Saaxwan, Bella Coola, BC (Photo by Michael Wigle)

Saaxwan, Bella Coola, BC (Photo by Michael Wigle)


Due to the elevated wildfire risk across British Columbia this summer, some of NCC’s conservation areas are currently closed to public access. Please check our Current Fire Closures page for more information.
Saaxwan conservation area (Photo by Michael Wigle)

Saaxwan conservation area (Photo by Michael Wigle)

A salmon sanctuary in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest

The Saaxwan conservation area enhances the protection of the entire Bella Coola River estuary, securing essential habitat for salmon, grizzly bears and migratory birds.

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 BC's central coast, supporting the majority of the region's coho salmon population. Despite being right beside the town of Bella Coola, the estuary remains largely naturally productive. Thanks to the support of many generous donors, we can ensure it remains that way for the long term.

Click to enlarge map

Click the image to enlarge

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) secured Saaxwan in 2019, significantly enhancing the span of connected conservation lands on the estuary, which protect essential habitat for a wide range of migratory birds, fish and mammals.

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


The Bella Coola Valley lies within the Great Bear Rainforest, which is characterized by coastal temperate rainforest, rugged shorelines and imposing mountains. Ecologically significant aspects of this area 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.

Saaxwan protects 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 Saaxwan every year.

Human history

Walking on Saaxwan (Photo by NCC)

Walking on Saaxwan (Photo by NCC)

For countless generations, the Nuxalk have been caretakers of the land known today as the Bella Coola Valley. Nuxalk citizens continue to honour their ancestral responsibility to respect and care for these lands.

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 homesteaded lived on this land in the 20th century. The family sold the property to NCC in 2019.

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

Partners in conservation

The Nature Conservancy of Canada acknowledges the generous funding support from many governments, foundations and individuals, including:

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