Efforts are underway to try to buy and conserve Owl Island — a small island being billed as an “ecological jewel” in the Southern Gulf Islands.
“It’s an acquisition in need of a champion,” said Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt.
He and two other CRD directors are seeking board support to look at using funds from the Regional Parks Acquisition Fund to partner with conservation organizations, private philanthropists, First Nations or other levels of government to preserve the island.
Nearby Prevost Island is part of the Gulf Islands National Park, making Owl Island a logical addition to the park reserve, Isitt said.
The two-acre island, located at the mouth of Ganges Harbour near Salt Spring Island, is owned by Dugal and Ausma Smith of Burnaby and listed for sale for $1.88 million. It has a dock and a couple of tenting platforms, but has otherwise not been developed.
Dugal Smith said he and his wife bought the Island about 39 years ago, using it over the years for camping. “We would be very interested in somebody acquiring it from a preservation point of view rather than a building point of view,” he said.
A survey of plants, conducted in 2015 by University of B.C. professor Tara Martin, identifies Owl Island as having “significant ecological value owing to its outstanding endangered Garry oak maritime meadow and coastal bluff ecosystem.”
“Remarkably, Owl Island has remained largely unbrowsed by deer despite its close proximity to Prevost Island and as yet there are no rabbits or other introduced herbivores on the island,” the survey says.
“Due to Owl’s history of low human impact and absence of browsing, the island provides an outstanding historical baseline of what many of the region’s small islands would have looked like prior to European contact.”
Isitt said he envisions the CRD being involved as a junior partner, contributing about a quarter of the acquisition price.
CRD chairwoman Barb Desjardins supports having staff report back on the idea, but said in her mind the jury is out on whether the CRD should be involved.
“I think it’s important to get the staff report that talks about it because some of these things are so multi-faceted and complex, that they really go beyond what we should be doing at CRD,” Desjardins said.
The survey notes that Owl Island is similar to Grace Islet — a small island within Ganges Harbour that the province bought in 2015 for $5.45 million from Alberta businessman Barry Slawsky.
Slawsky bought the 0.78-acre islet in 1990 with the intention of building a retirement home there. Exposed human remains were discovered on the islet by kayakers in 2006. Archeologists later documented about 20 burial cairns and cultural features here.
After Slawsky began construction on the islet in 2012, concern over preserving the gravesites intensified with several First Nations, politicians and community members protesting the construction before the province stepped in to buy it.