EXECUTIVE SUMMARY— Although theory behind science-based selection of conservation areas has been extensively developed, protected areas decisions are seldom based on biological criteria; instead, decisions are usually based on emotional, aesthetic or political grounds. To reduce this gap between theory and application, we applied a modified Conservation Area Design (CAD) framework that was previously developed for the central coast of B.C. to the adjacent north coast study area in order to rank and prioritize conservation areas based on biological criteria. We produced a contiguous CAD for a large portion of the coastal temperate rainforest in B.C. that included both central and north coast regions. We used simple and repeatable methods for ranking watersheds that included both coarse-filter and species-based approaches. We identified 682 Core Intact Areas (3.2 million hectares); these were watersheds that had relatively little historical logging, low road density and highly productive old growth forests (characterized by presence of tall and old trees). We also identified 443 Core Grizzly Bear/ Salmon and Core Restoration Areas (4.8 million hectares); these were watersheds that contained relatively high quantities of habitat features required by grizzly bears and salmon (including estuaries, riparian areas, productive old growth and low road density). Taken together, Core Conservation Areas consisted of 882 watersheds and covered about 55% of the study area (6.08 million hectares). The human activities in Core Conservation Areas that are consistent with long-term ecological integrity would probably exclude most conventional forest practices.
However, Core Conservation Areas alone are probably not sufficient for long-term conservation, as these areas will likely experience local extinction as they become increasingly fragmented and isolated. Because maintaining or restoring connectivity between Core Conservation Areas is vital to the long-term conservation efforts, we identified two types of Linkage Areas that are critical for landscape connectivity. These included Linkage Watersheds, which consisted of areas within Grizzly Bear/Salmon Primary Watersheds that had lower assessed habitat values, and Salmon/Riparian Linkage Areas, which were salmon bearing systems outside of Core Conservation Areas. We suggest that conservation of these Linkage Areas will serve to maintain and restore landscape connectivity.
Human activities tend to proliferate and fragment once contiguous habitat, and road density has been used as an indicator of the level of fragmentation. We identified Grizzly Bear Vulnerability Areas as watersheds that had both high road density and relatively high value scores for grizzly bear habitat characteristics. These are probably current or potential population sinks, where grizzly bears may be vulnerable to human caused mortality. These are also areas where landscape connectivity has been severely disrupted and where impacts will likely proliferate into adjacent areas.