British Columbia

B.C. couple gifts property with pristine grizzly habitat to conservation group

A B.C. couple has gifted a large parcel of land near Bella Coola containing pristine old growth forest and rich riverside habitats to the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

Rainforest, floodplain, riverside habitats support grizzlies, 5 species of Pacific salmon

A riverfront property in the Bella Coola Valley is now the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s newest conservation area in British Columbia. (Harvey Thommasen/Nature Conservancy of Canada)

A British Columbia couple has gifted a large parcel of land near Bella Coola containing pristine old growth forest and rich riverside habitats to the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

Harvey and Carol Thommasen donated the 122-hectare parcel in B.C.'s Central Coast and part of the Nuxalk Nation's traditional unceded territory, now called the Snowshoe Creek Conservation Area, through the federal government's ecological gifts program.

Steven Godfrey, the West Coast program director with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, said the couple were "impressive naturalists" who bought the land with the intention of protecting it.

"[It is] a very significant gift," Godfrey said.

The land is part of the Bella Coola Valley, with floodplains and riverside habitats and old growth forest. It is home to five species of Pacific salmon, grizzlies and multiple species of birds.

The Nuxalk Nation has managed this territory for thousands of years, and the land is located next to the traditional Nuxalk village site of Nutl'lhiixw.

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But potential industrial uses could threaten the fertile valley's ecological integrity.

"The main threats to a piece of land like that would be just to be used for logging or potentially be converted to agriculture or used for recreational development or even for residential development," Godfrey said.

Iris Siwallace, councillor with the Nuxalk Nation, said the nation supports the land's conservation status.

"We are committed to protecting vulnerable ecosystems in our territory that could be destroyed by extractive industries such as logging and mining," Siwallace said in a statement.

"We have given our support to the Nature Conservancy of Canada to manage this area as we believe they will be able to protect this land for our Putl'lt—those who are not yet born."

Godfrey said their support was invaluable.

"They've been stewarding the land there for thousands of years, since time immemorial. This is a small sliver of time that we've been involved in the area, so their support for the project and their consent for us to work in the territory was crucial for us to take on the project," he said.

Grizzly bears actively forage along the riverfront in the 122-hectare Snowshoe Creek Conservation Area. (Harvey Thommasen/Nature Conservancy of Canada)

In a statement, Harvey Thommasen said his original desire was to protect bird species in the area.

"Carol and I donated this land to the Nature Conservancy of Canada mostly to help forest birds whose populations have declined by 30 per cent since the 1970s. This land will also help the salmon and trout whose populations have also suffered terribly over the past 50 years, and will provide a secure travel corridor for animals like deer, grizzly bear and other large mammals moving through the Bella Coola Valley," Thomassen said.

A map detailing the location of the new conservation area. (Nature Conservancy of Canada)

He says his organization is not intending to limit or restrict public access to the area, but it won't seek to facilitate new recreational uses through building trails or other visitation infrastructure. The focus is to preserve the ecological integrity of the area.

The new conservation area joins a network of other protected areas in the region, including the Burnt Bridge Creek Conservancy area and Tweedsmuir Provincial Park.

That connectivity, Godfrey says, will help species in the area.

"It's a great start to provide enough habitat to different species of wildlife that occupy the valley," he said.