Habitat Facts - What's at Risk

The southwest area of Salt Spring, within which the Texada Lands fall, is the largest undeveloped area in the Gulf Islands with over 6,000 hectares of mixed public and private lands. The Crown lands are either park reserves or are park/ecological reserves managed by various agencies. Most of the Texada lands are in land zoned Forest Land Reserve (FLR) or Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). The FLR and ALR zoning regulations provide some protection against development at present, although none at all against clear cutting. With a change in government, the protection could disappear overnight, leaving the Texada lands wide open to development.

One of the most striking features of the lands held by Texada Development Corp. is the amount of the land base which has been classified by the Conservation Data Centre (CDC) of the provincial government as "Sensitive Ecosystems." In the words of the CDC:

"Currently, there are a number of plant associations in BC that are on the verge of extirpation or extinction. Not only do these associations provide habitat for many rare plants and animals, they also perform functions that influence their environment, and they set the stage for the complex interactions between organisms. Losing these plant associations would not only harm the species that depend on them, it would also have far reaching effects that we cannot fully understand."

The ecosystems of special interest to the CDC include arbutus and Garry oak woodlands, coastal cliffs, sand dunes and spits, rocky outcrops interspersed with natural grasslands filled with rare plant species such as native wildflowers, wetlands and flood plains, large patches (100 ha) of second growth forest, and the few remaining old growth forests in the region.

1. Diverse habitats

The area's vital importance is its diversity of habitats which are relatively undeveloped. The mountainous terrain enables you to walk from a pocket desert ecosystem to a rain forest in less than a kilometre. The mountain slopes rise from sea level to 2000' and move from rocky coastal bluffs with cactus clinging to them, through extensive Garry oak meadows, interspersed with remnants of old growth Douglas-fir, wetlands, lakes and plateaus of second growth Douglas-fir forests. On the eastern and north facing slopes, the forest changes again to a lush mix of fir and western hemlock and rain forest species like maidenhair fern.

The mix of habitats make this area rich for wildlife. Blacktail deer and their predator, the cougar, range throughout this area. River otters and mink can be found from the shoreline up to the lakes. The remnant old growth trees are critical for many species of bats some of which are at risk, like Townsend's long-eared bat. Amphibians from long-toed salamanders to red-legged frogs range between the unroaded wetlands and forest. Reptiles, including the northern alligator lizard, bask and den on the south-facing slopes. Raptors from peregrine falcons to turkey vultures take advantage of the thermals and inaccessible niches around the mountains tobreed and rear their young, training them to hunt over the grasslands and wetlands.

The area is an important flyway and breeding area for migratory hummingbirds and warblers. Blue grouse nest and forage in the large patches of second growth forest. Threatened Marbled murrelets are probably nesting in the old growth patches, and the slopes of Garry oak woodlands are home to over 100 species at risk, such as Edith's checkerspot butterflies, Gray's desert-parsley, and yellow montane violets. Owls, from the western screech owl to great horned owls, roost on the edges of the older forest and hunt over the grasslands by night. The absence of development means there are still healthy populations of native rodents and shrews, unlike

the more fragmented regions of the southern Gulf Islands where introduced rodents and domestic cats are threatening the native populations. Both the largest dogwood and the largest arbutus recorded in British Columbia are located in these forest stands.

2 Douglas-fir forest

The largest contiguous Douglas-fir forest remaining in the southern Gulf Islands in on Salt Spring, and much of it is within Texada Land Corporation's holdings. This forest surrounds and connects regional and provincial parks, ecological reserves, and Crown park reserves, and includes the sensitive watershed of Mount Tuam, Mount Maxwell, and Mount Bruce. Douglas-fir forests are important not only because of the value of their timber but also because of the increasing rarity of coastal Douglas-fir ecosystems. Older second growth forests are considered important by the Ministry of Environment Lands and Parks for the following reasons:

"Future older forests: Within 20 years, many of the second-growth forests that were logged early this century will become older forests. Landscape Connectivity: Older second-growth forest stands provide connections between other natural areas that promote the movement and dispersal of many forest dwelling species across the landscape.

Buffers: Older second-growth forests can minimize disturbance to sensitive ecosystems that occur within or adjacent to the forest patch. Where they border or surround wetlands, patches of older forest, or other sensitive ecosystems, second growth areas serve an important role in buffering the adjacent sensitive areas. Buffers provide a vegetated area that bears the brunt of edge effects such as windthrow, invasive species colonization, and increased access. They may also maintain micro-climate conditions that are critical in wetland and riparian ecosystems."

(source: BC Ministry of Environment Lands and Parks Conservation Data Centre

3. Endangered Garry oak ecosystem

Salt Spring is home to Canada's largest Garry oak woodland meadow, most of which lies on Texada-owned lands. The Garry oak ecosystem is the most threatened of all our coastal ecosystems, and is being constantly eroded by urban expansion. Carpeted with wildflowers in spring and summer, Garry oak meadows were described by Captain George Vancouver "as enchantingly beautiful as the most elegantly finished pleasure ground in Europe." There are no longer any large, intact Garry oak meadows in California, Oregon, or Washington. Except for two isolated groves in the lower mainland, Garry oak meadows are found nowhere else in Canada but southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. Garry oak meadows are wonderfully diverse. More than 1,000 species of plants and animals are associated with Garry oak meadows, and they are home to more than one fifth of the rarest plants in BC. The west and southwest slopes of Mount Maxwell are largely Garry oak, with some Douglas-fir and arbutus. Any logging or development near this very fragile and important ecosystem will be a tragedy.

4. Community water supply

Maxwell Lake is the main water supply for almost half of north Salt Spring Island. It is surrounded by the only watershed on the island with near-intact forest cover. Texada owns approximately half of the Maxwell Lake watershed. The North Salt Spring Waterworks holds the north side of the lake. Two private companies, Texada and Fairfield Holdings hold the south side. Maxwell Lake has been used by Salt Spring islanders as a source of drinking water since 1916. Because the Maxwell Lake watershed forest cover remains nearly intact and undeveloped, the quality of the water has remained consistently high, whereas the water quality of almost all the other lakes on the island has sharply deteriorated. Texada intends to log the Maxwell Lake watershed unless a suitable offer is made. Deforestation of the watershed will reduce water quality and may also result in decreased water quantity and subsequent water shortages.

5. Fish habitat

Fulford Creek has the largest salmon run in the Gulf Islands with coho and chum salmon and cut-throat trout in all sections of the stream up to and including Texada's property. It flows through Texada property for approximately one kilometre and two of its tributaries and their watersheds are also on Texada property. Fulford Creek is now listed as one of BC's most sensitive streams because of low summer flows. Because of this, it is important that the watershed and upstream wetlands be protected. The local Salmon Enhancement Society has ongoing programs to monitor and enhance Fulford Creek. There are also three small salmon streams flowing into Burgoyne Bay that have their watersheds on Texada property. Salmon Enhancement Society plans call for increasing the storage capacity of Dry Lake on Mount Maxwell and restoring summer flows in Burgoyne Bay creek.

There are two other creeks on Texada property. The logging and development of the Texada lands are potentially very detrimental to all of these watercourses.

6. Scenic values

The views affected by the Texada clear cutting include virtually all the famous views from the main tourist route from Fulford to Ganges, and the magnificent vistas south from Mount Maxwell Provincial Park. The Texada Lands on the slopes of Mount Tuam are one of the first sights of Salt Spring seen by visitors arriving via the ferry from Victoria. It is truly inconceivable that this huge area in a key tourist destination should be scheduled for clear cutting. Any clear cutting on these slopes will be very evident, as demonstrated by an older ten acre cut above the south shore of Burgoyne Bay. Texada has repeatedly stated that it will not adopt sustainable forest management practices such as selective cutting, which would protect the views.

7. Burgoyne Bay

Texada Land Corporation owns almost all of the land around Burgoyne Bay. Seals are frequently seen hauled out on rocks or logs in the Bay and killer whales have been seen cruising in the deeper waters. Clam beds fringe the shores at the head of the bay and herring spawn on the eelgrass and algae found there. Great Blue herons feed year round along the extensive eelgrass meadows, which provide a nursery for juvenile fish and shellfish species. Bald eagles forage and nest along the shore. Western grebes congregate in the bay in large flocks of 300 birds along with loons and cormorants that can be seen spreading their wings to dry while perched on rocks or shoreline trees. This rich but sheltered bay is an important wintering area for diving ducks including bufflehead, golden-eye, and mergansers. In the summer, osprey and nesting peregrine falcons hunt along the shores. Several of these bird species are listed as rare or endangered and all are rapidly losing habitat in the Georgia Basin.

The natural richness of this marine bay is indicated by the past use by the Coastal Salish peoples documented by archaeological sites that include burial sites, middens, and fish weirs. Current uses of the bay include an oyster lease, a government dock, and the Texada log boom. North of the bay lie several kilometres of undeveloped rocky shoreline owned by Texada. Sansum Narrows is the last wilderness waterway in the southern Gulf Islands, and the clear water reveals a garden of colourful rich marine life.

8. Recreational uses

The previous owner of the Texada lands allowed recreational use of the lands. There are a number of interconnecting trails and old logging roads on the Texada lands that deserve protection. Since Salt Spring Island joined the CRD Parks regional trail system in February 1999, Island Pathways has proposed an island-wide regional day trail, of which the trails on the Texada lands form an integral part. The largest lake in the Mount Tuam area (Rose Murgey's Lake) is used by local fishermen and is also a popular winter skating spot. All recreational use of the land is at risk.

9. Forestry

The clear-cut logging of these lands will remove millions of dollars from the island in lost timber revenues. Current land prices makes purchase of clear-cut land for future forestry uneconomic. The fragmentation of these huge FLR holdings into the hands of several speculative developers seems a more likely outcome.