The Lululemon founder, Chip Wilson, has purchased one Canadian island, and helped buy another, in order to donate them to a charity.
The islands in question are Saturnina and West Ballenas, two tiny undeveloped specks in the Salish Sea off the eastern coast of Vancouver Island. The former yoga apparel magnate also provided major funding to obtain a sizable chunk of a third, Lasqueti Island.
All three islands contain rare, coastal Douglas fir ecosystems that can contain trees upwards of 400 años, and are critical habitat for at-risk species that also rely on those ancient forests.
Coastal Douglas fir forests are home to such birds as the western screech owl and the marbled murrelet. The islands also support the at-risk tree species of Garry oaks and shore pines, as well as salal, dull Oregon grape, Oregon beaked moss and electrified cat’s-tail moss.
Wilson, a Canadian who was CEO of Lululemon until the mid-2000s, said the impetus stemmed in part from the first time he saw Vancouver’s vast Stanley Park years ago, and he marveled that someone was “brilliant” enough to save it.
“And I thought, if myself and my family ever get a chance, we want to be able to do that for future generations,"Le dijo a The Guardian.
The move to buy the islands comes amid a growing conflict over what activists and biologists have said is the British Columbia government’s failure to adequately protect other old-growth ecosystems. Por poco 300 people have recently been arrested for blocking logging roads on southern Vancouver Island.
The effort to protect the islands started last year with a crowdfunding campaign to save West Ballenas, which was slated to be sold and developed. Students from Ballenas high school helped lead the effort, which received donations from around the world. The Wilsons matched donations, and threw in Saturnina Island as well.
In total his family foundation spent C$4m (US$3.2m) on helping to protect the three islands. Wilson has donated them to the BC Parks Foundation.
If the islands hadn’t been purchased, they would have been sold and developed as private property with homes, which would have disrupted the sensitive ecosystems.
“What we’re really fascinated with is being a part of funding future parks,” Wilson said, suggesting that his foundation is looking for additional sensitive ecosystems to help protect by purchasing them.
“We’re going to be very strategic about it,” Wilson said. “With the partnership with the BC Parks Foundation, I think they’re going to be very good at finding the right particular pieces of land that are ecologically perfect”
While the total newly protected area is only about half the size of New York’s Central Park, the BC Parks Foundation CEO, Andrew Day, said “every acre matters to the eagles that we saw here today to the birds that call this home, to the trees, the rare plants, every square centimeter of land matters.”
The islands’ ecosystems are a globally unique, Day explained. And unlike the majority of Canadian forests, which sit on public Crown lands and are not for sale directly, nearly 80% of coastal Douglas fir ecosystems are on private land, Day said.
“I believe that private land conservation is an important part of the solution” to overdevelopment, said University of British Columbia professor Kai Chan, who sits on the board of the Nature Conservancy of Canadá. “But it’s definitely not a complete solution.”
Philanthropic donations to fund private conservation are becoming more common. En marzo, the foundation of one of Canada’s richest families – the Westons – donated $25m to conserve a swath of central Canadian prairie grassland.
And in 2019 the Nature Conservancy of Canada secured donations to expand the Darkwoods Conservation Area in British Columbia’s Kootenay Mountains. A 1,100 square kilometres, it is the largest private conservation project in Canada.