(Michael Wigle photo)

Nature Conservancy of Canada purchases critical habitat in Bella Coola estuary

Area important for migratory birds, mammals and fish

The residents of the Bella Coola Valley and beyond received an early Christmas gift this year.

After a decade of discussions and planning, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) sealed the deal Dec. 15 on a $1.6 million project to conserve the last unprotected piece of private property on the estuary in Bella Coola, known as Tidal Flats.

“It was originally the family that approached NCC ten years ago and everything has finally worked out and the stars have alined and we’re able to fulfil the family’s wishes and complete this conservation project,” said Hillary Page, Director of Conservation for the B.C. region for the NCC.

The 174-acre piece of land boasts critical fish-bearing streams and a hydro-riparian that is essential to a wide range of migratory birds, fish and mammals, including salmon, grizzly bear, marbled murrelet, trumpeter swan, Barrow’s goldeneye and American widgeon.

Tidal Flats is adjacent to the Bella Coola Estuary Conservancy and another parcel of land owned by the Nature Trust of British Columbia, Page said.

“There is quite a complex of conservation land in the estuary already so these fee simple parcels, the three of them, were some of the last remaining pieces in that conservation puzzle,” she said.

“So now that NCC has secured those lots the mouth of the Bella Coola River and the Conservancy has a significant amount of conservation land which is great for wildlife, great for habitat and great for the community of Bella Coola.”

About Tidal Flats

Salmon are central to life in the Great Bear Rainforest. These iconic fish nourish everything from marine mammals, such as orca and sea lions, to birds like herons and kingfishers, to land-dwellers, including bears, wolves and humans. Salmon also feed the forest, where insects, algae, mosses, shrubs and trees all take up the nutrients from decomposing salmon.

The Bella Coola River nurtures the largest salmon-producing system on B.C.’s central coast, supporting the majority of the region’s coho salmon population. Despite being right beside the community of Bella Coola, the estuary remains largely naturally productive.

This project presents a welcome opportunity to collaborate with the Nuxalk Nation, whose homeland and territory are located in and around Bella Coola.

Significance of securing Tidal Flats

Ecologically significant aspects of the Bella Coola Valley include unique coastal bog complexes, free-flowing river systems and intertidal mudflats that support an abundance of invertebrates and migratory birds.

The Bella Coola Valley is irreplaceable in terms of its contribution to the overall biological diversity of the Great Bear Rainforest, as it contains high-value grizzly bear habitat and western red cedar forests.

The Bella Coola River supports the region’s largest coho salmon run, which relies on the continued health and productivity of the estuary. The intermingling of fresh and ocean water in the estuary creates an environment that is both unique and essential to the life cycle of salmon, among other creatures.

This conservation project, according to NCC, will protect inter-tidal marsh, mudflats and tidal channels that provide valuable habitat for waterfowl, shorebirds and juvenile salmon. These coastal wetlands are also important carbon sinks and will increase resilience to rising sea levels. Upland areas of the property are forested with western red cedar and Sitka spruce.

Grizzly bear, marbled murrelet, salmon and a flowering plant known as Chamisso’s montia are documented species at risk on the property. Trumpeter swan, Barrow’s goldeneye and American widgeon are just some of the migratory bird species that visit Tidal Flats every year.

Human history

For countless generations, the Nuxalk have been caretakers of the Bella Coola Valley.

European settlers came to the valley in the 1800s, lured west by the fur trade and staying for farming and fishing opportunities.

Descendants of these settlers still own the property that the NCC is working to conserve.

Currently, locals enjoy the wildlife trails that run along the Bella Coola River.

– With files from the Nature Conservancy of Canada


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