Vancouver Island’s first eagle reserve is very close to becoming a reality, thanks to generous donations and fundraising by some local organizations.
Bald eagles from as far way as Alaska come each year to join resident and nesting species in the French Creek estuary, which is home to at least 19 identified species at risk, according to the BC Parks Foundation.
Until recently, local conservationists’ dream of creating the preserve seemed out reach — an independent appraisal recently valued 18 acres of estuary land at $5,180,000.
“We have entered into a purchase of sale agreement with French Creek House for the purchase of 18 acres of land in this estuary,” said Dr. Andy Day, CEO of the BC Parks Foundation. “As part of that agreement, the appraised value of that land is over $5 million dollars and French Creek House has agreed to donate $3.28 million to this agreement, to see the land protected.”
With the land secured, the BC Parks Foundation and local partners still were $1.7 million short of the purchase price for the lands.
A $1 million donation from Dax Dasilva, tech leader and environmental activist, and his non-profit, Age of Union Alliance, along with a $400,000 commitment from the RDN and $200,000 raised by the Save Estuary Land Society (SELS) and the Friends of French Creek Conservation Society (FFCCS) leaves just $300,000 left to raise.
“It’s a huge conservation win,” said Denise Foster, chair of SELS. She added the group has been involved with the project since 2018.
The estuary is home to beavers, otters, and deer, in addition to 180 species of birds, including peregrine falcons, great blue herons and barn swallows, Foster said.
French Creek House’s director, Quinn Griesdale, said he was contacted by Foster and her group about preserving the land.
“They’ve put in a lot of work to make this happen. It started very organically about five years ago, having some conversations with the community, trying to understand what it was they might value out of this space,” Griesdale said.
“It just feels like the right thing to do. We have the ability to make decisions — we can base them purely on the financial outcome, or we can base them on the whole of what the outcome is.”
The Qualicum and Snaw-Naw-As First Nations have expressed support for the eagle sanctuary. The Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) is also on board. The land will become part of the suite of RDN parks, according to Lehann Wallace, Area G director.
“Together, we’re not only providing a sanctuary in which threatened species can thrive, but also contributing to the long-term livability of our community,” she said. “We invite residents to share this exciting news and encourage those who can to donate to the BC Parks Foundation campaign to raise the remaining funds needed for the land purchase.”
Southern B.C. and the Inside Passage (a 1,500 km stretch of protected ocean that runs the coast of B.C.) sustain most of the eagles of western North America for six or more months each year. Dr. John Elliott of Canadian Wildlife Service and international eagle expert David Hancock of the Hancock Wildlife Foundation estimate between 35,000 to 50,000 eagles migrate along the coast. “We desperately need safe feeding sites for them,” said Hancock.
The estuary is also home to wetlands areas, which are crucial nourishers for amphibians, such as salamanders, rough-skinned newts and tree frogs, according to Lynne Brookes, past president and spokesperson for Arrowsmith Naturalists, a local environmental stewardship group.
“The size of it is so crucial because people tend to love small places to death and they end up with trails all over the place, mashing the very thing that people came to enjoy and look at,” Brookes said. “So having a larger size is extremely important.”
Because the estuary is comprised mainly of increasingly valuable private lands, it has always been vulnerable to development and human encroachment on fragile wildlife habitat, according to the BC Parks Foundation, which will work with partners on a crowdfunding effort to raise the remaining funds by the April 9, 2022 deadline.
The BC Parks Foundation is an independent charity with a mission to create the greatest parks system in the world through more and better parks and protected areas. Learn more at bcparksfoundation.ca.
Age of Union is a non-profit environmental alliance, launched in 2021, that supports and makes visible a global community of change makers working on-the-ground to protect the planet’s threatened species and ecosystems.
FFCCS and SELS are volunteer charitable organizations based in the French Creek area, working together to protect the French Creek Estuary.