Lab Blogs

To Cover Ground

The mantra of this field season for the Kitasoo/Xai’xais Cultural Feature Inventory team is to cover ground. We have spent the last 5 weeks conducting cultural feature surveys throughout Kitasoo/Xai’xais Territory, tacking on the kilometers each day.

Our all-star crew is made up of Vernon Brown (project co-lead), Stephen Neasloss, Santana Edgar, Chantal Pronteau, Sarein Basi-Primeau, and cameo appearances from fellow Raincoast biologist, Spirit Bear Research Foundation scientist, and PhD student Christina Service.

For such a large territory, conducting a cultural feature inventory across its entirety is an impossible task. However, we are able to learn more about the patterns, distributions and history of biocultural values (e.g. culturally modified trees and food/medicinal plants) that exist here if we are able to cover enough ground and sample across representative areas.

In some cases the sites or watersheds we survey are located far from shorelines that are reachable by boat.  These would be too costly to visit multiple days in a row, so we set up a base camp in these more remote watersheds, spending four days out surveying.

Our first camping mission was to a remote lake system on the Don Peninsula (pictured above). The beauty in the camp-based sampling rounds is being able to spend time in these remote places… and talking about what we saw that day around the campfire. Each observation we record helps us to learn about the natural and cultural history of these places. The more time we spend in one place the more it begins to share its stories.

For example, part of our multi-methods survey protocol involves opportunistic call/response methods for inventorying northern goshawks, a rare and elusive bird that primarily inhabits old growth forests and is protected under BC’s Wildlife Act. This methodology requires toting a full sized megaphone on all of our transects and stopping every 250 meters to blast an alarm or begging call at full volume in the four cardinal directions. Both types of calls have begun to ring in our ears long after we are done surveying, and in some cases even haunt our dreams.

Northen Goshawks. The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors. File from Wikimedia Commons.

But our efforts paid off! In our earlier work, the most exciting responses we have received are from Stellar’s jays, which can mimic goshawk calls but reveal themselves as phonies due to their limited range and incomparably small chest capacity. On the third day of this particular camping mission, however, we were about 750 meters into one of our transects at the East end of the watershed when we heard a noise that stopped us dead in our tracks.  It was the piercing call of a raptor and it grew louder as we sat still. The noise echoed through the valley and had a deep resonance that stood the hair up on our necks. We looked at each other in disbelief. They do exist! We recorded the call and marked our location with approximate distance and bearing to the bird. Despite our best efforts, we were unable see the bird and our nest search was interrupted by a curious black bear. Nonetheless, this rare observation carries hefty conservation weight and is something that very few people have experienced in this part of the coast.

Although these watersheds seem remote — and like ‘wilderness areas for wildlife exclusively’— this is not an accurate description. In many of these places we encounter culturally modified trees, evidence of past and present use/occupation by Kitasoo/Xai’xais people. More sobering, we also frequently encounter flagging tape marking cutblock boundaries and road locations for prospective forestry operations and those that were halted during the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement negotiations.

Our work aims to inform current and future forestry activities in the region, by documenting and mapping important ecological and cultural values that have legislated targets for protection in the Great Bear Rainforest Land Use Objectives Order (2016).  In doing so, we are helping local lands managers communicate and defend the values that exist in these forests beyond merchantable timber.

Bryant DeRoy – Raincoast Conservation Fellow and MSc student