After passing through the wet western end of the Rockies, I drove through the city of Kamloops, in a semi-arid landscape because of the rain shadow of the coastal mountains, before following the Fraser Valley to Vancouver.
A Gulf island
Reaching Vancouver Island by the Tsawwassen ferry on a beautiful sunny day, later I met Rob Walker, Manager Resource Conservation of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. The Gulf Islands National Park Reserve lies in the Strait of Georgia between Vancouver and the southern tip of Vancouver Island, similar in character to the San Juan Islands (see previous blogpost ) on the other side of the US/Canada border south towards Seattle.
After a tour of the brand spanking new ‘green’ HQ building, I sat in on a very interesting Parks Advisory Board meeting. Various interests were represented including First Nations, academics, community groups and even a national advisor on marine issues.
As the Park owns all its land, the nature of the Board was clearly ‘advisory’ but the consultation was obviously genuine and useful especially as the Park is relatively young (established 2003) and there are many treaty negotiations and third party interests (300+) to be assessed and dealt with. I also met and gave a presentation to Park staff on my work in England.
National Park boat & staff in British weather
The following day we toured Portman Island and Sidney Spit in a powerful boat to see some of the issues such as deer pressure, other invasives, midden sites, and discussed balancing objectives in managing Parks.
This Park appears to be the protected area most like a UK national park/protected areas, by virtue of the extent of human use – most has been modified before 1932, by agriculture and homesteading followed by forestry, agricultural and rural-residential development. The Park is made up of 3500 ha of land on 15 islands and over 50 islets, and 2600 ha of intertidal and nearshore subtidal marine areas. As well as the many islets, five complete islands are protected and on a few larger islands up to just over 40% is included.
I was struck by the fact that the same debates about objectives arise in a less-wild Park such as this one. The priority to be given to wild versus cultural heritage features and the appropriate target state to restore to is one good example. After these decisions hae been taken, the development of explicit, stakeholder-involved management plans or guidelines which are then acted upon are important. We looked at the issue of reverting to pre-agriculture forest versus maintaining settlement-created clearings on Portman Island as well as some orchard restoration as a cultural legacy (although the decision had been taken not to maintain trees after they have died naturally).
Invasives reared their ugly head yet again (a common theme of all areas I visited) and here it was Scotch broom and Himalayan Blackberry (especially on Portman Island) and are obviously ubiquitous in the Region. However the most catastrophic here is the locally severe deer pressure c. On Sidney Island (Sidney Spit) introduced 1500 fallow and native black tailed deer have caused significant problems removing all -literally all- understorey (see photo of exclosures) on the c. 900 ha island.
Non-exclusive ownership of the island meant significant co-operation over a year long, highly organised and expensive control programme in 2008/9. It removed over 1300 deer, yet deer continue to be hyper-abundant with densities well over 100 deer/km2. In some other national parks, densities of 1-4 deer/km2are used as a management target!
- Deer exclosure: impact on woodland understorey & floor
The Park has considerable involvement in, and high sensitivity to, cultural heritage with First Nations burial sites, together with traditional uses of resources such as shellfish.
There are also abundant middens (shell deposits), many of which are on the shore and subject to erosion from wave action (enhanced by boat use) and visitor trampling. A major survey programme has been completed (184 archaeological sites have been identified including culturally modified trees and homesteads) and the challenge is now to develop management strategies which can combine preservation, rehabilitation and resolving conflicts.
Shells on a midden site
Coastal erosion at midden