Clayoquot Wilderness Resorts' owner, The Genovese Family Trust recently embarked on a five-year plan to restore 6.4 kilometres of critical spawning habitats in the Bedwell River Basin. A private sector initiative conceived and led by resorts GM John Caton, that is being welcomed and applauded by Provincial and Federal agencies and First Nations leaders, and is as far as we know, the only one of its kind in British Columbia.
At first glance, a pedestrian eye couldn't see that the beautiful, tranquil Bedwell River is in need of any measure of rescue. Those responsible would argue that it is at all, for left to its own it may recover somewhat. But even a small improvement would take centuries.
What we do know for sure is that logging and mining activity that occurred there since the late 19th century, severely impacted critical salmon spawning habitats in the valley, just north of the Wilderness Outpost, destroying much of the off-channel spawning and reading habitat for salmon and trout. Fallout from these activities ultimately impacted the upslope, riparian (diverse bank and shoreline area) and stream ecosystems and affected not only the productivity of the river, but the ecology and wildlife of the entire watershed.
Guests of the Outpost see plenty of salmon running and plenty of black bear along for the ride, what they don't see however, is the inability of sections of the Bedwell River to nursery the spawn. Gone are the off-channel, riffle and woody debris habitats that provide critical spawning and rearing shelter - all lost as a result of channel widening.
Fish populations in the Bedwell Basin have declined drastically over the past 20 years, so that today, Chinook are at critically low levels. A sad statistic given that the Bedwell River estuary was once a favoured fall fishing camp site of local First Nations, and elsewhere in the sound today, Coho and Chinook run in record numbers.
Phase one of the project will address the restoration (led by a team of biologists) of 1.6 kilometres of spawning habitats, which would support 700-800 spawning pairs of Coho, and 11,000-12,000 Coho fry. That might not sound like much, but it's a start. A start to a 24-hour a day, seven day a week commitment to monitor, record, amend, and restore, at great expense, one tiny wounded corner of the rainforest.
Mike Wright, BSb, an independent biologist contracted by the resorts to oversee the restoration project, who through his work with forest companies, governments and title-holders throughout British Columbia, has seen these problems from all angles as well as from both sides of the fence. Mike doesn't wax poetic about much, but he is keen to sing the praises of the resorts, saying "for somebody in the private sector to step up to the plate in this way is remarkable. It is what impressed me the most about an enhancement project that will go a long way toward restoring the Bedwell River Watershed to a more productive state."
From our work with him we've learned that today, repairs to similarly damaged fish habitats are typically funded by the provincial government's Forest Investment Accounts (percentage of stumpage fees paid by forest companies). Unfortunately for us and other resorts committed to environmental responsibility, there is no retroactive application of that funding process. When considered in context though, the resorts' restoration project is a small price to pay for the chance to work and play in the best intact example of a temperate rainforest left on earth.