Barkley Habitat OVERVIEWAbundant rainfall and mild temperatures account for the lush vegetation and temperate rainforests found in this region, which holds the Canadian record for the most precipation in one year (Henderson Lake, 812 cm, in 1931). Old-growth forests include species such as sitka spruce, western hemlock and western red cedar, and the undergrowth is thick with salal and evergreen huckleberry. The forests closer to the coast are dense, with moss-draped limbs, debris-strewn forest floor and boggy low-lying areas.
The Barkley region is bisected by the Alberni Inlet, a 40km fjord extending from Barkley Sound more than two thirds of the width of the island. Fifty feet deep at the harbour in Port Alberni, the Inlet drops to 1000' and at its far end, past Haggard's Cove, rises to 300'. The inlet provides important schooling habitat for salmon before ascending to the spawning grounds. The inlet has a strong estuarine flow during winter and spring months which flushes the inlet and mitigates some of the deterioration of water quality. It is subject to a substantial pollution load from pulp mills, sewage and marina outfalls.
There is a barrier sill which is a maximum 88 metres deep which restricts convection to the open Pacific. Pipestream Inlet, a classic low runoff fjord, and Effingham, a high runoff fjord, flow into the sound. Pipestream Inlet has some of the warmest recorded surface temperatures (>21°C) on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
A great number of reefs, rocks, islets and islands provide diverse habitats within Barkley Sound, with the low shoreline backed by high rugged mountains. The Broken Group Islands Unit consists of over 100 islands, islets and rocky outcrops scattered in the centre of Barkley Sound, and totals 10,607 hectares, of which only 1,350 hectares is land. Natural features of this group of islands include lagoons, sandbars, blowholes, arches and secluded beaches. This region is a popular destination for kayakers and wilderness campers, and although these activities are 'low impact', the growing number of visitors require management to protect the habitat.
Barkley Sound supports a significant proportion of BC's endangered marbled murrelet population. The Brand Creek watershed (700 hectares) provides ideal marbled murrelet nesting habitat, with exceptionally high levels of nesting activity. read more
The region's coastal wildlife includes mink, martens, river otters and raccoons; inland, the primary species are black-tail deer, black bear, cougar and Roosevelt elk. Marine life includes killer whales and grey whales, porpoises, basking sharks, harbour seals, California and Steller's sea lions. There are several types of sharks in Barkley Sound, including the rare six-gilled sharks which are found in near-shore waters, and specifically around Renate Reef, between July and September. Shore-birds are numerous, and birdlife increases dramatically during spring and fall, as migrating flocks descend on the Sound en route to their breeding grounds. Barkley Sound has one of the highest concentrations of bald eagles in North America.
The Barkley region has unique habitat management challenges because of the contrasting needs of an urban area, Port Alberni, situated among large central island watersheds, and the recreational and wildlife interests of wilderness refuge areas such as Great Central Lake, Sproat Lake and Barkley Sound.