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Community effort protects rare fish species found only in Vancouver Island watershed

Morrison Creek Headwaters, home of the western brook lamprey, now a protected area
Morrison Creek is the only known home for the western brook lamprey anywhere in the world. Photo supplied

Almost two decades ago, young Carly Palmer first found a rare and mysterious fish species on a family outing to the wetlands at Morrison Creek, in the Comox Valley.

When the family discovered that the fish was a unique and endangered form of freshwater lamprey, found nowhere else in the world, they began a lifelong mission to protect the Morrison Creek Headwaters.

Now, almost 20 years later, thanks to the remarkable support and generosity of a coalition of partners, private donors, and the public, the 275-hectare (680-acre) natural sanctuary in the Morrison Headwaters is protected, forever.

The successful protection of the Morrison Creek Headwaters showcases the incredible impact that can be achieved when communities, organizations, and individuals unite in a shared vision.

“This protection not only preserves a precious habitat but also highlights the immense power we possess when we work together towards a common goal, reminding us that we can make a difference and create a lasting legacy,” says Tim Ennis, executive director of the Comox Valley Land Trust (CVLT).

Building on the efforts of the Gemmell-Palmer family, the CVLT raised funds locally and used that to attract other funders including a significant leadership investment from Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Sitka Foundation, the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, the Pacific Salmon Foundation, the Courtenay Fish and Game Protective Association and BC Hydro’s Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program.

The largest surge came when BC Parks Foundation (BCPF) partnered with CVLT, including Morrison Headwaters as one of the first in the BCPF’s 25x25 campaign to protect 25 valuable places and 25 per cent of land and sea in B.C. by 2025.

The BCPF made a landmark contribution with funds donated by the Wilson 5 Foundation, bringing the project within reach. To make up the remaining amount needed, the BCPF then launched a crowdfunding campaign in the fall of 2022 with CVLT.

“This is a fantastic, special place and all kinds of people, clubs, schools, and businesses made a difference in protecting it,” says Andy Day, CEO of the BC Parks Foundation. “The positive crowdfunding energy felt like salmon determined to reach that freshwater spring. And they made it!”

The crowdfunding campaign was kicked off by families in the Comox Valley and supported by thousands of British Columbians. In total, CVLT raised over $500,000 from the local community.

“We see our pledge as an investment in the future of our children’s children, and beyond,” said Tom Grimmer and family, one of the many Comox Valley residents to contribute to the campaign.

“Protecting the headwaters is, quite simply, the right thing to do,” said Gael Arthur, a local Comox Valley donor. “Rather than feeling helpless and hopeless in the face of climate change, we can do something. Protecting Morrison Creek Headwaters is not only possible, it has now been achieved.”

The lands that have been protected were purchased from clients of Manulife Investment Management, the willing seller of the property. Their support for protecting Morrison Creek Headwaters played an invaluable part in bringing this ambitious project to fruition. The protection of this ecosystem has ensured that this rich and unique area will never be logged or developed.

Part of what makes the Morrison Creek ecosystem so unique is that it is fed by a dozen or more cool water springs, which makes it resilient to climate change. Regardless of how long or pronounced summer droughts may be, the spring-fed creek always flows with abundant, cold water.

The natural springs make Morrison Creek a mecca for salmon as well as the rare lamprey. It is the most productive salmon stream of its size anywhere on southeast Vancouver Island (according to the federal department of Fisheries and Oceans) and one that is entirely without hatchery support. The headwaters area provides the majority of spawning and rearing habitat for coho in particular.

The Morrison Headwaters are in the traditional territory of K’ómoks First Nation, who supported the protection. They refer to the area as “qax mot” or “lots of medicine” for the abundance and diversity of medicinal plants the area supports. The labyrinth of beaver-created wetlands, swamps and riparian areas are home for wildlife of all kinds.

“Along with the Comox Valley Land Trust, we extend our deepest gratitude to all the donors, supporters, and volunteers who contributed to this remarkable achievement,” says Day. “Together, we can protect the natural treasures that define British Columbia and our identity as proud British Columbians, for everyone to enjoy, now and forever.

The BC Parks Foundation has other exciting projects lined up to safeguard British Columbia’s natural wonders. People interested in supporting the 25x25 campaign and other land acquisition projects can visit

Visit the Comox Valley Land Trust at

The 275-hectare (680-acre) natural sanctuary in the Morrison Headwaters is now protected, forever. Satellite image supplied