27 acres added to Highlands protected area

A 27-acre swath of coastal Douglas fir and wetlands in the Highlands has been acquired by the Land Conservancy of British Columbia, a key piece to help connect other protected­ ­ecosystems for wildlife and assist with efforts for the return of salmon to the Millstream Creek Watershed.

Just over $600,000 was raised in what the conservancy called one the most successful campaigns to date. An anonymous donor matched individual donors by four-to-one and contributed about $380,000 while various government grants brought in $248,000, making quick work of a campaign that started Oct. 12.

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Funds raised also included a $68,500 endowment fund with the Victoria Foundation for the ongoing stewardship of the site.

Cathy Armstrong, conservancy executive director, said the land includes mature Douglas fir and three wetlands between rocky outcrops of Garry oak and arbutus. It has two creeks and numerous radiating streams that act as a water source for a sensitive system of small lakes and habitats, including the adjacent 42-acre Mary Lake Nature Sanctuary. The property completes a wildlife corridor between Thetis Lake and Gowlland Todd Provincial Park.

Armstrong said the new property will be added to the Mary Lake Sanctuary and go a long way to helping organizations such as the Greater Victoria Greenbelt Society connect natural habitats and the Peninsula Streams Society to bring salmon back to historical habitat in Millstream Creek and Mary Lake.

The Peninsula Streams Society has already made significant headway with its Millstream Creek Fishway Project. The society partnered with the Pacific Salmon Foundation, Farmer Construction, other contractors and volunteers last year to create the fishway at Atkins Road in View Royal, building fish weirs between stacked boulders to get fish through a massive culvert and into the upper reaches of the Millstream Creek watershed.

The society has filmed adult coho coming into the lower sections of the creek and said the fishway will enable them to travel up to seven kilometres further, up into Mary Lake, increasing their habitat and, eventually, their numbers.

Millstream Creek begins in the Gowlland Todd Range and flows 18 kilometres through four communities on its way to Esquimalt Harbour.

A major tributary of the watershed, Earsman Creek, which is part of the latest acquisition, flows through the Mary Lake Sanctuary. The seven-acre lake is fed by springs and is home to cutthroat trout and water fowl. The area contains endangered species such as little brown bats, sharp-tailed snakes and western screech owls as well as northern red-leg frogs. About 85 plant species have been identified.

Known as the Gem of the Highlands, the 17-hectare Mary Lake Nature Sanctuary got provincial government protection last year through a $1.4-million grant. The Victoria Greenbelt Society is collaborating with the Tsartlip First Nation to manage the sanctuary and conservation, respect for nature and cultural values.

dkloster@timescolonist.com

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