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  • Northern Pygmy Owl
  • The Northern Pygmy Owl, a species of concern, lives on the Discovery Islands, but continued logging destroys and degrades its habitat (Photo by Deborah Freeman)

  • Perhaps the greatest impetus for change is the biodiversity crisis.

    Project Staff

    Governments around the globe are rushing to respond by increasing the area of protected land to 30 percent by 2030. The Discovery Islands area—where 8 different ecosections converge within a 30-kilometre radius—is arguably the most biodiverse region in BC and much more of it should be protected.


    CLEARCUT LOGGING DESTROYS habitats that are critical to the health of fish and wildlife populations. Government logging regulations have set objectives that would conserve a minimal area of forested habitat, but under current BC legislation, those objectives must not “unduly impact the supply of timber.” As a result, an escalating number of BC species have become endangered, threatened or species of concern.

    On the Discovery Islands, logging companies need to do little more than avoid placing roads in riparian areas and leave the occasional “wildlife patch” to meet these minimal requirements.

    Yet the Discovery Islands are an exceptional biodiversity hotspot. Within 30 kilometres of Bullock Bluff, at the north end of Cortes Island, lie eight different ecosections (Strait of Georgia, Johnstone Strait, Outer Fjordland, Nanaimo Lowland, Leeward Island Mountains, Central Pacific Ranges and Southern Pacific Ranges), a circumstance that is unique in all of British Columbia. Different ecosections represent different physical and climactic conditions and therefore contain variations in biodiversity. With the remarkable convergence of 8 different ecosections in such a small area, biological diversity is extraordinarily high. Since 2020, over 3237 different species of plants, fungi and animals have been identified on these islands by citizen-scientists through iNaturalist.



    BC Ministry of Environment mapping of the 8 ecosections in the Discovery Islands area


    Almost all of the logging that is occurring on the Discovery Islands is taking place on publicly owned land in the Outer Fiordland and Strait of Georgia (terrestrial) ecosections. As illustrated in the graph below, both of these ecosections have amongst the lowest levels of protection of any of the 20 terrestrial ecosections in coastal BC.




    The two coastal ecosections that have the lowest level of protected area are the Fraser Lowland and the Nanaimo Lowland. A high percentage of land in both those ecosections is privately owned, and very little progress can be made at increasing the extent of protected areas in those ecosections. The next least-protected ecosection is the Outer Fiordland (5.3 percent), yet a very high percentage of that ecosection is publicly owned land. Increasing the amount of protected area in the Discovery Islands should be a priority of the provincial government.

    The Strait of Georgia ecosection, which includes the most southerly parts of Quadra, Read, West Redonda and most of Cortes Island, is also badly under-represented by BCs protected areas system. Protecting Crown land in this ecosection on Quadra, Cortes and West Redonda should also be a high priority of government.

    The unquestionable need to protect this exceptionally rich level of biodiversity requires retention of significant areas of mature and old forest. This need was recognized by the establishment of Special Management Zone 19 on Quadra Island by the 2001 Vancouver Island Land Use Plan’s Higher Level Order, which set minimum targets for mature and old forest on Quadra Island. Together, these were to constitute at least 34 percent of the area of SMZ 19 outside of protected areas. Yet that ground-breaking first step to resolve the conflicts between logging and other forest values has been actively undermined by the Ministry of Forests over the past 20 years. The graph below illustrates the extent to which the stipulated levels have been ignored in the ministry-approved logging plans of each of the tenure holders.



    In light of the biodiversity crisis, those 2001 VILUP recommendations should now be regarded as the bare minimum that needs to be incorporated in forest tenure-holders’ plans—for the entire Discovery Islands area.

    The immediate task at hand is to establish—with absolute certainty—how much old and mature forest remains and where it is. The Ministry of Forests’ databases that purport to provide that information are notoriously unreliable, and the ministry seems to have little interest in ground-truthing its own data.

    To fill the gap, the Discovery Islands Forest Conservation Project is conducting aerial and ground surveys of each of the major islands to identify areas of old and mature forest to establish the actual condition of island forests.

    This project is also observing and recording species found in all habitats, both terrestrial and marine, listed and unlisted. The purpose of our data gathering is two-fold: First, to establish a baseline of current native species. This will help to make evident, over time, the extent to which threatened and endangered species are faring on the Discovery Islands. Secondly, we intend to use the extraordinary biological richness of this area to demonstrate that it deserves a much higher level of protection against industrial development than currently exists.

    Follow the links below to view our ongoing survey of remaining primary forest, forest cover loss, fisheries data and the observations of plants, fungi and wildlife species the project has recorded so far. All of these are works in progress:

    Survey of remaining primary forest on the Discovery Islands

    Forest cover loss on the Discovery Islands

    Historical records of salmon bearing streams on the Discovery Islands

    Animal, plant and fungi species of the Discovery Islands

    Species at risk on the Discovery Islands

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    Thanks for the great info! I’m wondering if there’s any update since 2022 in terms of whether Timberwest has mapped any areas in TFL 47 to meet the minimum conservation recommendations for mature/old forest as per SMZ 19. Would be helpful to know, if possible. Thanks again! 

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    Hi Laura,

    No mapping has been done on Quadra Island. In its 2022 forest stewardship plan for Quadra, TimberWest states that "an analysis will be completed" to ensure that the area of "mature forest" (>80 years) in SMZ 19 will not drop below "25 percent" as required in SMZ 19 under the Vancouver Island Land Use Plan Higher Level Plan Order. They have not made such an analysis public if they have done it at all.

    Although TimberWest has its own map of old forest (see the map at the bottom of this page), this mapping does not reflect the full occurrence of remnant old forest on Quadra (see our map near the bottom of this page.). For example it does not include the old forest north of the Back Bog that you are trying to conserve. TimberWest has committed to not log individual old trees (>250 years old), but it logs all around them and between them, thus destroying the on-the-ground old-forest biodiversity associated with these remnant old forest ecosystems and ignoring the strategy recommended by VILUP to restore old forest in SMZ 19. This practice also makes the old trees more vulnerable to wind and damage from logging equipment. This practice is one of the subjects of an active complaint before the Forest Practices Board. (The Board recently informed me that the final investigation report is now in the Board's hands.)

    After the VILUP was implemented in 2000, TimberWest resisted landscape level planning for Quadra Island and so no Old Growth Management Areas have ever been created here. Although they are not perfect (roads can be built through them if no other option for accessing timber is possible, and sometimes they do not even contain old forest), logging is generally not permitted within OGMAs, so their value in conserving biodiversity is much higher than the situation we have in TFL 47 on Quadra. It is my hope that the Board will see fit to recommend the establishment of OGMAs on Quadra Island. I have written elsewhere about how 22 TFLs in BC have evaded establishment of OGMAs within their boundaries. Aided and abetted by the ministry of forests and district managers, unfortunately.

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