Haida Gwaii: Kumdis Estuary
A bald eagle at the Kumdis estaury, Haida Gwaii, BC (Photo by NCC)
Haida Gwaii earns its nickname as the “Galapagos of the north” because of its high number of endemic species and productive ecosystems that are unique to its islands. This archipelago of over 150 islands supports large tracts of intact old-growth coastal temperate rainforest, biologically rich wetlands, estuaries and shoreline ecosystems, which includes substantial rare seabird colonies. With its unique biodiversity and rich ecosystems, Haida Gwaii offers many opportunities to undertake both nationally and globally significant conservation projects.
Haida Gwaii is the traditional territory of the Haida Nation, whose rich culture and history has and continues to flourish here. Natural values such as salmon and old-growth cedar trees, both key species for conservation, hold immense cultural importance. The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) works in partnership with the Council of the Haida Nation on key conservation projects in their territory.
The Kumdis Estuary, located in Masset Inlet on Graham Island, is a particularly significant natural area. Here, many outstanding cultural heritage and ecological features, including streams, estuaries and old growth forests, are protected in a network of conservation lands. In addition to the lands conserved by NCC, adjacent lands on the estuary are also managed for their ecological value by other conservation groups, the Haida Nation and the Province of BC.
Gamdis Tlagee Conservation Area
Gamdis Tlagee (Photo by Haida Laas-Graham Richard)
NCC is working in partnership with the Haida Nation to manage and restore a 63-hectare (155-acre) conservation area on the Kumdis Estuary. The Gamdis Tlagee Conservation Area holds both ecological and cultural values. In 2010, a portion of the land was heavily logged, causing significant damage to riparian areas and associated salmon habitat, cultural heritage features, wetlands and old-growth coastal temperate rainforest. As restitution for this environmentally destructive logging, the BC Provincial Court approved an option to transfer the land for conservation purposes.
NCC and the Haida Nation entered into a partnership to co-own and co-manage the damaged area, which was transferred jointly to the two organizations in 2018. Extensive restoration is being planned in collaboration with fish biologists, ecologists, foresters, restoration experts and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
Given the high importance of cultural heritage features and thriving fish populations to local communities, the conservation and restoration of Gamdis Tlagee represents significant value to the people of Haida Gwaii.
Kumdis River Conservation Area
Nature walk on the Kumdis Conservation Area, Haida Gwaii (Photo by NCC)
The Kumdis River Conservation Area was NCC’s first land acquisition on Haida Gwaii. Located on Graham Island, one of Haida Gwaii's two main islands, this 58-hectare (144-acre) expanse of forest and wetland lies just east of the town of Port Clements. NCC purchased the property in 2008 from Weyerhaeuser Co.
The conservation area straddles the Kumdis River, which is part of an intertidal estuary in Kumdis Bay. This estuary provides essential habitat for significant populations of fish, waterfowl and migratory birds, deeming this sensitive area as one of high ecological importance.
Old growth cedar
Ancient western red cedar is found in this conservation area. This iconic tree serves as building and weaving material, and as a source of medicine for the Haida.
The presence of old, large trees in this ecosystem contributes to the structural and ecological strength of the area, and provides habitat a diversity of old growth dependent species.
The Kumdis River and estuary has been called a “fish factory” by fish biologists, supporting healthy populations of coho and pink salmon. This low-lying productive area is where the confluence of salt and fresh water has the ability to ebb and flow as a part of a naturally dynamic ecosystem. The area is both sensitive and robust and provides an opportunity to conserve and strengthen fish populations by providing critical spawning and rearing habitat. Cutthroat trout, eulachon, steelhead trout and Dolly Varden char are also found in Masset Inlet and its surrounding watershed systems.
Known for their striking appearance, distinctive call and exuberant courtship dancing, the sandhill crane holds intrinsic value. The grassy intertidal foreshore habitat on the banks of the Kumdis River and Gamdis Tlagee Conservation Area provides an ideal nesting environment for these iconic birds.
A variety of migratory birds, waterfowl and birds of prey also frequent this area.
These properties faced a very high risk of being logged and converted to more intensive uses. One parcel had already undergone heavy forest harvesting, with some remediation of salmon stream habitat. The old-growth forest on the unlogged parcel presented a very attractive purchase opportunity for forestry or development.