SpruceRoots Magazine - June 2001


Red-listed QCI Northern Goshawk near Ian Lake


Haida Gwaii's forests are home to more than trees, the temperate wet climate of the rain forest is widely recognized as one of the richest, rarest, most diverse ecosystems in the world. Given the history of industrial activity in the forests, it should come as no surprise that among the many species of plants and wildlife inhabiting the islands, several are on or approaching the brink of extinction.

Already Dawson Car ibou, once unique to Haida Gwaii, are long gone and the BC Conservation Data Centre has identified more than eighty local plants and animals which are threatened to follow in the unfortunate footsteps of the infamous Dodo. Globally, species are vanishing at a rate unseen since the dinosaurs ceased to walk the earth and governments in Canada, far from taking a leadership role in stemming the rising tide of oblivion, are instead adopting half-hearted measures which many scientists and environmentalists view as sorely inadequate.

Federal and provincial endangered species legislation in BC doesn't go much further than acknowledging those species which are threatened by extinction while offering little in the way of protection or restorative effort. Perhaps most significantly, the habitat these species depend upon continues to be disposed of on a daily basis like so many empty ketchup bottles, bic lighters, and dirty diapers.

In BC, the provincial government is in the early stages of implementing its Identified Wildlife Management Strategy. This consists of placing endangered species on one of three lists- red, blue, or yellow-based on their relative peril of extinction. Red-listed species are the most endangered, and as such, receive the greatest attention from the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks-the ministry primarily responsible for executing the program. Once a species is identified as threatened, the only tool available to help secure its survival is the establishment of a Wildlife Habitat Area (WHA). Of all the land in BC which is open to logging (also known as the Timber Harvesting Land Base), only one percent can be designated WHA to help promote the survival of threatened species.

WHA's are not parks, they are not protected areas, they are not 'no-go' zones for development although a portion of them may be. They are intended to provide an added level of protection for endangered species over and above what's afforded to them through the Forest Practices Code. However, what WHA's often amount to is an added level of legal complexity for industrial interests to contend with before they log or mine an area inhabited by endangered species. And if understanding the implications of a WHA strikes some as convoluted, the process for establishing one is only more so.

The fact that after two years of running the Identified Wildlife Management Strategy there are only eight WHA's in all of BC, none on Haida Gwaii, speaks volumes about what a difficult and onerous process it is to secure just one of them. Anyone can propose a WHA, but before it can be established the parties affected by the proposal are consulted, and three separate committees are obliged to review, comment, and approve the plan. In other words, for every hectare designated a WHA, there are a hundred miles of red tape to be reckoned with.

In spite of this Haida Gwaii is about to get a first-hand look at its own when a 2400-hectare WHA is established to protect nesting habitat for the red-listed QCI Northern Goshawk in Bonanza Creek later this year. The plan calls for a 240-hectare no-development zone in the area immediately surrounding a nest which has housed a breeding pair of Goshawks for the last five years. The balance of the 2400 hectares is referred to as 'foraging area,' at least 40 percent of which is available for logging and road building with some restrictions.

It's no sanctuary, but it's better than nothing. Of the 17 red-listed species identified on Haida Gwaii only two, the QCI Northern Goshawk and Marbled Murrelet, will receive added protection from WHAs any time soon. The Saw-whet Owl and Hairy Woodpecker are also expected to receive consideration farther down the road. And while the bureaucratic morass that is the Identified Wildlife Management Strategy digests those fortunate four, the remaining unlucky thirteen threatened species, for the foreseeable future at least, will simply have to fend for themselves.

photo - Jaques Morin

SpruceRoots Magazine - June 2001