October 18, 2012 Features & Images » Feature Story

Rat patrol 

Park rangers send the rats packing from one of Canada's most beautiful parks.

click to flip through (8) LESLIE ANTHONY - Lexi with bait station, Arichika

The second storm breaks on us in the night. In the lagoon's protective hug the float camp moves rhythmically, like a baby in a womb. By morning rain is torrential, the wind a howling fury, and waves tower over trees along the island's forested rim. These forces combine with a rapidly ebbing tide to spin our concrete barge, which strains mightily against the ropes anchoring it to both seafloor and shore, like it's resisting the flush of a giant cosmic toilet.

After breakfast, James Hilgemann, Clint Johnson Kendrick, and Peter Dyment head out in their launch, Yo-Dang, to check on some traps. In the strange half-light entering the kitchen command centre, cook Kris Leach clears dishes while next to her, stationed at computers, Lexi Forbes enters data and Roger Packham reviews photos. Yo-Dang returns within the hour, thwarted by the weather.

"Nasty out there," says Hilgemann, shaking his head. "Couldn't get anywhere near shore."

"It's blowing 50-plus knots — spray, waterspouts, everything," adds a wide-eyed and usually laconic Dyment. The largest swells this day will reach 19 metres, the strongest wind gust 170 kph.

Kendrick settles into a chair and picks up a logbook. There's not much to do save what every other living creature out here is doing: hunker down.

Later, there's a satellite conference call to headquarters on the mainland to discuss battle strategy. On speakers in the cramped cooking/dining/mission control, the conversation — like the entire operation — is so facilitative and professional that it's like some hologram projecting an optimal model of people working together, so contra everyday life — let alone government — as to be surreal. What's more surreal is that the reason 11 of us are bobbing in the angry North Pacific — surrounded by strategic maps, wall charts, radio and battery chargers, computers displaying images from dozens of remote cameras, bottomless coffee, and a plate of enormous cinnamon buns — has nothing to do with peaceable solutions: this is war.

Three days before, I'd arrived in Queen Charlotte City on Haida Gwaii. With its fishing-fleeted docks, grimy Department of Fisheries and Oceans trucks, and glut of funky guest houses garlanded in maritime kitsch, it could have been just another B.C. fishing town if not for the mop-haired kid clutching a ceremonial eagle feather in the Sea Raven restaurant. It was a reminder that the first fishermen here were, in fact, the Haida people, and that their current influence over forestry, mining, fishing, cultural, and land issues was greater than at any time since Europeans began systematic exploitation of these lush, biodiverse "Islands at the Edge of the World." But there was one thing the Haida hadn't gained control over, a once-troubling trickle now turned threatening flood that raised grave uncertainties about the future.

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