Skip to main content

Crossing Haro Strait: Scientific Collaboration in the Gulf and San Juan Islands

November 30, 2008

Russel Barsh, the founding director of Kwiáht and an independent researcher at UW’s Friday Harbor Laboratories, taught at the UW (1974-1984) and University of Lethbridge (1993-1999), and worked with the United Nations and three Canadian Royal Commissions on indigenous peoples and the environment before returning to the Salish Sea in 2002 to pursue research on changing cultures and their impacts on San Juan-Gulf Islands ecosystems.

by Russel Barsh

A small nucleus of scientists and land managers working in the Gulf and San Juan Islands met for the first time this past September at rustic Camp Moran, Washington (an environmental learning center) to begin building collaborative bridges in the study of biodiversity, island biogeography, and human impacts on the archipelago that crosses the US-Canada border at Haro Strait. The initiative for the gathering came from Kwiáht, a Lopez Island-based nonprofit conservation biology laboratory that I head.

Participants included representatives of Kwiáht, the San Juan Nature Institute, the US Bureau of Land Management, and Washington State Parks. The participants heard presentations by a number of local scientists. I provided background on recent efforts to inventory the terrestrial animal and plant diversity of the archipelago and to explain differences in individual island’s ecosystems. Trevor Jones, Geography, University of British Columbia, also presented on innovative uses of remote sensing by Gulf Islands National Park to inventory plant communities and monitor tree canopy species at multiple scales using Light Detection and Ranging (a remote sensing instrument that can be flown at a relatively low altitude to scan the surface of the earth and prepare precise topographic maps) and hyperspectral imaging data.

A discussion followed, focusing on possible ways of gleaning additional insights from hyperspectral data, and expanding the Gulf Islands study to include the San Juan Islands. Nick Teague, the San Juan Islands land steward for Bureau of Land Management, pledged to work with Jones on this initiative. There was also an extended discussion of the role of outdoor science education as a means of developing a shared trans-boundary stewardship ethic and sense of the unique ecological significance of the boundary region, both marine and terrestrial.

Following these discussions, Kwiáht botanist Madrona Murphy took participants to a sundew bog and a manzanita grove on Mount Constitution, two of the extraordinarily rare habitats found in the islands.

Kwiáht and the Canadian Studies Center plan to make Crossing Haro Strait an annual event in the San Juan and Gulf islands.