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The Land

Southern Arichika Islets
Southern Arichika Islets © Parks Canada / Andrew Wright

Islands of Beauty

Broad-petal gentian in the alpine Broad-petal gentian in the alpine
© Parks Canada / C. Johnson Kendrick

Gwaii Haanas is peppered with islands and islets, bays and inlets, tidal pools and beaches.

Pacific temperate rainforest sweeps from sea level up the slopes of the San Christoval Mountains, which form the backbone of Gwaii Haanas.

Alpine flowers, herbs, grasses and saxifrage thrive in the higher elevations.

Forest Giants

Sitka spruce Towering Sitka spruce on Lyell Island
© Parks Canada / Debby Gardiner

At lower levels, rain and moderate temperatures help nurture dense, mossy forests of tall western red cedar, western hemlock, and Sitka spruce.

Some of the trees in the ancient forest have lived more than a thousand years and grow to 95 metres in height.

The varied understory is made up of shrubs including salal, huckleberry, salmonberry, ferns, false lily of the valley and more.

Isolated and Ice-free

The shape of Haida Gwaii changed as the sea level rose
The shape of Haida Gwaii changed as the sea level rose. From left to right: circa 14,000 years ago, ca. 12,000 years ago and ca. 10,800 years ago © Parks Canada

Through geological history, the shorelines of Haida Gwaii have risen and fallen. Many islands that are now above sea level were once below it and vice versa.

During the last ice age, while most of North America was covered in a mantle of ice, some small sections of Haida Gwaii escaped the deep freeze. Some species survived on these “refugia” and have evolved unique characteristics.

Distinct Fauna

Ermine in winter coat Ermine in winter coat
© Parks Canada
Haida Gwaii black bear Haida Gwaii black bear in the intertidal zone © Parks Canada / N. Osborne

Islands are special places for plants and animals. The distinct Haida Gwaii fauna have evolved over thousands of years. Six of the ten native land mammals on the islands are subspecies found nowhere else on earth. This includes the dusky shrew, ermine and pine marten.

The Haida Gwaii black bear (Ursus americanus carlottae) is also unique and is the only species of bear found on the archipelago today. The species has thrived on a rich diet of salmon and hard-shelled intertidal creatures for so long that the bears have developed larger jaws and teeth than their mainland counterparts.

Introduced and Invasive Species

A Sitka black-tailed deer eating kelp A Sitka black-tailed deer eating kelp
© Parks Canada / Ryan Duffy
A raccoon in the intertidal zone A raccoon in the intertidal zone
© Parks Canada / D. Gardiner

Many common continental species like cougar, wolf and grizzly bear, are not found on the islands at all. Other common species have been introduced relatively recently including - the Sitka black-tailed deer, raccoons, squirrels, beaver and three species of rats.

These introduced and invasive species have been very successful because they have fewer predators and competitors, to the detriment of the native plants, animals and birds.