HABITAT is for the birds
by Rob Wener
If you have ever driven down a logging road, past the last fork, past
the last cut block, up the last skid road, and onto the last landing, you
have probably encountered a wall of trees. This is the end of the road.
The transition from a rock road to a forest floor is a striking contrast.
Climbing over the slash piles and entering the forest can stun your senses.
As you walk deeper into the trees, the forest interior reveals an environment
of complex biological processes. An untold numbers of organisms from Sitka
spruce to raptors rely on these processes. Processes refined by evolution
over thousands of years.
What we see in a forest is an enormous unified working habitat. Virtually
every clump of moss, shattered piece of bark, or hidden rivulet contributes
to the requirements of all forest dwellers. Every organism under the forest's
protective canopy is reliant upon the biological sphere generated by the
trees' structures. Some of these organisms can adapt to changes within this
matrix, others are opportunists exploiting the vulnerability of other species.
And there are the losers who fall victim to habitat loss and are near extinction.
The names of obscure and remote regions on Haida Gwaii often fall upon indifferent
ears, generating little recognition or interest. Ain Lake, Security Inlet,
Jiinanga, the Datlamin, South Davidson Creek all contrast to the familiar
Yakoun Basin or Tlell River. Yet these geographic areas share a very significant
ecological value-habitat conditions predating the industrial logging era.
The Skidegate Plateau, the central area on Graham and Moresby Island still
contains intact landscapes exhibiting these values. They are defined as
Where is the habitat?
These nodes contain features representative of the landscapes from decades
gone by. Rare high-volume stands survive in these nodes. They also retain
landscape features such as headwaters, lakes, and estuaries.
These nodes were once part of a contiguous stretch of rainforest composed
of interconnected watersheds. Everything was immersed by time and space
within a vast green web of a multi-aged forest ecosystem. Large mossy old-growth
trees buffered the climate, reduced wind and temperature extremes, conserved
moisture, and excluded aggressive site-colonizing species of plants and
animals. The riparian areas of this landscape were capable of storing huge
capacities of nutrients and plant energy.
The disturbances made by clearcuts and roads have changed climatic conditions,
stressed natural limits, and degraded ecosystems by altering forest landscapes.
Today's fragmented landscape has drained the forests of its biological capacity.
The problem is the scale of disturbance. On Haida Gwaii the entire central
region is altered by clearcuts. These Islands are suffering from third degree
burns over its entire body except the hands and feet. The biological capacity
of the Islands is in shock.
Interior forest conditions provide the seclusion and stable habitat needed
to form optimum ecological features required by some wildlife species. The
Marbled murrelet is a small, plump sea bird that favours nest sites on large
mossy limbs within the upper tree canopy. Its nest is simply a depression
containing a single egg. Its only defense against birds of prey is its mottled
feather colouration, and the protection of the surrounding canopy.
Marbled murrelets need habitat
Marbled murrelets are not usually seen but heard chirping high above the
forest floor. Little is known about their original nesting distribution
or the area of remaining habitat. They appear to be a long lived species,
so the effect of habitat loss on their reproductive success is not known
and only three or so nests have been identified in BC.
So what's the big deal about fuzzy little sea birds nesting in 250 year
old trees? One way to approach this question is to ask 'what is so important
about the location of the trees inhabited by Marbled murrelets?' Haida Gwaii's
isolation from the mainland has created many unique vertebrate species and
rare plant communities. The trees are different, the organisms in them are
different, the climate is different-in fact, one third of the animal species
found here are subspecies. Marbled murrelets are a red-listed (i.e. threatened
to extinction) species. Industrial activities are not especially sensitive
to bird habitat. And when logging roads are proposed to be located adjacent
to nesting sites, as in the South Davidson Creek near Naden Harbour, its
time to blow the whistle and stop the train.
South Davidson Creek is a representative old growth node. The creek is an
important salmon stream that had its other side logged to the stream bank
over the last twenty years.
A recently completed wildlife inventory submitted to, and commissioned by,
Husby Forest Products has identified many occupied timber stands with Marbled
murrelets in their operation area-meaning recorded nesting behaviour. This
includes the Davidson Creek watershed. It states, "on-going development
will possibly remove suitable habitat." Husby's response to this concern
is to establish a Forest Ecosystem Network (FEN) corridor along the length
of the creek. Unfortunately this FEN includes logging activities and it
is too narrow.
The features of this small stretch of rainforest along the creek contain
many of the values that once carpeted these Islands with one of the most
dynamic and rich ecosystems on the planet. These features need to be retained
over the landscape of Haida Gwaii to maintain fully functioning forests
capable of sustaining creatures like Marbled murrelets.
We need a new gentler approach to exploiting the natural resources. There
are people and groups here prepared to work at changing the way we utilize
the forest and our attitude towards it.
If you are interested in learning about the issues raised in this article,
please contact your local resource officers at DFO, MoE or Parks Canada
and express your concerns.
There are also field trips and projects sponsored by local groups to connect
you with the forest of trees seen beyond the last stretch of road, or down
that distant inlet. Seeing is believing, and the time to participate is