Forests on B.C.’s Gulf and Howe Sound Islands — part of the Islands Trust area — came under the spotlight in a new report by researchers from the University of British Columbia’s Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences.
The study analyzed maps of forest biodiversity and carbon storage and concluded that protecting forests in the Islands Trust area is integral to preserving the Coastal Douglas-fir (CDF) zone.
“We’ve always known the Islands Trust area was special because it is in the Coastal Douglas-fir Biogeoclimatic zone,” said Kate Emmings of the Islands Trust Fund. “What we were excited to find was that relative to other areas within the CDF zone, the Islands Trust area is biologically significant.”
The Coastal Douglas-fir Biogeoclimatic Zone is characterized by forests of Douglas-fir, arbutus, western red cedar and salal. The unique set of ecosystems that make up the CDF zone occur on south-east Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, the Fraser Valley and the Sunshine Coast. Due to its small range, the CDF zone contains some of the most rare and endangered ecosystems in B.C. The Islands Trust area makes up 25 per cent of the CDF zone.
The study found the forests of the Islands Trust area store and sequester more carbon than CDF forests outside the Trust area. On average, forests in the Islands Trust area store 82 per cent more carbon per hectare and have the potential to absorb 43 per cent more carbon per hectare over the next 20 years than forests in the rest of the CDF zone. These results are likely due to a higher forest density in Islands Trust area, and more forests in a mature or maturing state, which tend to store and take in more carbon to support their rapid growth rate.
“What we’ve found is that if forests in the Gulf Islands were maintained, or otherwise protected, the Islands Trust area has the capacity to be a major sink for carbon produced in the region,” said Richard Shuster, PhD candidate at UBC and author of the report. “At the current growth rate, there is a potential that old growth forests could be restored in the islands within a century.”
The researchers also found species diversity, specifically bird species, to be higher in the Islands Trust area than in other areas of the CDF zone. Coupled with a comparison of property values, the data showed investments in habitat protection in the Islands Trust area would be more cost effective and would achieve more biodiversity protection than investments in other areas of the CDF zone.
“In 2008, the province determined the ecosystems of the CDF were critically imperiled and of greatest provincial conservation concern,” said Emmings. “The reason this new study is significant is because it now provides scientific data showing that resources dedicated to preventing further loss of CDF ecosystems in the Islands Trust area would be a superb investment in biodiversity protection and carbon storage. Most of these carbon storing and sequestering forests are the result of good private land stewardship. The challenge is to ensure that these forests are maintained in a landscape that is over 68 per cent privately owned.”
The study was commissioned by the Islands Trust Fund, a conservation land trust for the Islands Trust area. To learn more about the Islands Trust Fund’s efforts to preserve habitat on the Gulf Islands and in Howe Sound, visit www.islandstrustfund.bc.ca. The Islands Trust Fund and the Islands Trust Council are members of the Coastal Douglas-fir and Associated Ecosystems Conservation Partnership (CDFCP), a collection of governments, non-government organizations, citizens, universities and industry professionals. The CDFCP is working to develop a coordinated, strategic and science-based plan to identify and implement high priority actions necessary to protect the CDF.
© Coast Reporter