Kyuquot Habitat OVERVIEWKyuquot Sound is surrounded by the steep Vancouver Island Ranges, which run predominantly northwest to southeast. Peaks of over 1500m lie within 15 km of the Sound. The main river valleys and inlets were shaped by glaciers and show characteristic “U” shaped cross-section. Glaciers also deposited beds of mixed gravel along valley bottoms. As the glaciers retreated, sea level rose to create today’s landscape of fjords and rocky islands. Present-day shorelines are generally steep except where recent geological processes have formed new beaches.
Kyuquot Sound also contains the Barrier Islands which form an arc in front of the Sound. Union Island, the largest of these islands, effectively shelters Kashutl and Tahsish inlets from Pacific swells. These and other islands dominate the shoreline configuration of the outer coast of Kyuquot Sound. Offshore, the continental margin is a broad submarine shelf stretching about 30 km from shore, with a seafloor generally less than 200m deep.
Commercial logging practices in the Kyuquot watershed have resulted in a significant loss of forest land and fish habitat. As with other areas along the coast, overfishing has impacted native fish stocks. Habitat enhancement activities and careful management of remaining resources is essential to the future well-being of Kyuquot residents.
The first conservation interest in the area was the establishment of Brooks Peninsula as a Recreation Area in 1986. Brooks Peninsula was not difficult to preserve since its limited forest and mineral values combined with its extraordinary environmental values made it well suited for protection. In the 1990s the public called successfully for an expansion of the protected area to include the lands backing the Brooks Peninsula and the Battle Bay region. This new addition contained the last large unprotected complex of old growth forest on northern Vancouver Island.
Another habitat issue in the Kyuquot region is the resident sea otter population. Following the extinction of the native sea otter population in the 1800's by hunters and fur traders, a re-introduction program was established; between 1969 and 1972, about 90 sea otters were relocated to the waters of Checleset Bay. The abundance of shallow reefs and good food sources in Checleset were ideal habitat; the populated flourished and has spread to an estimated 2,000 sea-otters on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
This marked increase in the sea otter population has become an issue, as the sea otter food sources, crabs, abalone and sea urchins, is in competition with First Nations harvesting interests. Before the re-introduction program, in the absence of the otters, sea urchins and other molluscs became more abundant, resulting in the destruction of the kelp beds. The kelp beds are a vital source of food, shelter and spawning grounds for many species of fish and other marine life. With the return of the sea otters to their natural habitat, the crabs, sea urchins and abalone are now being kept in check. This is having a positive affect on the marine life along this coastline, but Natives are concerned that the sea otters are depleting local shellfish levels.
Checleset Bay Ecological Reserve (33,000 hectares) is located north of Kyuquot Sound and south of Brooks Peninsula. It was established in 1981 to provide sufficient high-quality marine habitat for a reintroduced population of sea otters to increase their range and abundance to the point that they are no longer endangered.
Ecological reserves are not created for outdoor recreation. Most ecological reserves, however, are open to the public for non-destructive pursuits like hiking, nature observation and photography. Consumptive activities like hunting, freshwater fishing, camping, livestock grazing, removal of materials, plants or animals are prohibited. Motorized vehicles are not allowed. Research and educational activities may be carried out but only under permit.
Tahsish River Ecological Reserve is situated at the head of Tahsish Inlet. It is encircled by the Tahsish-Kwois Provincial Park, with the river portion of the ecological reserve providing the primary access into the park. This 70-hectare ecological reserve, established in 1988, comprises the delta and estuary of the Tahsish River, including a 12-hectare island in the middle of the river’s mouth. The reserve has a wide variety of plant communities and a diverse wildlife population; the network of channels in the estuary provides migrating, spawning and rearing habitat for many fish stocks. Proximity of the ecological reserve to the Provincial park results in trespass and access issues as well as recreation impacts. A Purpose Statement was drawn up in March 2003 to address conservation issues in this ecological reserve.
Clanninick Creek Ecological Reserve (37 hectares) was established in 1976 to preserve a small, exceptional alluvial growing site for a stand of old-growth Sitka spruce. Located 3.5 km N of Kyuquot, the reserve is 2.5km inland from the ocean. The old growth Sitka spruce trees reach 2.5 to 3 metres in diameter and 75 metres in height; there are about 35 such large trees as well as smaller ones. The excellent growth is thought to be as a result of base-rich parent materials developed from volcanic rocks. The primary management concern is the impact of adjacent logging surrounding the ecological reserve, isolating it as a narrow forested island and resulting in severe blowdown and possible degraded water quality and flow regime impacting the spawning salmon. A Purpose Statement for this reserve was approved in March 2003.