Fighting for fir

One conservancy association asks Victorians to save trees this season

One group needs help to protect the beauty of Galiano Island.

One conservancy association asks Victorians to save trees this season

Only an island away, extinction lurks on the cliffs of an endangered coastal Douglas-fir ecosystem — but Victorians can prevent it.

The Galiano Conservancy Association is hosting a For the Forest Fundraiser on Sun., Nov. 25, in an attempt to help raise the final $200,000 needed to protect its matched national funds and its negotiations on a sought-after piece of land now facing development.

Kicking off in the Argyle Attic on Sunday, the whiskey bar’s “Wooded Establishments in the Pacific Northwest” motif will play host to the conservancy’s event for the Mid-Galiano Island Protection Network.

Just $200,000 away from its goal, the stakes are high. Without this final cash infusion by the end of 2012, the group will lose its matched funds from the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

“Essentially, [we’d] be back to square one,” says Lia Chalifour, biologist intern at the conservancy.

According to the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources, the Coastal Douglas-fir Biogeoclimatic Zone is 250,000 hectares, and includes the Southern Gulf Islands, parts of the Mainland and a portion of Vancouver Island, including Victoria. It is the smallest of 16 zones in B.C., but also raises the highest concern for conservationists.

“The Douglas fir is just one zone, but it’s also the rarest. It was the first area in B.C. where people actually came from Europe and developed,” Chalifour says.

Established in 1989 by physicist and luthier (lute maker) Ken Millard, the conservancy is a trust that is used to these issues — it makes its business purchasing land for conservation. But development is precisely the concern now.

“The large parcel we purchased, fondly called District Lot 57, is 188 acres [76 hectares] with two kilometres of waterfront,” says Millard. “Almost all of the waterfront is intact. It’s old growth Douglas-fir and arbutus.”

DL57 rises up to ridges then falls to a valley and wetland locals call “The Great Beaver Swamp.” Named by the surveyors of 1888, this is the second parcel of land, not surprisingly called District Lot 58. While the names may not be creative, the cliffs and Garry oak ecosystem are, and so is the Straight of Georgia where it connects with another protected land, Pebble Beach.

The conservancy has received a lot of help to get this far. Federal funds from the Natural Areas Conservation Program account for half of all monies raised. Donations from Mountain Equipment Co-op, a bequest from an avid kayaker interested in protecting the view and major community response were also essential. Even VanCity loaned funds from their Resilient Capital Fund, with the conservancy being one of the first to receive the honour.

Charlifour says resistance for the project has been minimal.

“Social hurdles aren’t as big of an issue. They’ve been there in the past, but we actually have a lot of support here from the local people. Some protected lands are even through conservation covenants.”

In these covenants, landowners create protective stipulations for their land even after they pass.

A historical battle has raged on between the conservancy and forestry giant MacMillan Bloedel, which once owned half the island. The feud devolved into accusations of slander and court cases. At the time, rejection of the forestry company’s offer-of-sale resulted in open market sales. Fluctuating residency rights rubbed some landowners the wrong way, but today’s protection shouldn’t be confused with natural landscape hording. Galiano Learning Centre is another arm of the Mid-Galiano Island Protection Network project, which seeks to bring new immigrants, refugees and nature-deprived youth to Galiano Island.

“The site of the future learning centre was previously owned by a man who did some small-time industrial logging right on the property. You can see large areas where he didn’t touch any of the forest and there are areas where he did. The contrast is remarkable,” Chalifour says.

This is also the reason the group chose the site, envisioning long-term restoration and hands-on projects. Millard has seen the effect that projects like that have had on inner-city youth.

“Most of the kids had never been to a forest, never been to an ocean,” he says. “We’ve been giving these day programs for the last ten years.”

Projects don’t end at saving the Douglas fir, however. The next step will be to secure the $4-million conservation project.

Though there are no immediate plans to develop land, some owners of DL58 are not opposed to the idea. They also like the option of conservation — that’s why they’ve agreed to sell the land at fair market value.

“We need everyone who lives in this zone to do what they can to protect this landscape,” says Millard. “Help us carry out that protection.” M

Join the For the Forest Fundraiser silent auction and mixer Sun., Nov. 25, 5pm at Argyle Attic [777 Courtney, above Smith’s Pub]. Auction items include the work of artists Keith Holmes, Larry Foden, Brian Mitchell, Leela Ford, along with jewelry by Solomon Rose, adventure tours by Muktuk Adventures and a romantic getaway to Galiano Island’s own Serenity by the Sea. Online donations accepted at http://bit.ly/106IYAg.

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