by Marguerite Forest
Haida Gwaii covers about 1,005,000 ha. One million hectares is a nice round
number to keep in mind.
Most of the islands in the archipelago are very small. Some are hardly more
than very large rocks, less than one-tenth of a hectare in size. Hundreds
of others are less than 10 ha each. Fewer than one hundred islands in the
archipelago are between 10 ha and 100 ha. Just thirty-one are bigger than
100 ha. None of the small and medium size islands show at all on a map at
this small a scale. Only the biggest are visible.
The smallest islands make good sites for nesting sea birds and for nursing
marine mammals, especially if they are set a bit further off-shore and cannot
be reached as easily by predators from the main islands. But size is still
very important, and so is the amount of disruption by human activities.
The biggest and least disrupted off-shore islands, like Frederick and Hippa,
have some of the largest seabird colonies.
Only the biggest islands provide enough habitat for animals like bears and
pine martin. They may visit the smaller, closer islands when foraging for
food, but they could not live there permanently. The narrowest channels
between islands, like Kumdis Slough, Skidegate and Buck Channels, Carmichael
and Dana Passages, and Burnaby Narrows, are passable at very low tides.
They are the most important places for getting to and from the closer islands.
These narrowest channels do not show at all on a map at this small a scale,
making it look as if these islands really are connected to each other.
Haida Gwaii has lakes covering about 12,500 hectares, leaving around 993,000
ha of actual land area.
Most of the lakes in the archipelago are very small. Over a thousand are
hardly more than small ponds, less than 1 ha in size. Hundreds of others
are less than 10 ha each. Just over one hundred lakes on the islands are
between 10 ha and 100 ha. Only twenty-two are bigger than 100 ha. None of
the small and medium size lakes show at all on a map at this small a scale.
Only the biggest are visible.
The smallest and least connected lakes provide habitat for some unusual
species of tiny fish. Only the bigger lakes, connected to the sea by the
bigger rivers on the islands, provide enough habitat for large populations
of species like salmon and river otters. The largest and least disrupted
lakes and rivers provide more of the best habitat.
Haida Gwaii has only 9 parks and ecological reserves. They cover about 222,800
ha or just over 22% of the land area of the islands.
Most of these protected areas are quite small. The ecological reserves of
Rose Spit, Tow Hill, and Drizzle Lake range in size from about 200 ha to
just under 700 ha. The smallest reserve is Petrel Island, a seabird nesting
islet in Lepas Bay with an area of just over 1 ha. Several other vey small
seabird nesting sites that were designated as ecological reserves are now
included in Gwaii Haanas. The biggest reserve is around Port Chanal, including
Hippa Island, with an area of just under 8,000 ha. It is named after Dr.
V. J. Krajina who promoted the idea of a province-wide network of ecological
reserves as outdoor laboratories for long-term scientific studies. Ecological
Reserves are protected for conservation, research, and education rather
than for recreation.
The other protected areas are provincial and national parks or reserves.
The two smallest are Pure Lake Provincial Park, with an area of just over
100 ha, and Yakoun Lake Provincial Reserve, with an area of just over 240
ha. The two biggest are Naikoon Provincial Park, with an area of just over
67,000 ha, and Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site,
with an area of just over 146,000 ha. In addition to well used recreational
areas, these parks include private inholdings and areas under mining claims.
There are three ecosections on the islands, the Mountains to the south and
west, the Skidegate Plateau in the centre, and the Lowlands in the northeast.
The best protected areas of the islands are the swampy lowlands to the northeast
and the mountains and islands to the south. The central plateau of the islands
is hardly protected at all, except for Yakoun Lake and the northeastern
corner of Gwaii Haanas where the plateau breaks up into islands.
Rose Spit and Tow Hill border Naikoon to the north. Drizzle Lake and Pure
Lake are fairly close to each other and to the western border of Naikoon.
From this cluster in the northeast corner of the islands, it is a very long
way to any of the other protected areas. Lepas Bay, V. J. Krajina, and Gwaii
Haanas are as far apart from Naikoon, to the northeast, and from each other,
at the northwest and southern corners of the islands, as it is possible
to get in the archipelago. Yakoun Lake does have a relatively central location,
but it is a very small protected area and still quite a distance from there
to Naikoon, V. J. Krajina, or Gwaii Haanas.
As development continues on the islands, it is also getting much more difficult
for animals to move safely from one protected area to another. The forests
between Yakoun Lake and Naikoon, to the northeast, and between Yakoun Lake
and Gwaii Haanas, to the south, have been heavily logged. There still are
undisturbed connecting areas between Yakoun Lake and Lepas Bay and V. J.
Krajina to the northwest, but these are now in danger of being cut through
by the logging extending southwest from Naden Harbour and Juskatla Inlet
and northeast from Tartu Inlet and Rennell Sound.
Of the ten largest lakes on the islands, only Mayer Lake in Naikoon and
Upper Victoria Lake in Gwaii Haanas are protected. Neither of these lakes
is linked to the sea by a large river in the way that the Ain, Yakoun, and
Copper Rivers link Ian, Yakoun, and Skidegate Lakes to the sea. None of
the prime riparian and lacustrine habitat on the islands is protected.
The Council of the Haida Nation has designated 14 protected areas. They
cover about 196,500 ha or just under 20% of the land area of the islands.
Council of the Haida Nation Protected Areas (click
The two smallest areas are Qanuu Gandll (Givenchy Anchorage) in Kano Inlet
and Qanuu (Carew Bay), with areas of about 80 ha and 290 ha, apiece. There
are seven medium sized areas, including Kumdis Slough at 1,340 ha, Tsuuguus
Gandll (Security Inlet) at 1,700 ha, Jiinanga (Government Creek) at 1,790
ha, Qaydgayuaaw-Qaysun (Kitgoro/Niisii-Kaisun) at 2,180 ha, Kunxalaas (Grey
Bay-Cumshewa) at 2,780 ha, Gawii Gawgaay (Kootenay Inlet) at 3,650 ha, and
Nang Xaldangaas (Naden-Masset) at 5,620 ha. The three biggest areas are
Yaagan Siwaay (the Yakoun Lake Basin and River Corridor, which can count
as one area or as two) at 10,910 ha, Tllaal (the central Tlell) at 16,690
ha, and Duu Guusd at 149,540 ha.
Yaagan Siwaay and Duu Guusd include existing parks or ecological reserves,
the Yakoun Lake Provincial Reserve in the former and the Lepas Bay and V.
J. Krajina Ecological Reserves in the latter, so the Council of the Haida
Nation designated protected area in these two places is actually smaller
than the total area of each.
Although their total area is smaller than the total area of the existing
parks and ecological reserves, the Council of the Haida Nation areas cover
a wider variety of island landscapes. North Duu Guusd and Yaagan Siwaay
both cover the full range of island ecosections, from the mountains, across
the plateau, and down to the lowlands. Tllaal also links the plateau to
the lowlands. Duu Guusd is the only place on the islands where the full
range of biogeoclimatic zones (based on moisture, temperature, and the resulting
dominant plant species) and the transition areas from one zone to another
are protected. Such transition areas usually have more diverse species than
areas well within a single zone. Except for the very wet hypermaritime Coastal
Western Hemlock zone on the west coast, Yaagan Siwaay does cover a similar
range, but because the river corridor is so narrow it protects only very
tiny areas in each zone. Duu Guusd and Yaagan Siwaay are the only two places
on the islands where the leeward Mountain Hemlock zone is protected. Yaagan
Siwaay also protects Yakoun Lake, the second largest lake on the islands
and the only one of the five biggest lakes to be protected.
The Council of the Haida Nation protected areas also provide vital links
in corridors that would connect the different protected areas on the islands
to each other. Kumdis and Nang Xaldangaas could help link Naikoon to northern
Duu Guusd. Yaagan Siwaay and Tllaal could help link Naikoon to the south.
Jiinanga, Tsuuguus Gandll, and Gawii Gawgaay could help reach all the way
to Gwaii Haanas.
However, there are critical gaps. The longest unprotected distance is still
between Yaagan Siwaay and southern Duu Guusd, and the gaps between Yaagan
Siwaay, Jiinanga, Tsuuguus Gandll, Gawii Gawgaay and Gwaii Haanas are still
very wide. The area southwest from Naden Harbour and Juskatla Inlet and
northeast from Tartu Inlet and Rennell Sound, between Yaagan Siwaay and
southern Duu Guusd Gawii, and the area southwest of Sewell Inlet and east
and northeast of Tasu Sound, between Gawgaay and Gwaii Haanas, are in the
greatest danger from continued logging. Additional links in these areas
will have to come from strict enforcement of the riparian zone and forest
ecosystem networks requirements in the Forest Practices Code.
The central area of Haida Gwaii is the key to connecting the protected areas
in the south to those in the northeast and northwest. Yet this is the place
where there are the most significant barriers.
Here, the two biggest islands, Moresby and Graham, are separated by Skidegate
Channel. Tidal currents are fierce, so the Narrows are passable by animals
only at very low tides. Most of the tallest, steepest mountains on the islands
are found here, from Mt. Hobbs on the border of V. J. Krajina, to Mt. Matlock
and Mt. Stapleton southwest of Yakoun Lake, to Mt. Moresby and Newcombe
Peak southeast of Mosquito Lake, and to Mt. Moody and Mt. de la Touche on
the boundary of Gwaii Haanas. Although some unusual alpine plants are found
in these areas, most island plants and animals cannot survive on the cold,
This is the most developed area on the islands. Sandspit, Skidegate Landing,
Queen Charlotte City, and Skidegate with its ferry landing at Alliford Bay,
together form the largest population center on the islands. These communities
occupy almost all of the eastern shores of Skidegate Inlet. Also, logging
has been most extensive in this area. Along a set of lines from the mouth
of the Yakoun River to the mouth of the Honna River, from Alliford Bay to
Moresby Camp, and from Beattie Anchorage to the head of Botany Inlet, there
are almost no unlogged areas left at all.
In this central area of the islands, the landscape between protected "islands"
is becoming more and more like a dangerous "ocean." A young bear
setting out from its mother's territory to find a home range of its own
would find the search very difficult. Only a cub lucky enought to grow up
in Jiinanga or Tsuuguus would be able to find its way north or south through
other unlogged areas.
Gwaii Haanas, Naikoon, and Duu Guusd are pobably the only protected areas
large enough to support breeding populations of big animals like bears,
and even they may not be large when not linked together. Smaller protected
areas can provide habitat for individuals or for very small groups, but
these few animals will not form breeding populations with enough genetic
variation to be viable in the long run. Eventually, all the bigger species
on these smaller isolated protected "islands" will die without
reproducing or become extinct from inbreeding. In the short run, one way
to ameliorate this problem is to create protected corridors between protected
What Makes a Good Connecting Corridor?
Good corridors are not just areas left out of logging plans as inoperable
or uneconomic. They must be ecologically sound, so that animals will use
them safely. Good corridors protect locations that are essential for movement,
like the Narrows in Skidegate Channel, the only places where animals can
cross safely at low tides. Good corridors avoid locations that are inhospitable,
like the steep, exposed peaks of the mountains, where animals cannot find
adequate food or shelter.
Good corridors also provide some continuity of habitat, so animals do not
have to spend too much time in places where their usual food and shelter
are not as common. This is one way of decribing a Forest Ecosystem Network
from an animal's point of view. Officially, a FEN is a "contiguous
network of representative old-growth and mature forests, some of which provide
forest interior habitat conditions." An island-wide Forest Ecosystem
Network would connect all the largest protected areas areas to each other,
and along the connecting corridors the smaller protected areas would provide
some interior habitat that is needed along the way.
Good corridors are permanent. Everyone knows how inconvenient and irritating
it is to drive on long stretches of roads that are being repaired. In the
back of our minds, though, we know it is necessary. On a longer time scale,
corridors or Forest Ecosystem Networks that can be logged and shifted to
other locations are like roads in a state of constant but completely unnecessary
repair. What a good corridor or FEN really needs is to be left alone!
Riparian zones next to rivers, lakes, and wetlands can make good corridors
or FENs, but they should be wide and unbroken rather than narrow and logged
at odd intervals. The Forest Practices Code requires that fish or community
watershed rivers wider than 1.5 m and with less than 20% slopes have no
harvest reserve zones of 20 to 50 m. Lakes and wetlands larger than 5 ha
should have no harvest reserve zones of 10 m. But smaller, steeper streams
and smaller lakes or wetlands do not have any reserve zones, nor do rivers
wider than 100 m, lakes larger than 1,000 ha, or wetlands in areas with
more than 50% bog or muskeg.
These kinds of riparian zones are not continuous enough to make connecting
corridors nor wide enough to provide interior forest conditions along a
corridor. A narrow riparian zone in the middle reach of a watershed will
not provide adequate food and shelter, nor will it help animals move from
one watershed to another. Wider zones along the full length of streams and
from one watershed to another through low elevation passes are needed. Cross-valley
corridors are also needed in places where this is the most likely route
for moving animals to follow.
Without connecting corridors, island species that rely on old-growth forest
habitat will be isolated in areas that may be too small to maintain breeding
populations. They will be cut off by stretches of hostile territory that
do not provide habitat in which they can flourish or that are too wide to
cross safely and easily.
Connecting corridors will make the islands' protected areas less like "islands."
There would be contiguous areas of representative old-growth forest. Animals
would be able move from one part of the islands to another more safely and
surely. Wide riparian zones would serve both these functions and ensure
protection of prime fish habitat. Creating connecting corridors will be
the first big step to take in rehabilitating the islands' ecosystems.