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Seattle woman donates island near Gabriola as nature reserve

Family of the late Betty Swift hopes Link Island becomes a location for climate-change research

A Seattle woman who owned an island southeast of Nanaimo since the early 1960s has donated it to the Islands Trust Conservancy for protection as a nature reserve.

Betty Swift, who passed away in 2021, had built a small home on the island and visited often with her children and grandchildren.

The 52.5-acre island, which is close to Gabriola Island, is valued at $3.73 million by B.C. Assessment and is the Islands Trust Conservancy’s largest-ever land donation and the largest complete island managed by the conservancy.

The island is linked to Mudge and De Courcy islands at low tides.

Swift left instructions that her children and grandchildren be allowed to use the island for the duration of their lives.

The Swift family’s dream is that Link Island will become a location for climate-change research.

“This gift is about the future,” said Barbara Swift, Betty Swift’s daughter. “It is a gift for us all.”

Link Island has the added protection of a new conservation covenant held by the Nanaimo and Area Land Trust and the Gabriola Land and Trails Trust.

Link Island is described as having a wealth of biodiversity, with more than three kilometres of undeveloped shoreline, coastal cliffs, wetlands, sandstone formations, tidal flats and mixed forest ecosystems such as threatened coastal Douglas-fir, arbutus and prairie oak meadows.

It’s also home to threatened species that are vulnerable to human disturbance, including the western screech owl, barn swallows and great blue heron.

The Islands Trust Conservancy said Link Island will continue to remain closed to the public so it can provide sanctuary to the rare and threatened ecosystems.

The conservancy is developing a management plan, and is initiating conversations about managing the island with First Nations. Link Island is located within the territories of the Cowichan Tribes, Xeláltxw (Halalt) First Nation, Lyackson First Nation, Spune’luxutth’ (Penelakut Tribe), SEMYOME (Semiahmoo) First Nation, Snuneymuxw (Nanaimo) First Nation, Stz’uminus (Chemainus) First Nation, and Ts’uubaa-asatx (Lake Cowichan) First Nation.

“We feel so honoured that Betty and her family have entrusted us with this island,” Linda Adams, chair of the Islands Trust Conservancy, said in a statement.

“It is our intent to manage Link Island in a way that recognizes and protects both its cultural and ecological values.”

Paul Chapman of the Nanaimo and Area Land Trust said having an entire island set aside for conservation is an “incredibly rare thing.”

“I’m excited to see what we do with this unique opportunity, and to work together to find innovative ways to steward the island in the face of climate change,” he said.

Gabriola Land and Trails Trust president Rob Brockley met with the Swift family shortly before the title to Link Island was transferred to the Islands Trust Conservancy, and called it an “incredibly generous gift for conservation.”

“Many of us aspire to show generosity when opportunities arise, but the Swift family has actually done it, and on such a grand scale,” said Brockley.

More than 65% of land on islands in the Salish Sea is privately owned, according to the Islands Trust, which says individual landholders’ voluntary conservation actions are critical to protecting biodiversity and addressing the impacts of climate change in the region.