SpruceRoots Magazine - September/October 2000

 

THE PONTOONS

by Ian Lordon :: photo by Jacques Morin

All paths lead to the pontoons. Located at the centre of the Tlell watershed, the pontoons are a gathering place for an entire ecosystem. Elk, deer, songbirds, migratory birds, fish, bears, and most of all, water converge at the heart of one of Haida Gwaii's largest watersheds.

The pontoons are nine kilometres long, three wide, and cover an area of 18,000 hectares. The Leila, Survey, Three Mile, and Feather Creek sub-basins all empty into the vast bog where their waters meet and mingle before beginning the final journey down the lower Tlell River to the saltwater of Hecate Strait.

Water collecting at the upper reaches of the watershed after heavy rains won't reach the river's mouth until two days later, and it's the pontoons which cause the delay. The shallow, shifting, coiling channels, the slight ponds, the swamps, marshes, and soaked forest which characterize this unique ecological feature trap water like a sponge and release it slowly downstream. This tempers the flow on the lower Tlell, preventing the river bed from scouring, and the river's edge from flooding throughout the sodden winter months.

At times the grassy surface of the pontoons can be entirely submerged, creating a huge, shallow lake broken by small islands of higher ground. During unusually arid periods, the finer rivulets woven in the peat are reduced to a mere trickle or a muddy bed, and the roots of the few trees scattered across the plain get a rare respite from the soaking ground which stunts their growth.

The pontoons are an extraordinary hallmark in an endangered watershed. Most of the 313 square kilometres claimed by the Tlell watershed have been spared from development, but not from fire. More than a century ago, flames swept through the area reducing over two thirds of the watershed to ashes. Small islands of old growth and charred stumps lingering in the returning forest are the only visible reminders of the blaze.

Large portions of the remaining old growth in the upper reaches near Survey and Three Mile creeks were logged recently, and plans are on the drawing table for the rest of the watershed.

SpruceRoots Magazine - September/October 2000