Environment

Local conservation groups launch bid to buy North Pender Island forest

Currently owned by a Victoria pair, the 12.95-acre S,DÁYES Flycatcher Forest is home to Coastal Douglas-fir, wetlands, and 35 species of birds

By Emily Fagan
November 26, 2020
Environment

Local conservation groups launch bid to buy North Pender Island forest

Currently owned by a Victoria pair, the 12.95-acre S,DÁYES Flycatcher Forest is home to Coastal Douglas-fir, wetlands, and 35 species of birds

By Emily Fagan
Nov 26, 2020
Alex Harris / Raincoast
Environment

Local conservation groups launch bid to buy North Pender Island forest

Currently owned by a Victoria pair, the 12.95-acre S,DÁYES Flycatcher Forest is home to Coastal Douglas-fir, wetlands, and 35 species of birds

By Emily Fagan
November 26, 2020
Local conservation groups launch bid to buy North Pender Island forest
Alex Harris / Raincoast

To witness the clearing of ancient Coastal Douglas-fir trees in favor of new homes is nothing new for the residents of North Pender Island. 

“We’ve had a lot of people coming in [to the nature centre] very distraught and upset, seeing the loss of the forest around them,” said Erin O’Brien, an ornithologist and community outreach and project coordinator for the Pender Islands Conservancy Association (PICA).

That may be about to change.

This week, two local conservation groups launched a campaign to protect the land they call S,DÁYES Flycatcher Forest and its inhabitants forever. But first, they have to raise $395,000 in six months.

“Thirteen acres is not a large piece of property, but because it’s so diverse ecologically, it supports a lot of different types of bird species,” said O’Brien. “I think that’s what makes it really valuable."

The two organizations, Raincoast Conservation Foundation and PICA, have collaborated over the last year to protect coastal forests through policy and education. They’re tired of watching forests continue to fall, in spite of their ongoing efforts.

"We finally got frustrated and were like, you know what? We need some tangible protection now,” said Shauna Doll, Raincoast’s Gulf Islands forest project coordinator.

S,DÁYES Flycatcher Forest has long been an area of interest for PICA. This project would mark the first time Raincoast and PICA acquired land for long-term management and restoration.

The Coastal Douglas-fir forest type is threatened in BC, and the forests on both North and South Pender Islands are made up of that forest type.

In the centre of the forest sits a wetland, which Doll said is an important part of the Buck Lake Reservoir watershed, the water supply for the majority of North Pender residents.

Had they not put an offer in when they did, Doll said, the land likely would have been bought for residential use, which she said could put the entire wetland at risk due to the land’s water license. 

Part of the wetland in the S,DÁYES Flycatcher Forest, which faces threat from water withdrawals. Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast

“People would have been able to pump 1,000 gallons of water per day from that wetland, which would essentially ruin it,” said Doll.

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If the conservationists are successful, it will instead be maintained and accessible to the public through a low-impact trail.

Benjamin McConchie, trustee for North Pender Island, has seen the ongoing impact and concerns from residents from deforestation on the island — according to the Islands Trust Conservancy, a fifth of the island has already been converted for human use. McConchie feels advocating for this project is key to his role in preserving and protecting the island.

“This is going to be an incredibly important conservation strategy,” he said. 

The forest is currently owned by two Victoria residents, who gave the conservationists six months to raise the nearly $400,000 to buy the land with the potential for a two month extension if the groups obtain 75% of their goal in that time.

As COVID-19 has curtailed traditional methods of community fundraising—at least for now—the conservationists are working on launching online events to boost engagement. 

O’Brien remains confident in their ability to overcome this challenge. Before publicly launching, the conservationists raised $40,000, and went on to garner $1,000 within the first day of their fundraiser.

In preparing to purchase this property, the two groups conducted preliminary bird surveys, where they discovered it was home to at least 35 species of birds, including olive-sided flycatchers—a species federally recognized as ‘threatened’ due to the loss of habitat to development.

North Pender Island is within the traditional territory of the W̱SÁNEĆ nation, so the forest was named after the traditional name of the island—S,DÁYES—and the flycatchers.

Protecting this forest would have significant impacts in mitigating the effects of climate change, Doll said. 

The wetlands provide an important resource for droughts, particularly as water storage is an issue on the Gulf Islands. Forests there are capable of storing 80% more carbon than other forests, and are also the smallest and least protected of BC’s 16 biogeoclimatic zones.

“Any chance we can preserve land and put in a covenant is an awesome thing for our islands,” said McConchie. “They’re very special.”

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