Tracking Raincoast into 2021
Expect the unexpected. Who could have predicted that old adage would so accurately sum up 2020? From the pandemic to the political, the world spent the year in upheaval. The earth’s ecosystems have also been dealing with significant and unrelenting perturbations, albeit for decades; a shift from this approach to one that fosters ecological resilience will be critical to the survival of all.
The late Canadian ecologist Dr. C.S. Holling and his colleagues described resilience as “the capacity of a social-ecological system to absorb or withstand perturbations and other stressors such that the system remains within the same regime, essentially maintaining its structure and function”. When resilience is enhanced, a system is more likely to tolerate disturbance events without collapsing. Reduced resilience increases the vulnerability of a system, lowering its ability to cope with even small disturbances.
Ecosystems – provincially, nationally, and globally – are unraveling as a result of habitat loss, over-exploitation, and industrialization. If these complex life-giving systems are to survive the damage from our human footprint, we must endeavour to advance ecological resilience by protecting what is left and restoring what has been compromised.
We feel blessed and grateful on a daily basis that Raincoast and all Raincoasters are healthy, resilient, and focused as we head into the new year.
Throughout Tracking Raincoast into 2021, note the common thread of fostering resilience amongst all our initiatives, from restoring juvenile salmon habitat in the Fraser River Estuary and fortifying the life requisites of endangered Southern Resident killer whales in the Salish Sea, to securing protection for threatened Coastal Douglas fir forests in the Gulf Islands and carnivores in the Great Bear Rainforest.
Please consider investing in Raincoast’s vital work to bolster resilience and safeguard coastal British Columbia’s lands, waters, and wildlife.
Biologist & Program Director,
Wild Salmon Program
We have always been committed to wildlife welfare ethics. This year we published our first Photography Ethics Policy to guide our acquisition and use of photography. We believe that a photographer or videographer should consider these ethics when capturing media and embody them at the core of their work. It is sent to all the photographers who contribute images to our work.
April Bencze: Page 10 (Kyle Artelle, Howard Humchitt and Ilona Mihalik)
Yuri Choufour: Page 7 (report cover), 20–21 (Fraser River Estuary)
Chris Darimont: Page 11 (Chester Lone Wolf Starr)
Callum Gunn: Page 8 (Cecil Paul)
Alex Harris: Page 1 (Chris Genovali, Misty MacDuffee, Atticus), 8-9 (Dave Scott, Paige Roper), 14 (Kitlope), 16–17 (Aleena Lano, Achiever), 19 (Pender Island inset), 19 (Shauna Doll), 22 (Achiever)
Jim Lawrence: Page iv (grizzly bear)
Fernando Lessa: Page 5 (Lower Mainland), 6 (salmon), 7 (salmon fry)
Florent Nicolas: Back cover (Spirit bear)
Jason Puddifoot: Page 4 (Western Sandpiper), 4 (Fraser Estuary inset)
Miles Ritter: Page ii–iii (killer whale), 2–3 (killer whale)
Mike O. Snyder: Page 7 (report artwork), 25 (sunset)
Michelle Valberg: Page 13 (coastal wolf)
Carrielynn Victor: Page 6, 7 (report artwork)
Steve Woods: Cover photo (coastal wolf)
Southern Residents and recovery
Reversing, or even slowing, our systemic unsustainable human footprint on a time scale relevant to dwindling wildlife populations is a challenge.
Raincoast’s approach to recovering Southern Resident killer whales stands on two primary tenets. First is to hold the line: to keep critical habitat in the Salish Sea from becoming further degraded. The second tenet is to reduce the immediate threats undermining their survival; lack of food, noise and disturbance from vessels, and pollutants that accumulate in their food.
Since 2008, Raincoast has been using science and the courts in our efforts to stop large commercial shipping expansion projects that significantly increase underwater noise, like Terminal 2 and Trans Mountain. Over the last three years, we have also used science, legal processes, and government engagement to implement measures that reduce noise and disturbance from vessels, and reduce the impact of fisheries on the Southern Resident’s dwindling salmon food supply.
By some measures, 2020 may have provided an improvement in killer whale health. Whether from the influence of sanctuaries, reduced fishing, whale watch restrictions, ship slow downs, or other marine conditions that affect Chinook, there are two young calves and pregnancies within the three pods. This is very welcome news. However, the test will be whether these calves and fetuses survive to become breeding adults. This has been the problem of the last decade or so. We sincerely hope 2020 signals a turning point in their recovery. In 2021, we will continue to champion recovery efforts for food security, along with noise and disturbance reductions, with our conservation partners in Canada and the US.
Roberts Bank Terminal 2 and the heart of the Fraser Estuary
In March of 2020, a federal review panel concluded that the Terminal 2 shipping expansion project would have significant adverse and cumulative effects to populations of Fraser Chinook. This is due to the proposal’s footprint in the Fraser Estuary and from the migration disruption caused by the terminal’s placement. The panel also concluded that the project, including its increase in marine shipping, would amplify underwater noise in the Salish Sea, leading to significant adverse effects on endangered Southern Resident killer whales. This echoed the detailed evidence Raincoast has been submitting to the Terminal 2 panel since 2016.
In August of 2020, the Canadian government appeared to respond. Canada’s minister of Environment and Climate Change, Jonathan Wilkinson, sent a letter to the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority requesting more information from the Port to assess the effectiveness of mitigation proposed on Chinook, killer whales, and other species in the estuary. This request pressed pause on the entire assessment process.
While the information the Minister requested is much needed, there are no mitigation or habitat offsetting efforts that will compensate for destruction of the habitats that endangered species require. We continue to use technical submissions, and collaborative communication efforts with other conservation groups to inform decision makers and the public. Richmond and Delta municipalities (closest to the terminal) have also expressed their opposition, citing the environmental and human impacts from more ships and bigger terminals.
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.
The problem with hatcheries and hopes for wild salmon
Pacific salmon are foundationally important to Canada’s wildlife, food security, cultures, and economy. Yet, salmon catches have declined precipitously in the last two decades despite millions of dollars invested annually in hatcheries. This past May, Raincoast authors called on the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission, who oversee catches of salmon, to scrutinize the input of billions of young salmon released en masse every year from hatcheries around the Pacific rim.
Growing evidence indicates that billions of hungry fry are creating an environment where competition is steep and food is limited. It is Garrett Hardin’s classic tragedy of the commons, playing out in the North Pacific. This, along with the habitat loss, climate change, unsustainable fisheries, and other human impacts mean salmon, such as Chinook, are returning to spawn younger, smaller, and in fewer numbers. This is only one way that the release of hatchery fish causes problems for the recovery of wild salmon.
So if hatcheries that fertilize eggs in buckets and raise fish in tanks only make the problem for wild salmon worse, how do we recover salmon? In a nutshell, we need to invest in habitat protection, habitat restoration, and far better decision-making at all levels of government to prioritize the resilience of species and ecosystems. This gives wild salmon, and the myriad of other species that would benefit from habitat protection, the best chance at adapting to a changing climate and rebuilding their populations. Keep reading to learn how Raincoast is putting these ideas into practice in the Fraser River.
A vision for wild salmon in the Lower Fraser
In March 2020, Raincoast published the report Toward a vision for salmon habitat in the Lower Fraser River. The report detailed the state of Lower Fraser salmon and their habitat, threats to this habitat, and the cultural, economic, ecological, and social values attached to these salmon. Since March, we have been advancing the report’s recommendations to foster collaboration. We are active on three fronts.
In the Fraser Estuary, we are pursuing collaborative opportunities to restore habitat with the Tsawwassen Nation, the Province of BC, Metro Vancouver, and Ducks Unlimited. We also continue to support the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance with the implementation of an Indigenous-led Fish Habitat Restoration Strategy for the entire Lower Fraser River.
Throughout 2020, we researched invest-ments in conservation and restoration in the Lower Fraser to better understand the scale, scope, and rationale for millions of dollars of investment committed over the last ten years. In 2021, we plan to make recommendations for identifying sustainable funding options for salmon restoration.
Lastly, we have also worked to increase monitoring and research capacity, especially where this overlaps with Indigenous youth engagement. You can learn more in the Salish Sea Emerging Stewards update.
Adapting for ecological resilience
Since 2017, Raincoast has been collaborating with the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance, West Coast Environmental Law, and the Martin Conservation Decisions Lab at the University of British Columbia to explore pathways that foster long-term ecological resilience. This has focused on examining Indigenous-led and community-driven governance for ecosystem-based management of the Lower Fraser River and estuary, benefiting the species and people that rely on it.
Whilst it is easy to talk about collaboration, in practice it takes dedicated time and sustained effort. In September 2020, Raincoast played a leading role in bringing together over 30 conservation groups collectively working to support ecological resilience of the Lower Fraser River.
We have now launched the Adapting for Ecological Resilience Network to act as a mechanism for increased communication, coordination, and collaboration among these conservation groups. Working groups were created to focus conversations on key topics, such as collaborative data and information sharing methods, and determining how we can collectively accelerate the implementation of nature-based solutions within the Lower Fraser Region.
In late November, research led by our partner Tara Martin at UBC charted a road map for recovery of 100 species at risk in the Fraser Estuary. The findings, published in a journal and developed into a Conservation Prospectus for the Fraser Estuary, found that combining a range of actions and implementing them through collaborative governance is not only cost effective, it also gives these species the best chance of long-term resilience.
Reconnecting Fraser Estuary salmon habitat
Despite the challenges of COVID-19, our research and restoration efforts in the Fraser River Estuary continued through 2020. Now in year five, this work is helping us understand how the estuary supports millions of juvenile salmon in its different habitats each spring and summer. Informed by their movements, we began habitat restoration in 2019 to reconnect access to the marsh on Sturgeon Bank, between the North and South Arms of the Lower Fraser, by creating linear breaches in the long rock jetties that direct the flow of the river through the estuary.
In 2019, we captured 454 juvenile salmon (300 chum, 152 Chinook, and 2 sockeye) between March and May, just after we opened the first breaches. In 2020, our catches at the breach locations increased substantially with 1,480 total salmon (297 Chinook, 174 sockeye, 420 pink, 20 coho, 569 chum). We even had days when we captured all five species of salmon in one set. We captured both ocean-type and stream-type Chinook, and had large bursts of young pink and sockeye. We recorded ocean type Chinook at breach locations every month from March through August. We had big hopes, but these results exceeded even our expectations.
Our monitoring setup is simple. When the tide is at the right level, we set our net across the channels that are forming behind our breach locations. We have a net (pictured) with two wings that funnel fish into a trap box and then into a bag where they can be retrieved safely.
The strong current, especially at high tides, directs water from the river through the breaches and carves channels onto Sturgeon bank. The breaches will continue to result in channel formation over time, creating further opportunities for salmon to access marsh habitat with each successive tidal cycle, slowly eroding a natural pathway that has been blocked for over 100 years. In 2021, we will work with our partners to begin addressing some of the other major barriers in the estuary, like the North Arm jetty, doing everything we can to restore the Fraser Estuary and rebuild wild salmon populations.
Raincoast Applied Conservation Science Lab
Like other Raincoasters, members of the ACS lab at the University of Victoria have made creative and productive COVID-19 pivots. Although field seasons were cancelled or modified, we capitalized on unprecedented opportunity to focus on analyses, policy, and digital outreach. We have also reflected on the relationship between planetary and human health, reminding us of the myriad benefits of applied conservation science.
Our team is also grieving the loss of a dear friend and mentor. Chester “Lone Wolf” Starr, of Bella Bella, Heiltsuk Territory, touched many lives and quietly shaped the direction of Raincoast’s work. In honour of his influence and with permission of his family, we share a portion of his eulogy by Johanna (Yoey) Gordon-Walker.
“Chester began working with Raincoast Conservation in the spring of 2000. Larry Jorgenson connected him with Chris Darimont, who at that time was a graduate student and was planning a wolf research project in Haíɫzaqv territory. Chester was not only knowledgeable about the territory and the animals living there, but was an incomparable mentor for the whole crew. He had an amazing eye for spotting wildlife along the shore or in the forest, and he shared the knowledge that was passed down to him about how to observe the animals and everything around him. He could howl just like a wolf, and would often howl to see if the wolves were nearby; sometimes a wolf pack responded. The wolf research project ran for a number of years, during which Chester made many strong connections, including his especially close friend Chris Darimont and Johanna Gordon-Walker, whom he began calling his daughter in 2003. In 2004 the International Fund for Animal Welfare recognized Chester, along with Chris, with a Compassion in Science Award for their research that treated wolves with respect and compassion. Raincoast began a number of other projects in Heiltsuk territory over the years, and although Chester retired from fieldwork, he made friends with the new researchers and field assistants, attending dinners and the occasional boat ride. He and Denise became close with Kyle Artelle and Diana Chan, who made Bella Bella their home. Chester also loved his visits to Koeye during Raincoast’s week at Koeye Camp. He took lots of pride in all the work he had been a part of and loved to watch and share the numerous films made about the wolf project by organizations such as National Geographic.”
We will miss you, Lone Wolf. Your lessons will stay with us.
A path to protection for BC’s Wolves
Stqéyəʔ, the lone grey wolf, spent years living on an island near Victoria, BC. On leaving the island, he was relocated and shortly after, shot dead. The reason: simply because someone legally could, for recreation and a trophy. This remains the sad reality for BC’s wolves and it is something we are committed to changing.
In BC, the provincial government estimates that some 1,200 wolves are killed on an annual basis for recreational purposes. Hundreds more are killed by government sanctioned culls to ostensibly protect caribou and livestock; both actions are ineffective and unethical. Raincoast large carnivore expert Paul Paquet suspects the aforementioned annual mortality number is likely higher given BC’s weak reporting requirements and inadequate conservation enforcement capability.
In July 2020, a peer-reviewed study, co-authored by Raincoast’s Chris Darimont, was published indicating that research used to rationalize lethal wolf control as a recovery measure for endangered mountain caribou had critical statistical flaws. Research remains a key element in our effort to protect wolves. With a new provincial government in place, 2021 will see us working toward implementation of provincial policy that respects the welfare of wolves and their ecological role.
To fulfil our investigate, inform, and inspire mandate, we also launched our very first Wolf School in 2020 in partnership with the US based Wolf Conservation Center. Over 2,000 people from around the world tuned in. We are planning a new spring term in 2021. Wolf School is dedicated to the memory of our friend Chester Starr.
Safeguarding coastal carnivores – Kitlope success
In October of 2020, we reached a significant milestone in our efforts to end all commercial trophy hunting of coastal carnivores in the Great Bear Rainforest. We successfully raised $650,000 to purchase the Kitlope commercial hunting tenure.
At 5300 km2, this tenure encompasses the entire Huchsduwachsdu Nuyem Jees / Kitlope Heritage Conservancy, and surrounding area. The conservancy is truly spectacular and protects the largest expanse of intact coastal temperate rainforest in the world. Our acquisition of commercial hunting rights adds critical protection for the Kitlope’s wolves, bears and wolverine, as well as mountain goats, in line with the wishes of the Haisla community and Xenaksiala elders like the late legendary statesman Wa’Xaid, Cecil Paul Sr.
We drew donations from all over BC, Canada, the US, and internationally with support from as far as Australia, Austria, Germany, India, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and United Arab Emirates. We were also grateful to Vancouver Island based conservation photographers, Cristina Mittermeier and Paul Nicklen, and their organization SeaLegacy. Their vocal support brought a flurry of attention that pushed us over the finish line.
With our previous tenures combined, Raincoast now controls the commercial hunting rights in more than 38,000 km2 of the BC coast – an area larger than Vancouver Island or the entire country of Belgium. We are already marshalling resources to buy the remaining tenures in the Great Bear Rainforest.
A hero lost to this world
While we celebrate, it is with extreme sadness that we also acknowledge the passing of Wa’Xaid. It is not possible in this small space to describe how his wisdom, integrity, clear vision, and his quiet powerful stories had such a deep and lasting impact on all of us at Raincoast.
The battle to protect the Kitlope Valley in the early 1990s brought us together as our “chosen family” and his counsel served to define Raincoast. In his book, Stories from the Magic Canoe, he explained how his canoe could make room for anyone who would paddle on the journey together. The deep, respectful, and collaborative relationships that we are privileged to have with First Nations communities on the coast are rooted in his counsel.
Our 2020 marine operations were largely scuppered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our usual Achiever time spent visiting the territories of coastal First Nations, where we conduct partnered research, was restricted to protect community members, as well as our staff and guests.
Raincoast’s Brian Falconer did participate in the Marine Debris Removal Initiative as a skipper with Bluewater Adventures. With the entire 2020 season written off for most coastal ecotourism operators, we want to add our deep gratitude for their spectacular efforts cleaning up the coast. With the support of numerous coastal First Nations, they cleared over 100 tonnes of debris from the shorelines and beaches of the BC coast.
With safety measures in place in the fall, we were also able to host WSÁNEĆ youth and community members as part of the Salish Sea Emerging Stewards Program.
Despite a challenging year, we have much to look forward to. We are hoping to visit the Great Bear as soon as we can safely do so. In particular, we are looking forward to visiting the spectacular Kitlope Conservancy. Through 2021, Achiever will continue to inspire future generations of stewards through support for youth engagement with the Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xai’xais and WSÁNEĆ Nations.
A future for the Gulf Islands’ forests
Raincoast’s newest initiative aims to protect Coastal Douglas-fir forests and associated habitats across the Gulf Islands. These are some of the least protected and most threatened forests in BC. With 30% of the province’s Coastal Douglas-fir forests occuring within the Islands Trust jurisdiction, and few tools for them to implement and enforce environmental regulation, policy change is necessary for long-term conservation.
To address this, Raincoast enlisted the help of the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria in early 2020 to perform a legislative review of the Islands Trust powers to regulate forest protection. We presented the report, with its ten recommendations, to the Islands Trust Council in the fall. Two motions were passed that put forest protection on the political agenda. Next year, we will support the Trust in its efforts to uphold their ‘preserve and protect’ mandate by continuing legislative work, making delegations, and engaging in community collaborations.
Acquiring the S,DÁYES Flycatcher Forest
To address the gap between the urgency of forest protection and meaningful policy, Raincoast has partnered with the Pender Islands Conservancy to purchase a 13 acre forest and wetland complex on North Pender Island. At least 35 bird species have been identified here, including olive-sided flycatchers. As a species linking forests and wetlands, the olive-sided flycatcher has become the namesake of the place we are calling the S,DÁYES Flycatcher Forest.
Finally, to complement public policy and private protection, we also implemented stewardship initiatives like the Pender Islands Big Tree Registry, recording the biggest and oldest of the island’s trees with the community in a public registry and website.
Seven years in the Lower Fraser
In 2014, Raincoast initiated its work in the Lower Fraser River. From primary research and physical habitat restoration to engagement with communities, environmental reviews, and policy change, the scope of our work stretches from the beginning of the river’s gravel reach near Hope, to the estuary where our on the ground efforts are concentrated.
Raincoast identifies Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s (DFO) failure to meet its own sustainability goals for weak Fraser Chinook populations. Call for harvest reductions.
Launch drift card experiments in Salish Sea, Burrard Inlet and Fraser River to study potential oil spills.
Further recommendations to DFO regarding management of declining Fraser Chinook populations.
Biologist Dave Scott joins Raincoast as the first full-time member of the Lower Fraser Salmon team.
Submit evidence to the National Energy Board on the implications of Trans Mountain expansion on Fraser River salmon & endangered Southern Resident killer whales.
Publish Our Threatened Coast – Nature and Shared Benefits in the Salish Sea.
Submit recommendations to DFO to constrain harvest on declining Fraser Chinook populations.
Begin juvenile salmon research in the Estuary. Captured 33,441 fish in 40 species from 17 sites across the delta.
Submit evidence on the potential impacts to juvenile Chinook from Port of Vancouver’s proposal to expand Terminal 2 in the Fraser Estuary.
Begin community engagement on vision for salmon habitat in Lower Fraser River watersheds, hosted by Kwantlen Nation.
2nd estuary field season. 45 sampling days; 8200+ juvenile salmon sampled; 550 Chinook fin clips for genetic stock identification.
Riley Finn begins collaboration with Raincoast to map salmon habitats and barriers across the Lower Fraser.
Participate in Priority Threat Management process to assess options for resilience of at-risk species in the Fraser River Estuary.
Fourth and final Salmon Vision workshop hosted by Tsawwassen Nation.
Submissions to DFO for harvest closures on (now) endangered Fraser Chinook.
Establish Working Group with the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance, West Coast Environmental Law and UBC to explore Indigenous-led ecological governance.
76 sampling days capturing 35,000+ fish including 6,400+ juvenile salmon.
Phase One restoration on Steveston jetty establishes 3 breaches to let juvenile salmon reach habitat on Sturgeon Bank.
Submissions to DFO on harvest closures for endangered Fraser Chinook.
450+ juvenile salmon sampled moving through new breaches; highest catches in April and May.
Biologist Kristen Walters joins the as coordinator for the Lower Fraser Salmon Conservation Program.
First paper on estuary research published with UVic & UBC partners demonstrates importance of habitat connectivity for estuary fish.
Phase Two restoration of Steveston jetty breaches.
More juvenile salmon through restoration breaches: sampled 300 Chinook, 175 sockeye, 420 pink, 20 coho, 460 chum.
Adapting for Ecological Resilience Network
Launch the Adapting for Ecological Resilience Network (AFER) to support collaboration in the Lower Fraser.
Publish Blueprint for Restoring Ecological Governance with Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance.
Priority threat management prospectus
Conservation prospectus for Fraser Estuary published with partners at UBC, UVic, and more.
Empowering youth leadership
Since 2016, our Salish Sea Emerging Stewards program has been empowering young conservation leaders by connecting youth to place through immersive land and boat-based learning. The idea of “two-eyed seeing” or the blending of different knowledge systems and ways of being is central to the program.
With COVID-19 preventing experiential programs, we quickly shifted to online learning with Coastal Insights, an 11-episode live and interactive webinar series covering topics such as coexisting with wildlife, species recovery, and the concept of blending knowledge systems.
Our collaboration with the Tsawwassen First Nation (TFN) to pilot a youth stewardship program was a 2020 highlight. Led by Robin Buss, a dynamic young TFN Indigenous leader, the team worked each week with youth aged 15–20. Youth conveyed that the program opened their eyes to the rich biodiversity of the region and provided a greater awareness about local conservation issues.
Raincoast also worked with the WSÁNEĆ Nation to deliver two single-day sailing trips in the Salish Sea aboard Achiever. The trips were an opportunity to share stories, knowledge, and visions for the next seven generations. We plan to continue this work with the WSÁNEĆ and other Nations to support youth leadership programs.
2020 also saw the launch of our Junior Leaders program, an opportunity to support leadership development through a year-long paid internship with Raincoast. Three inspiring young leaders trained with Raincoast and our community partners to develop interpretative, research, and conservation skills. Given the constraints of COVID-19, our plan to teach aboard Achiever changed. As such, each leader successfully hosted a Coastal Insights episode and developed their skills in communications and environmental education.
Science publications in 2020
Friend of Raincoast, Dr. Robert Oberheide
Dr. Robert Wagner Oberheide was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1931. He died on July 11, 2016 in 100 Mile House, British Columbia.
Dr. Oberheide, known to his friends as Bob, lived a life that was filled with many twists and turns. During the Korean War he served in a US Air Force reserve unit. Later that decade he worked in his family’s country of origin, Germany. There he apprenticed as a cabinetmaker and became quite proficient in the trade. He moved back to the US and continued with his formal education, eventually graduating with a PhD in psychology.
In 1971, Bob moved to Canada to take a teaching position at Memorial University in St John’s Newfoundland. Later he worked in private practice in Ontario, Alberta, and BC, eventually taking up residence in 108 Mile Ranch.
Bob was an avid outdoors person and loved to be out in nature whether by fishing, hiking, or cross-country skiing. Bob was also a long-time supporter of charities that worked to resolve the damage being done to the environment by an economic system that he viewed as short sighted.
Raincoast was one of his favourite organizations. Still, we were surprised to learn he made the decision to award Raincoast one of the largest legacy gifts we have ever received. We are truly grateful to be part of Bob’s conservation legacy.