Fairy Creek is home to a number of species at risk, and should be protected, say several scientists. At-risk species sighted in recent months include a variety of birds, little brown bats, and a lichen described as “cute” and sensitive.
Could these species help Fairy Creek find true protection — beyond its present two-year deferral of logging?
Last Friday at Fairy Creek, three scientists and a citizen scientist showed the assembled forest protectors evidence gathered since May on several federally listed species at risk. Although they described their inventory of species in the old-growth forest as just a beginning, many species were sighted.
Citizen-scientist Natasha Lavdovsky described the Oldgrowth specklebelly lichen which she found in the area. As a multi-disciplinary artist with a science background, Lavdovsky appreciates the lichen’s uniqueness. “They are really cute, because they have a speckled texture on their underbelly. It’s bluish on top, and pinkish underneath. When you look at them with a hand lens, they’re really quite exquisite.”
The rare lichen is generally found farther north, she told the group. Yet, “This is very likely to be the largest population of this lichen ever found in B.C.”
The main reason it still exists is because blockades have been protecting the area for the past year, she said. Most of the lichens are within an approved Teal Jones cut-block in TFL 46, which has been partially logged.
“Many of these lichen communities are right beside clear-cuts. They’re dying now from too much sunlight.” The speckled-belly lichen only grows in old-growth forests.
Dr. Loys Maingon explained that the importance of lichens is vastly underestimated: “They are a crucial, foundational part of our living world. They play an outsized and poorly understood role in global photosynthesis and nutrient cycling.”
An old-growth forest hosts communities of lichens, which, in a highly synchronized way, process rainfall and atmospheric humidity. They capture vital nutrients out of the air, and provide nutrients that support the forest, and the food chains that support all of its creatures, he said.
“Their abundance and diversity are indicators of ‘healthy forests’,” Dr. Maingon added. “Lichens are the basis of nitrogen-cycling in old-growth forests. They’re the foundation of the pumping mechanism that goes into the “biotic pump model” – the capture of water out of condensation and evapotranspiration processes of water, and its transportation inland, far beyond what would normally be expected by passive wind-driven processes. The forest’s biotic pump creates much of our climate.”
Some researchers recently reported that lichens may actually sequester even more carbon dioxide than the old-growth trees they live upon, he said. They also neutralize acidic rainwater as it runs over them to the ground.
Despite providing countless ecosystem services, the specklebelly lichen “is very sensitive,” and a vulnerable at-risk species, Lavdovsky noted. She read a BC Timber Sales document that called for a 200-metre buffer zone to protect the lichen’s habitat from logging. One tree on which she found the rare lichen growing had been marked with red falling-boundary tape. She also found dying lichens along the newly built roadside and in an area that directly bordered a recent cut-block.
“Many people trust that endangered species are protected by law in BC, but they’re not,” said Kathleen Code, a Rainforest Flying Squad spokesperson. “Although there are government ‘guidelines’ requiring logging companies to complete a wildlife inventory and management plan before they log, in practice there is no penalty for inadequately prepared inventories and management plans. No penalty, in other words, for erasing habitat and killing endangered species.”
Dr. John Neilson, a fisheries scientist who has worked for the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, noted that the federal Species at Risk Act applies only to federal lands in BC, such as national parks.
“In spite of explicit election promises made by Mr. Horgan in 2017, BC still does not have a provincial act to protect at risk species, placing the province in a minority nationally.” A very small number of species are covered by BC’s Forest and Ranges Practices or Wildlife Acts.
“I expect that information from our surveys will inform public reactions to the government’s passive and inadequate response to protecting BC’s biodiversity on southern Vancouver Island.”
Along with Dr. Jim Cuthbert, Dr. Neilson helped organize several “BioBlitz” inventories at Fairy Creek since May. Using the i-Naturalist app, he noted that, “With minimal survey effort, we have now documented 322 species, from 903 observations.
“Our data provide evidence of a significant number of species at risk. We have seen 62 observations of 14 vulnerable species.” A more thorough inventory is still needed, which would consist of returning through different seasons, and better coverage of the central part of the Fairy Creek valley and watershed.
At-risk species documented during the BioBlitzes include:
– recordings made of little brown bats near Fairy Lake
– many sightings of Western toads and Northern red-legged frogs
– many sightings of Marbled murrelets and Western Screech owls, as well as other bird species such as Northern Goshawk, Olive-sided flycatcher, and Band-tailed pigeon.
– many plant species, including Western Rattlesnakeroot, Coastal Brookfoam, Carolina Bugbane and Stink Currant.
– fungi species including Northern Red Belt
– other lichen species, including Cabbage Lung lichen
Dr. Neilson’s presentation to forest protectors ended with “a huge thank you” to the forest protectors, “for your passion, dedication and tenacity in your essential efforts to protect old-growth forests.”
Dr. Neilson and Dr. Jim Cuthbert wrote the BC government last week, to alert the ministers of environment and forests about the presence of endangered species in the Fairy Creek area (excerpt below).
“Perhaps enlightened public pressure might lead to long-term protection for these threatened species and their entire ecosystems,” Dr. Neilson said.
The following is an excerpt from a letter sent by the scientists July 25th, to Minister Katrine Conroy (Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development), and Minister George Heyman (Environment and Climate Change Strategy):
“In spite of your Ministry’s initial lack of support for our right to scientific freedom of inquiry, we have used the iNaturalist app to gather together much of the existing knowledge of the biodiversity of Fairy Creek. https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/fairy-creek-research
“Please refer to the link, and you will see evidence that federally-listed species at risk occur in that watershed. Note that these publicly-available data already exist, even without complete survey coverage of the watershed, which was the issue that we hoped to address by seeking access. We are sure that British Columbians will be deeply interested in hearing your plans to protect the habitats of those species, beyond temporary measures in certain parts of the watershed.
“It seems shocking that logging activities are being contemplated for an area where so little is known — and what little we know is indicating an area of great species diversity, including a significant proportion of species at risk. Please take time to explain your plan to protect the habitat of Fairy Creek for listed species found so far, and those yet to be found.
“We appreciate a prompt and positive response to this critical matter.”
– The iNaturalist Fairy Creek Project link:
(many bird sightings are also listed on ebird)
– how BC compares to other provinces in species protection<:
“Failure to Protect: Grading Canada’s Species At Risk Laws” –
Dr. Jim Cuthbert, bioblitz organizer: Email – firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 250 896-6379
Dr. John Neilson, bioblitz organizer: Email – email@example.com Phone: 250 465-1728
Natasha Lavdovsky, citizen scientist: Email – firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 250.646.2333
Dr. Loys Maingon, limnologist: Email — email@example.com Phone: 250-331-0143,
Kathleen Code, Rainforest Flying Squad spokesperson: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
*A copy of Dr. Neilson’s slide presentation is available by emailing him at: email@example.com