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Haida GwaiiElaine Yong

A scourge that has overrun a tiny island in Haida Gwaii for hundreds of years, endangering seabird habitat, has finally been wiped out.

Parks Canada and Haida Nation president Peter Lantin announced on Wednesday that Arichika Island is officially rat-free thanks the Night Birds Returning project, named for the nocturnal ancient murrelet or SGin Xaana ("night bird" in the Haida language).

The effort, launched in 2009, was aimed at protecting the ancient murrelets. The birds nest on the ground, making them vulnerable to the rats, which came to Haida Gwaii in the 1700s on marine vessels. The bird species, once traditionally part of the Haida diet, has been designated at-risk.

Mr. Lantin said he remembers his grandmother occasionally eating ancient murrelet, but he never tried it himself. The birds are attracted to lights, which is how the Haida hunted them, and will even fly into fire.

"It was something that was almost talked about like mythology or something that was never real."

The Haida Nation worked with Parks Canada and several international partners on the project, which targeted rats on Arichika Island and other islands of varying sizes in the region.

The U.S.-based Island Conservation contributed about $200,000 to the project. Gregg Howald, Island Conservation's North American regional director, said the Haida Nation contributed knowledge of the native species that were historically on the islands and advised on large-scale restoration opportunities.

"What we brought was the global knowledge of how to apply these principals of rodent eradication," he said.

Mr. Howland said 80 to 90 per cent of the world's islands have had rats or mice introduced to them, as is reflected by Haida Gwaii, where most, if not all, of the islands have such species. Proponents of the project hope to use the information gathered from Arichika to clear rats from larger islands in the archipelago.

On small islands like Arichika, which is about 10 hectares, large baited box traps are placed every 50 metres and regularly set and emptied for more than two years until the island could be deemed rat-free.

On Murchison and Faraday Islands, which are about 300-400 hectares and too large for manual bait box trapping, a helicopter is used to blanket the islands with a rodenticide.

Parks Canada officials estimated the islands had potentially hundreds of thousands of rats. Sea bird colonies were devastated, and nearby Ramsay Island, considered the "crown jewel" in Gwaii Haanas National Park, was in danger of infestation. Mr. Lantin said even though the islands are uninhabited, people in the area understand the project's importance.

"You protect these areas to manage and take care of them," he said. "That's what it's like to be from Haida Gwaii."

Ernie Gladstone, superintendent of the Gwaii Haanas field unit overseeing the project, said Parks Canada recognizes the ecological and cultural importance of the ancient murrelet for the Haida Nation.

Mr. Lantin said that finding common issues such as the rat project will make it easier when the government and First Nations have to debate more contentious issues such as fisheries.

"This is a good story about how the government of Canada and the First Nations can manage things together with common purpose."

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