A view deep into forest, with sunlight through mossy branches illuminated one tree.

Coastal Douglas-fir zone (CDF)

Gabriola Island is located within the Coastal Douglas-fir Zone, the smallest of British Columbia’s 14 ecological zones. The CDF is limited to a low elevation coastal band on southeastern Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, and a very small fringe on the adjacent mainland. Lying in the rainshadow of the Vancouver Island and Olympic mountains, the CDF is drier than other BC coastal ecological zones. For details of plants found in the CDF zone, visit our native trees and plants page.

Imperiled ecosystem

Coastal Douglas-fir ecosystems are among the most imperilled coastal ecosystems. Being highly accessible, they were the first coastal forests targeted for logging and cleared for agricultural and urban development. Only about 0.5% of the land base formerly occupied by CDF forest is now composed of “older forest” (greater than 120 years old). Gabriola’s S’ul-hween X’pey Nature Reserve is a fine example of an older CDF forested ecosystem.

Sensitive ecosystems on Gabriola

Gabriola’s landscape is varied, ranging from forest to meadows to rocky shorelines. It includes many sensitive ecosystems—fragments of the original mosaic of ecosystems that are now rare, fragile, and threatened by human activity. On Gabriola these include:

A fallen log across a creek, next to a big cedar

Mature forests. These are areas dominated by conifers, generally 80-250 years old, though they may include deciduous trees. They provide important habitat, provide corridors for wildlife, and buffer other sensitive ecosystems. They also serve an important role in combatting climate change by sequestering high amounts of carbon. (Eventually they will turn into old-growth ecosystems—with trees over 250 years old—which are even more effective at what they do in every way.)

Woodlands Woodlands are dry, open mixed forests on well-drained rocky outcrops. Arbutus is a common tree species. The open canopy encourages a diverse understory of plants that is important habitat. Areas dominated by Garry oak—the only native oak in Canada west of Manitoba—are often associated with meadows of camas, an important staple of indigenous cultures.

Looking down a foggy trail between Garry oak trees
Spring meadow with wildflowers

Herbaceous ecosystems. These are natural grasslands and open meadows, including our beautiful moss meadows. They are specialized micro-habitats supporting rare species.

Freshwater, wetlands and riparian areas. These include lakes and ponds, streams, and marshes. There are very few wetlands in the Gulf Islands, but they provide essential breeding and feeding areas for birds, insects, amphibians and fish. All of these ecosystems are critical to the health of the groundwater humans draw from.

A view of Coats Marsh.
Looking out to sea from top of cliffs. Photos shows section of cliff with freighters and log boom in the distance.

Cliffs (steep slopes, generally with exposed bedrock; these areas are very rare and important habitat for cliff-nesting birds, bats, and other species)

cormorants on cliff ledges
Cormorants on Gabriola cliffs ©David Stanley (CC BY 2.0)