Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site, often referred to simply as Gwaii Haanas, is located in the southernmost Haida Gwaii (formerly known as Queen Charlotte Islands), 130 kilometres (81 miles) off the mainland of British Columbia, Canada. Gwaii Haanas protects an archipelago of 138 islands, the largest being
Moresby Island and the southernmost being . Kunghit Island
The park was the subject of a short film in 2011's National Parks Project, directed by Scott Smith and scored by Sarah Harmer, Jim Guthrie and Bry Webb.
Establishing Gwaii Haanas
From the 1970s through the early 1980s, plans to expand logging to
led to controversy, and the first concerted efforts to protect Gwaii Haanas. The "South Moresby Wilderness Proposal" was drawn up in an effort to stem natural resource exploitation. Burnaby Island
To prevent logging, the Haida Nation designated the "Haida Heritage Site" in 1985, encompassing roughly the southern third of the archipelago. Importantly, the Heritage Site included a swath of land and sea, both terrestrial and marine areas. However, logging continued, amidst legal and political battles. In 1987, logging ended when the governments of
Canada and signed the South Moresby Memorandum of Understanding. British Columbia
This accord led to the South Moresby Agreement a year later, which created South Moresby National Park Reserve. It was not a full national park; it was an area reserved to become a national park, because there were outstanding claims to land ownership among federal and tribal governments. But the measure safeguarded the area, and permitted shared stewardship. It would be managed as if it were a national park, pending land claims.
In 1993 the Government of Canada and the Council of the Haida Nation signed the Gwaii Haanas Agreement, which changed the name of the national park reserve to a native name. This Agreement expresses respect for both Canadian and Haida designations and interests, and includes a mutual commitment to the protection of Gwaii Haanas. Because the park reserve and the Haida Heritage Site nearly coincide (on land), its official name reflected both designations:
Reserve and Haida Heritage Site. Gwaii Haanas National Park
ased on the Agreement, Gwaii Haanas is cooperatively managed by the Archipelago Management Board (AMB), which is made up of an equal number of representatives from the Council of Haida Nation and the Government of Canada. The AMB is responsible for all aspects of planning, operation, and management of Gwaii Haanas.
National Marine Conservation Area Reserve
For the Haida, the marine and terrestrial environments are inseparable. The boundary between earth and ocean exists only on a map. Such is not the case with the park reserve. While the heritage site includes both land and sea, the national park reserve overlaps only with the terrestrial portion of the site. The Gwaii Haanas Agreement provided for native–federal negotiations on managing the marine portion of the site, which eventually bore fruit in 2010, when an enveloping protected area was created: Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida Heritage Site. Like the national park reserve it surrounds, the marine reserve is reserved for future designation to full park system status, pending sea claim settlements.
Meantime, the Gwaii Haanas NMCAR will balance protecting marine ecosystems, while also allowing ecolgocially sustainable use. This includes traditional harvesting, recreational and commercial fishing.
The appearance of "Haida Heritage Site" in both the names of the national park reserve and the marine reserve is a duplication of name, but not of reference. As part of the national park reserve name, it refers to the terrestrial portion of the site. As part of the marine reserve name, it refers to the marine portion of the site. Still, there are areas of the heritage site—both land and sea—which are outside both federal reserves. These are all in the northernmost parts of the site.
With the NMCAR established, nearly 5,000 square kilometres of Gwaii Haanas are protected. This is one of the only places in the world where a representative area is protected from mountain top to ocean depth.
Gwaii Haanas Crest
The AMB's crest crafted by local Haida artist Giitsxaa represents the unique joint management relationship.
The AMB chose the sea otter and the sea urchin because of the creatures' significance in the history and tradition of the protected area and because of their ecological significance.
Populations of sea urchin, a kelp-grazing species, were once kept in check by sea otters, ensuring an abundance of kelp and species that depend upon kelp communities. With the extirpation of sea otters during the Maritime Fur Trade, the natural balance between species in the community was disturbed. As a result the sea urchin population has increased dramatically over time and the health of kelp forests is threatened. The loss of the sea otter is a powerful reminder of the vulnerability of individual species and entire ecosystems.
Ninstints (Nan Sdins) or SGang Gwaay Llnaagay on Anthony Island, in located in the southernmost part of Gwaii Haanas, just west of Kunghit Island, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981. The remains of a Haida village on the eastern side of the island - SGang Gwaay Llnaagay - represent an outstanding example of a traditional Northwest Coast First Nations village site, complete with standing totem poles and the remains of cedar longhouses.
Haida people have a continuing presence at SGang Gwaay and four other village sites between May to September as part of the Haida Gwaii Watchmen Program. Between two and four Watchmen live at each site serving as guardians to protect the natural and cultural heritage of these sites.
Other historical villages within the boundaries of Gwaii Haanas included Cumshewa, Clew (Tanu) and Djí-gua.
In 2004, Parks Canada, on behalf of the federal government, added the entirety of Gwaii Haanas to its Tentative List of potential future World Heritage Sites, pending approval by UNESCO.
Terrain and climate
The landscapes of Gwaii Haanas vary from deep fjords to rugged mountains, salmon spawning streams to sub-alpine tundra. Close to 90% of Gwaii Haanas is forested, 9% is alpine and sub-alpine tundra. The remaining 1% is made up of lakes and wetlands.
As water drains from the highest mountains - including the rugged San Christoval Range with peaks over 1,100 metres (3,609 feet) - it helps fill over 40 freshwater lakes. In turn, this water drains through more than 100 salmon spawning streams
The west coast of Gwaii Haanas can receive over 4,000 millimetres (157.5 inches) of rain annually. Extreme exposure to wind and rain makes the forests on the west coast boggy and stunted, and are dominated by western red cedar and hemlock . Forests of the leeward, or eastern side of Gwaii Haanas, are classic coastal temperate rainforests, dominant overstorey species include large western hemlock,
spruce and western red cedar trees Sitka
Distinct island flora and fauna have evolved over thousands of years. Species here often differ from those found on the mainland. Many common continental species are not found on the islands, or have evolved into unique subspecies such as the black bear which is larger than its mainland cousin. Other species have been introduced relatively recently, such as the
black-tailed deer, racoons, squirrels and beaver. Introduced species now exist in large numbers, much to the detriment of native plants and animals. Sitka
An estimated 750,000 seabirds nest along the shoreline of Gwaii Haanas from May through August.Many are burrow-nesters, such as the rhinoceros auklet, ancient murrelet and tufted puffin. Bald eagles are a common site and nest along the coastline. Because the islands are situated along the Pacific flyway, dozens of species of migrating birds stop here in spring and fall.
Gwaii Haanas came first in a survey of US and Canadian National Parks in National Geographic Traveler magazine, recognized for its pristine environment and sustainable management practices.
Gwaii Haanas is a remote location, accessible by sea kayak, boat or chartered floatplane only.
An orientation is provided to all visitors before they enter Gwaii Haanas.