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Connecting Corridors

by Marguerite Forest
Land and Lakes (click for map)
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.

Parks and Ecological Reserves (click for map)
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.



Council of the Haida Nation Protected Areas (click for map)
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.

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.




Connecting Corridors (click for map)

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, exposed peaks.

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 areas.
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.
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