The Discovery Islands lie at the far northern reach of the Salish Sea. Just 140 years ago, they were home to magnificent ocean-bounded forests of giant trees. The legacy of first settler impacts is enormous stumps that are a haunting memory: this archipelago once harboured vast carbon stores and enormous biodiversity.
Nearly a century later, new settlers arrived, awed by forests that had naturally regenerated as diverse, mature, and again majestic. Logging also returned – in 1985, Read Island was dubiously famous for its thousand-acre private land clearcut.
Shifting baselines alter perception, and except for the disintegrating stumps, it’s hard to even imagine this as a forest of giants. We do know that today’s short-rotation plantations lack biodiversity, and we intuitively place exceptional value on mature forests and remnant big trees. We know about the climate and biodiversity crises and the importance of protecting the carbon storage and sequestration services provided by mature and old forests. And increasingly, we identify with trees and forest creatures in a spiritual dimension that defies words.
By 2010, community angst was high as logging impacts continued to denude the landscape. Political shift and government policies had also decimated the BC Forest Service and eliminated a relatively progressive Forest Practices Code – instead, we had Professional Reliance and the Forest Range and Practices Act (FRPA). Like other communities, Surge Narrows found little voice in this system designed for forest industry priorities. We needed a paradigm shift to protect all the values of these complex and irreplaceable ecosystems. Letter-writing and blockades didn’t work. So, we turned to science to convince forest administrators that trees (and biodiversity) have more than monetary value.
Letter-writing and blockades didn’t work. So, we turned to science to convince forest administrators that trees (and biodiversity) have more than monetary value.
This small community rallied its collective skills. Advised by BC’s Conservation Data Centre, local GIS specialist Eve Flager produced a Sensitive Ecosystems Inventory (SEI) for all the Discovery Islands. We engaged Gregory Kehm Associates to map Enduring Features and analyze conservation options and priorities. Our most recent endeavour is a Protected Landscape Network (PLN) for Read Island. This is a design for ecosystems connectivity to protect biodiversity and rebuild ecological resilience. The PLN was mentored by Herb Hammond, a BC registered professional forester and one of the province’s most esteemed forest ecologists.
A few years in the making, we are keen to share and implement this recently completed work. The methodology can be replicated, and we hope it provides a model for mapping Protected Landscape Networks in other places.
The Protected Landscape Network
Our PLN starts with describing the natural character of the island. The composition, structure, and function of island ecosystems portray the watershed’s optimal design – and provide a guide for its maintenance and restoration. A resulting set of maps show where the island’s network of forests, freshwaters, and other sensitive ecosystems occur and interact, and the cumulative effects of human activities. There are maps to identify tree species, age, site productivity, and ecologically sensitive sites. A map of rare and unique ecosystems indicates biological diversity and ecological resilience. Past and planned logging with zones of influence portrays actual ecosystem impacts – not just the area occupied by cutblocks, logging, and roads. Two forest maps confirm that all of Read Island’s highly productive old forest on rich sites has been logged. They also show remaining primary forests that are important as reservoirs of high biodiversity and rare ecological communities – and options for old growth recruitment in mature forests on rich sites.
Guided by this matrix of information, and with specialized mapping software to objectively identify effective and efficient routes, the final PLN map is a wholistic plan that identifies the natural linkages required for Read Island’s ecosystem functions. This can (and should) become part of an ecosystems-based management plan: loss of ecological connectivity often leads to collapse of larger-scale ecosystem functions. In any watershed it is critical to protect habitats, species, and linkages – because too often there’s no next-valley, other-population, or alternate-route to compensate for the current level of human impacts.
Deferral priorities laid out – what’s next?
Read Island’s PLN underscored the importance of mature and old forests as biodiversity corridors, adding to our interest in BC’s Old Growth Strategic Review. We applaud government’s commitment to implementing its 14 Recommendations. (But… when?) Just to be ready, we commissioned GIS analyst Baden Cross to identify the recommended old forest logging deferral sites for Read Island. In a zone with less than 10% old forest remaining, there are 30 sites. The analysis also identified productive sites with old growth potential in second growth stands, 80-150 years old, critical as old growth forests for the future.
We recently presented the PLN to government, requesting that it and the Old Growth Strategic Review’s recommendations be incorporated in forest planning for Read Island. Initial reception at FLNRORD District Office was positive, but the response was predictable: even though the forest tenure on Read Island is expired and up for renewal, the Ministry has no legal power to change the agreement. We learned that government has basically surrendered control of public forest lands, leaving forest administrators without power to amend tenure regulations. The government appears committed to the logging industry ahead of science, even while terrestrial, climate, and ocean systems continue their decline. At Surge Narrows, we wonder when forests will get the respect they deserve.
Lannie Keller is grateful for 42 years in a hand-built home on an island with nature at the doorstep.