A 122-hectare parcel of rainforest in the Bella Coola Valley is the newest conservancy area in B.C thanks to a significant donation from a local couple who had originally purchased the land in 2018 to make it a bird sanctuary.
The area, which is in unceded Nuxalk Nation territory, was donated by local residents Harvey and Carol Thommasen and is now under the care of the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC).
“Carol and I donated this land to the Nature Conservancy of Canada mostly to help forest birds, whose populations have declined by 30 per cent since the 1970s. This land will also help the salmon and trout, whose populations have also suffered terribly over the past 50 years, and will provide a secure travel corridor for animals like deer, grizzly bear and other large mammals moving through the Bella Coola Valley,” noted Harvey Thommasen. “We wish to thank the Doreen Shepherd family, Cecil Moody family and Peter Siwallace and Nuxalk Nation for supporting this project. Carol and I would also like to dedicate this donation to our recently deceased friend George Bradd, who introduced us to the joys of hugging trees and watching birds.”
Nuxalk Nation councillor Iris Siwallace said the Nuxalk Nation supports NCC managing the property, stating the Nuxalk Nation has been exercising their rights and title since time immemorial, and are committed to protecting vulnerable ecosystems in their territory that could be destroyed by extractive industries such as logging and mining.
“We have given our support to the Nature Conservancy of Canada to manage this area as we believe they will be able to protect this land for our Putl’lt—those who are not yet born.”
The NCC noted efforts will be made to protect the Snowshoe Creek Conservation Area’s thriving rainforest, floodplain and riverside habitat that supports an abundance of wildlife and plant diversity.
Steven Godfrey, NCC West Coast program director, visited the Bella Coola area for the first time in September to view the property.
“My first impression was that I was in awe,” he told Black Press Media. “I saw lots of grizzly bears and lots of salmon. It’s an incredible spot with Mt. Stupendous looking down on the valley.”
Fifteen species listed under the Species at Risk Act have been observed in the area including northern goshawk, western toad and wolverine.
“I was impressed with what great conservation context there is there,” Godrey said. “Lots of other protected areas in the region provide habitat and connectivity value for all types of wildlife. I think I was most blown away by the setting with so many amazing mountains and the network of rivers and creeks that flow into the Bella Coola system.”
The Snowshoe Creek Conservation area is also home to a grove of old-growth red cedar, with evidence of culturally modified trees and Nuxalk people use the area for traditional activities such as hunting, fishing, mushroom gathering and cedar collection.
Adjacent to the new conservancy area are the traditional Nuxalk village site of Nutl’lhiixw and and the present day Burnt Bridge Conservancy, which was established in 2008 as part of the B.C. government’s land use decision in the Central Coast planning area.
Godfrey described the Thomassens as impressive naturalists, noting Harvey has been sending wildlife camera footage from the area of grizzlies, wolves, cougars, beavers and other animals that use the area.
“He’s also a wealth of knowledge when it comes to the Bella Coola Valley and bird species in the area. They will be helping us learn more about the ecological values there,” he said, adding they also plan to work with the Nuxalk Nation more closely.
As for the donation, everything fell into place easily and Godfrey said it’s not too often the NCC will receive a full donation of land.
“We were able to fundraise from a lot of donors who we really appreciate who put money towards closing costs and the stewardship work that will go into the site, management planning and into the base line inventory.”
The land donation was enabled by the Government of Canada’s Ecological Gifts Program. This program provides enhanced tax incentives for individuals or corporations who donate ecologically significant land.
NCC gives itself a year to complete the management plan and base line inventory and Godfrey said it should be done next September.
This will be the NCC’s second conservancy area in the Bella Coola Valley. The 70-hectare Tidal Flats Conservation Area was acquired at the end of 2019.