Private lands within the Great Bear Rainforest donated for conservation

Kermode aka 'spirit bear'
Kermode bear also known as the "spirit bear" is a rare subspecies of the American black bear living in B.C.'s Great Bear Rainforest. Photo by The Canadian Press.

A vast tract of pristine waterfront within British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest has been donated to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, filling in part of a patchwork of conservation efforts in the prized wilderness.

Parcels of private land are scattered throughout the Great Bear Rainforest that stretches along B.C.'s central coast and is about the size of Ireland. It accounts for one-quarter of the world's coastal temperate rainforests.

Only about one-third of the rainforest is fully protected under parks and conservation areas, while nine per cent of the total area is available for logging.

"Ecology doesn't respect who owns the land," Linda Hannah, regional vice president for Nature Conservancy of Canada, said during the announcement on Thursday.

"To create a larger network of conservation, it's important to look at those pockets of private lands."

The newly donated private lands along the coast will protect another 185 hectares of ecologically significant old-growth forests and estuaries.

Three of the parcels were donated to the conservancy by the owner Tony Allard and his family. Hannah said Allard wanted to leave a legacy by preserving the land in its natural state.

Hannah said the addition will help improve forest management by allowing for research to occur in more areas and determine where conservation efforts need to be focused.

One of the donated parcels is located on Spider Island where all of the land, except that property, had been protected as Crown territory.

Hannah said a provincial program exists that protects wildlife on the marine archipelago but the private parcel was left out.

With the private land now belonging to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, Hannah said the whole island will be protected.

The rainforest is home to a number of endangered or threatened species and supports some of the most dense populations of black and grizzly bears in the province, along with the white kermode or spirit bear.

Director of conservation, Nancy Newhouse, said private property within the rainforest tends to be located on the highest quality land.

"The people and the animals are looking for the same values in land so it's typically going to be in valley bottoms, in estuaries, in places that there is good water and good soil," Newhouse said.

The newly conserved parcels include the Gullchucks Estuary, Spider Island, and the Geldala and Kiidiis shores that sit opposite of Rivers Inlet.

The conservancy says protections on these lands will be funded by a mixture of government and private donors.

On Monday, Premier Christy Clark announced the Great Bear Rainforest will be endorsed under the Queen's Commonwealth Canopy initiative aimed to conserve forests around the globe.

The endorsement will be made officially when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visit the rainforest as part of the Royal Tour later this month.

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