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Clayoquot Wilderness Resorts & Spa

The first time that anyone saw the wilderness that today is Strathcona Provincial Park on Vancouver Island, was when John Buttle climbed up the Bedwell River valley from the ocean, past a river with significant salmon runs and through a pristine and healthy, intact rainforest ecosystem. When Strathcona Provincial Park was created in 1911, the Bedwell mostly fell outside the boundary. Ninety years later, logging, poaching and abuse had left the river valley a shell of its former self. And then, the Catons came along.

John and Adele bought a chunk of the Bedwell River valley, tucked up a remote inlet near Tofino, to build the Clayoquot Wilderness Resort and Spa. Almost immediately, they set their sights on returning the valley to its former ecological health.

For the last five years they have been actively investing in their Environmental Legacy Program; $3 million funded by resort revenues, dedicated to five areas of environmental stewardship: salmon-habitat rehabilitation, raptor rehabilitation and release, bear mapping, whale feeding and migration study, and marine habitat inventory.

The Salmon Habitat Restoration Project, in the historically important First Nation fall fishing ground of the Bedwell Basin, is the most extensive, involving the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Nuu Chah Nulth First Nation. The fish numbers, while small overall, show drastic changes in the Bedwell: between 1960 and 2005, one Chinook strain population declined from 5000 to less than 250.

John reckons that the project can restore the Chinook population to 60 per cent of the 1960 census (about 3000 fish) within two Chinook life cycles (8 to 10 years). In 2004, to help the fish along, a 1.6 km spawning channel was built by excavating gravel and debris, digging down to the water table and creating water flow. Prior to this, the water would start to flow around spawning time, but would dry up and trap young fry during the summer. In the summer of 2005, the stream was “complexed” to provide shade and shelter from predators for juvenile salmon. Ultimately, a six-kilometer long network is anticipated, including a small hydroelectric facility that will help regulate flow. Although the program has been entirely funded by resort revenues, a donor program was recently set up to offset costs. Anyone can “purchase an eco-metre or a mile” and help the salmon population recover.

Inspired by seeing a bald eagle released back into the wilderness in 2003, the Catons and the Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society, based in Delta, BC, partnered to release rescued raptors back into the wild. The resort has built flight pens, where rehabilitated raptors can acclimatize to their new surroundings for two weeks prior to release. To date, six bald eagles have been successfully released into the valley.

With help from the Vancouver Aquarium and Marine Science Centre, the resort is identifying and monitoring feeding habits of the gray whales as they stop along their migration route in Clayoquot Sound. Closer to the resort, the daily movements of five black bears is being tracked to identify families, range size and carrying capacity of the valley. The study is expected to last 10 to 15 years.

Working with the bears is part of daily life at the resort. To avoid conflicts, biodegradable protein and vegetable matter is placed into the ocean instead of being composted, creating food for the crabs instead of problems through the presence of bears.

Currently, the resort is proposing a partnership with the Ministry of Environment to develop winter feeding grounds for elk further up the river valley on Crown land. In the last 6 years, the Catons have already seen an increase in elk herds (and a decrease in poachers, who no longer have access through the resort’s land). More elk bring in natural predators, which may explain the three recent cougar sightings. It may not have been part of the planned result, but it is part of the overall goal of the Environmental Legacy Program. Everything that the Catons have done individually and through their resort to date, has worked towards restoring the balance that has been lost in the logged and abused Bedwell River valley.

Website: www.wildretreat.com