British Columbia

B.C. conservationists scramble to raise $1.7M to buy island

A B.C. charity has less than 10 days to meet its goal of raising $1.7 million to buy a private island off Parksville so it can be protected from development.

The B.C. Parks Foundation has arranged to buy and protect West Ballenas Island near Parksville

An aerial photograph of of West Ballenas Island, which is part of a 19-island archipelago near Parksville B.C. (B.C. Parks Foundation)

A B.C. charity has less than 10 days to meet its goal of raising $1.7 million to buy a private island near Parksville so it can be protected from development.

The B.C. Parks Foundation has arranged to buy West Ballenas Island, a 0.4-square kilometre or 100-acre rocky island rich with plant and marine life, from a private owner.

It's the second major purchase by the foundation, which began in 2018 with the goal of purchasing land to add to the province's park system.

Last August, it raised $3 million to buy an eight-square-kilometre section of remote coastal wilderness called the Princess Louisa Inlet north of the Sunshine Coast.

Andy Day, CEO of the B.C. Parks Foundation, said the formula for pulling off that purchase was a success and is being employed for the West Ballenas Island project.

It involves convincing an owner to hold off selling private land to give the charity time to collect funds from many donors willing to put up as little as $5 each.

"I think what we saw with Princess Louisa was the amount of goodwill and the number of British Columbians and people around the world that really value and want to keep B.C. beautiful," he said.

Day says the foundation has had pensioners donate $5 a month, students running bake sales giving less than $100 and philanthropists providing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"Everyone gets the same feeling of doing something great … of giving back to B.C.," he said.

Conservationists say West Ballenas Island in the Salish Sea is home to a diverse array of plants and animals. (B.C. Parks Foundation)

If the sale does not go through, the island could be broken into parcels and developed with housing, according to Day.

The foundation says the island has sensitive ecosystems and is virtually undisturbed by grazing or human impacts.

Day says he is confident that the Ballenas project will be successful. The foundation has already found an anonymous donor willing to match other donations, meaning about $850,000 is still needed.

The final donations for the Sunshine Coast purchase in 2019 weren't secured until just before that project's deadline.

"Princess Louisa came right down to the wire in getting the money," Day said. 

Nov. 17 is the deadline to secure the funds

On Monday, the foundation will do a tour of West Ballenas island, which will include students from a local high school of the same name, École Secondaire Ballenas Secondary.

Seals on West Ballenas Island. (B.C. Parks Foundation)

Isabelle Scott, 14, is a grade nine student at the school. Her class has been chopping and selling firewood as a way to help raise money for the purchase.

"My back is sore after a couple of hours," she said about the work.

She said each student in her class of 18 people has raised about $60 each for the project. Scott said she does not want to see the the island's ecosystem lost to development.

"Surprisingly most teenagers … really want to make an impact in the world, so Ballenas island is one of the example of how they want to help out," she said. 

The B.C. Parks Foundation says it has until Nov. 17 to secure the funds. It hopes to complete the purchase of the island by the end of the month.

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