French Creek eagle sanctuary campaign reaches fundraising goal

The BC Parks Foundation has entered into a purchase of sale agreement with French Creek House Ltd. for the purchase of 18 acres of land in the French Creek estuary. || Photo by Kevin Forsyth.
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The combined efforts of local eagle lovers, land holders, regional governments and First Nations have raised funding for the purchase and protection of an eagle sanctuary in French Creek.

The BC Parks Foundation led a campaign to raise over $5.18 million in donations to purchase 18 acres of estuary land and join it to five acres of existing protected area, for a 23 acres nature reserve, according to a media release by the foundation. 

“This is a fantastic story,” said Andy Day, CEO of the BC Parks Foundation. “There has been an incredible outpouring of goodwill in the community, making the longstanding dream of an eagle sanctuary come true. A lot of people feel like they are soaring with the eagles right now.”

The land hosts bald eagles who come by the thousands from as far away as Alaska to join resident and nesting eagles and feast on the teeming abundance of the Salish Sea.

Donations came from all sides, with the biggest coming from the landowners, French Creek House Ltd., who agreed to gift $3.28 million of land value. That was followed by a $1 million donation from British Columbian Dax Dasilva and his non-profit Age of Union Alliance. The Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) then agreed to provide $400,000.

The remaining amount, over $500,000, came from people from every walk of life. 

“It was thousands of people like you and me, who want to keep B.C. beautiful,” said Day, who noted a few special donors honouring loved ones who had passed on. “That’s the beauty in this — many people being moved in some way to do what they could, in a spirit of gratitude and celebration, and all of that adding up to make something wonderful and lasting happen.”

Day credits the efforts of volunteers, and in particular the local Save Estuary Land Society and Friends of French Creek Conservation Society groups, who spearheaded local efforts and have worked for years to protect the estuary.

“It’s been so inspiring to see people come up with such creative ways to raise awareness and donations for the French Creek Estuary Eagle Sanctuary,” said Denise Foster, chair of the Save Estuary Land Society. “When we come together in our local neighbourhoods to help protect nature, it’s an amazing feeling. It unites us as a community.”

Supporters ranged from youth to elders in the community. Student enthusiasts from Ballenas and Kwalikum Secondary schools planted hundreds of native trees along the lower corridor of French Creek’s riparian zone during the campaign. The Parksville Golden Oldies Sports Association (PGOSA) held a cycling event for the eagles. Barry Mountain, 86, was thrilled to take part. 

“This is one of our most important areas of biodiversity; it’s critical to conserve nature, oceans, rivers and the life they support,” said Mountain.

Southern B.C. and the Inside Passage 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, “and this is one of the important ones.”

In addition to protecting eagles, the French Creek estuary is an incredibly diverse and rich ecological system supporting 180 species of birds, 60 species of waterfowl, salmon, river otters and beaver. Nineteen of the species in the estuary are considered at risk. As the estuary is comprised mainly of increasingly valuable private lands, it has always been vulnerable to development and human encroachment on fragile wildlife habitat.

Day also credits the RDN, and in particular Electoral Area G Director Lehann Wallace, who personally contacted and inspired a lot of people to donate.

“The RDN is proud to be a partner in this important land acquisition. We extend our gratitude to the many in our community whose efforts and generosity helped make this nature preserve a reality,” said Wallace. “The Eagle Sanctuary at French Creek Estuary is a truly special place, and we are delighted that it will continue to be vital habitat for many threatened species and a natural green space for the community to enjoy.”

The land remains private and off-bounds to visitors for the coming months as the deal closes and restoration and planning begin, according to the release. When the purchase goes through, the RDN will be a co-owner with the BC Parks Foundation and will manage the lands as a nature preserve under the Electoral Area G Community Park Service through a 99-year renewable lease agreement with the BC Parks Foundation. The lease provides for the new parklands to be managed in a manner that will ensure the protection, preservation, and conservation of the natural state of the land for ecological, environmental and aesthetic reasons.

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. 

Friends of French Creek Conservation Society and Save Estuary Land Society are volunteer charitable organizations based in the French Creek area, working together to protect the French Creek Estuary.

Age of Union is a non-profit environmental alliance that supports and makes visible a global community of change-makers working to protect the planet’s threatened species and ecosystems. 

Launched in October 2021 by tech leader and environmental activist Dax Dasilva, Age of Union seeks to ignite a flame within every person through conservation efforts that solve critical environmental challenges and show the positive impact that every individual can make.

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