Gullchucks estuary from the air (Photo by NCC)
The Gullchucks Estuary brings together huge stands of old-growth west coast rainforest, a wild salmon-bearing river, and a floodplain and estuary that provide a home for hundreds of coastal species.
Located on the north coast of Denny Island, near Bella Bella and at the heart of the Central Coast Rainforest Natural Area, the estuary has remained ecologically intact for millennia. Its rare and biodiverse ecosystem is also a site of traditional and cultural importance for the Heiltsuk First Nation.
Estuaries are one of the most threatened ecosystems on the BC coast. They are often damaged by development, pollution and modification. The 50-acre (20-hectare) Gullchucks Estuary Conservation Area remains healthy and stable. As a parcel of private land, it was subject to possible development, but thanks to a partnership between the Nature Conservancy of Canada, the Heiltsuk First Nation, and other partners, the property has now been preserved in perpetuity.
Eagle, Gullchucks Estuary, BC (Photo by Tim Ennis/NCC)
The Gullchucks Estuary is rich in biodiversity because it brings together coastal forest and shoreline with freshwater and marine environments, allowing numerous species to interact and flourish.
Wolves, bears and eagles feast on the estuary's significant runs of Pacific salmon. When coho, chum, pink and sockeye salmon return to spawn in the Gullchucks River, they bring abundant marine-derived nitrogen that feeds giant stands of western red cedar, western hemlock and yellow cedar.
While some forests experience regular “stand-replacing” events like wildfires, the coastal temperate rainforest of BC’s central coast are only affected by these kinds of large-scale events on average every 4,000 years. Large areas of the Gullchucks Estuary Conservation Area are classified as old-growth forest, meaning the dominant trees that make up the forest are at least 250 years old. Exactly how old these stands are has not been determined, but it could be centuries older than that.
Central Coast Rainforest
Gullchucks Estuary is located in the middle of the Nature Conservancy of Canada's Central Coast Rainforest Natural Area, a vast coastal temperate rainforest area that spans the coast of British Columbia from the southern part of Haida Gwaii to the northern tip of Vancouver Island, and inland to the height of the Coast Mountains. This Natural Area falls within the southern reaches of the internationally-renowned Great Bear Rainforest and is part of an ecosystem that is home to more living matter than anywhere else on earth.
Gullchucks Estuary (Photo by NCC)
Coastal temperate rainforests represent one of the last places on the planet where species and natural systems thrive as they did in ancient times. These lush rainforests are also among the rarest habitats in the world, covering just one fifth of one percent of the earth's surface. Preserving the biodiversity of these areas is crucial both for the health of the coast, and for the health of the planet.
By taking steps to protect the coast at its most fragile points, such as the Gullchucks Estuary, we are ensuring the survival of a myriad of native species and ecosystems that are and important part of BC's natural heritage
Culturally modified tree at Gullchucks (Photo by NCC)
The Gullchucks Estuary is located in the traditional territory of the Heiltsuk Nation. Community members, located primarily in nearby Bella Bella, continue to sustainably harvest the area's abundant resources as they have done for generations. The estuary's shellfish, ducks, deer, berries, cedars and fish have sustained the Heiltsuk people for more than 10,000 years. The Gullchucks sockeye salmon run alone provides up to one quarter of the annual salmon harvest for the people of Bella Bella.
The Heiltsuk also operate a sustainable commercial clam fishery just offshore from the estuary. Preserving the estuary is essential for the health of this fishery and for the marine environment beyond.
The Nature Conservancy of Canada is working in partnership with the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department to jointly manage the new conservation area, creating a plan that is in keeping with traditional use and ecological sensitivities.