Chapter 27

I have had the saddening experience of revisiting after the clear-cutter some areas that formerly supported gigantic spruce trees, clear, fish-rich streams and an assemblage of the birds and mammals found only on these islands.

Queen Charlotte Islands/Haida Gwaii 1945–1946

Cowan in boat in Massett Inlet

Cowan in boat in Massett Inlet

Haida Gwaii/Queen Charlotte Islands, 1949. Image Cowan_PP_321 courtesy of University of Victoria Special Collections.
Cowan with Keen’s Mouse

Cowan with Keen’s Mouse

Peromyscus keeni, Haida Gwaii/Queen Charlotte Islands, 1960. Photograph by Bristol Foster. Image Cowan_PP_110 courtesy of Bristol Foster and University of Victoria Special Collections.
Cowan in clearcut, Lake Cowichan

Cowan in clearcut, Lake Cowichan

BC, c. 1965. Image Cowan_PP_247 courtesy of University of Victoria Special Collections.
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The Rocky Mountain research was wrapping up that spring and a whole new research project was opening up – a survey of the birds and mammals of the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii) with a special look at the endemic species. In lecture notes on the isolated archipelago, Cowan described his interest:

Islands have long intrigued me. Earlier studies made on other insular forms led me to survey the known facts about QCI [Haida Gwaii] critically. There were features that it seemed to me could be explained on the basis of the islands as an unglaciated faunal reservoir from pre-ice-age days. This was one large question mark before me. Other questions: small mammals; the caribou; the great unknown areas of the west coast and alplands; the seabird colonies; the behaviour of ungulate populations in a predator-less environment.81

…In 1985 the BC government established the Wilderness Advisory Committee and Cowan submitted two proposals, one on behalf of the Association of Professional Biologists, the other as a personal submission.82 In both, he advocated the protection of the South Moresby Wilderness area. In 1987 he wrote to BC premier Bill Vander Zalm, saying:

It is nearly 30 years since I made my first biological studies on the Queen Charlotte Islands. Since then I have worked on all the major islands and many of the smaller ones. When I was a faculty member at the University of British Columbia, several of my graduate students undertook detailed studies of the unique biology of the islands. I have had the saddening experience of revisiting, after the clear-cutter, some areas that formerly supported gigantic spruce trees, clear, fish-rich streams and an assemblage of the birds and mammals found only on these islands. The ecosystem was totally destroyed. I can appreciate your concern to maintain employment… If the few remaining areas are cut, never again will we, our children or our guests be able to experience forests of Douglas-fir, Redcedar or Sitka Spruce 600-1200 years old.83

Cowan made one error in this letter: it had actually been over 40 years since he started his biological work there.


81 Ian McTaggart Cowan, “ Queen Charlotte Islands,” lecture notes, n.d., Cowan_PN_240.

82 Ian McTaggart Cowan to Wilderness Advisory Committee, [n.d., circa 1985], Cowan_PN_267.

83 Ian McTaggart Cowan to Premier William Vander Zalm, July 6, 1987, Cowan_PN_016.

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