In the later 1990s there was furious opposition on Denman Island to the wholesale clear-cutting of mature second growth forests. Forests, covering one third of the island, in the hands of one of BC’s notorious loggers of private land, were cut down and trucked off the island.
In the aftermath Denman Conservancy Association (DCA) sued the logger (4064 Investments Ltd.) and, as a result of settling the legal case, acquired two extensive covenants and a quarter section of logged land (The Settlement Lands). As well DCA purchased Central Park, a nearby 60 hectare property, which had also been logged. See Kingfisher #14, winter/spring 2007, Central Park on Denman Island.
To our complete surprise, a population of the rare Taylor’s Checkerspot butterfly was discovered on the Settlement Lands. In April/May of this year, with the aid of a colourful poster requesting sightings on Denman, widespread sightings were reported. Chris Guppy, a leading expert on the Region’s Butterflies visited the Island and walked transects on several logged properties.
The Taylor’s Checkerspot is a medium-sized butterfly (4 cm wingspan) with dramatic colouration and patterning. It is associated with Gary Oak ecosystems and has historically been reported in areas from Victoria to Comox. It is listed as Endangered. A small population had persisted on Hornby Island, but surveys in 2001 and 2003 failed to find any specimens there. In and adjacent to the much loved and heavily used Helliwell Provincial Park there is an area of Gary Oak meadows, presumed to be the necessary habitat for the butterfly. At present the Denman population is the only known occurrence of Taylor’s Checkerspot in Canada.
Sightings of the butterfly in May extended to the clearcut lands of Central Park and the Railway Grade Marsh Covenant area, as well as to some other ‘old field’ locations. This summer and fall further studies will be undertaken.
Subsequently Denman Conservancy will have to consider what vegetation management strategies may be appropriate for these recovering clearcuts, or should we call them ‘becoming Gary Oak Meadows’?
This year is the ten year anniversary of the purchase of Denman forest lands by 4064 Investments. Last winter several veteran volunteers were gathered around the Conservancy’s battered boardroom table: “I hear some habitat specialists want to come up from Victoria to look at the Settlement Lands.”
“Why? What do they expect to learn at this time of year?”
“Well they say they want to see what they might do to create this habitat for the Checkerspot on Hornby.”
“Hah, that’s simple; just send over 4064 to log Helliwell Park!”
So there is the irony. The clearcutting, which was in many ways truly an ecological disaster, profits at least one rare species. (The deer seem also to be thriving on the clearcuts). Many questions remain unanswered: Where did the Checkerspot come from? Was it always there, surviving in the woodland openings and old fields of Denman? What does it need to remain a healthy population? Do we know enough to even try to meet its needs?
The true significance of the story is in its reflection of the major gaps in our knowledge and understanding of our ecosystems. What other rare and valuable species may have been lost in the logging onslaught? Certainly we lost some red-listed plant communities, for instance from what were cedar-skunk cabbage wetlands, and most likely others.
We have made a good start by securing the lands for conservation in perpetuity; and now the magnitude of that undertaking is becoming apparent. We will need funds for management of the land and now, it seems, for research, planning and preservation of an endangered species.