Fox Healthy Living Society. Collaboratively, we have engaged individuals from the Tsleil-Waututh, W̱SÁNEĆ, Squamish, Blackfoot, Métis, Chalkultan, Heiltsuk (Haíɫzaqv), and Cowichan Nations.
Experiential and immersive learning
With the support of this network, students scoured intertidal zones, trekked through temperate rainforests, built model clam gardens, and journeyed in traditional style canoes to understand the world through the lens of academic scientific and Indigenous knowledge.
Each year, Raincoast’s 66-foot research vessel, Achiever, serves as our floating classroom as students learn while sailing throughout the Salish Sea. Highlights have included contributing to “citizen-science” water quality testing with Ocean Networks Canada, breaching humpback whales, killer whale encounters, and bow-riding Dall’s porpoises. These types of experiences engage all the senses and provide lasting memories, as well as a deeper personal connection to, and understanding of, the Salish Sea.
Supporting emergent leaders
The program now provides a platform for these emerging Stewards at our annual celebration event. Here, students discuss their learning and perspectives, and showcase creative pieces including photography and art inspired by nature. 2019 also included our hire of three new Junior Leader staff, who join Raincoast crew in inspiring the next cohort of students.
Friend of Raincoast, Eric Sambol
Raincoast is fortunate to work with several amazing photographers. This year we wanted to pay special tribute to Eric Sambol. Eric’s images have been key in a number of our initiatives. They have secured us cover shots in scientific journals for our research, they grace our website, and Tracking Raincoast. His generously donated image of a grizzly bear in Khutze Inlet was a key feature in our One Shot for Coastal Carnivores exhibit. Photographed while visiting the area with Raincoast and our guide outfitter coordinator, Brian Falconer, the image shows a grizzly bear, in full profile, and with a visible scar. Taken from below the river bank, the image is imposing. Yet the image expresses the bear’s tolerance, which many of us recognize when sharing space with these incredible animals.
Eric spent 34 years working in the family construction business before a trip to the continent of Africa changed everything. “For me, meeting these animals in the world we all share, showing how their world is our world, is essential for their survival, and ours. To the extent that I can use my camera to make this point, for others to see and feel, is my measure of success.”
Your photographs are a huge success Eric. Raincoast is immensely grateful for these images and your financial support.
See more: www.ericsambol.com
Tracking Raincoast sponsors
When we publish Tracking Raincoast, we reach out to our supporters for help with the costs. Publishing Tracking Raincoast into 2020 couldn’t have happened without the generous support of these sponsors.