Dala-Kildala Rivers Estuaries Park is located at the head of Kildala Arm, a fjord that extends generally southeast for 10 miles (16 km) from Douglas Channel, about 81 miles (130 km) southeast of Prince Rupert, and 13 miles (21 km) south-southeast of Kitamaat, British Columbia. The Dala River starts in a cirque basin on the western flank of Atna Peak in the Kitimat Ranges and flows generally southwest for 21.5 miles (35 km) to Kildala Arm. Kildala River starts from a series of cirque basins on the western flank of Pastoral Peak, also in the Kitimat Ranges, and flows generally south-southwest for 9 miles (15 km) and then west for 12 miles (19 km) to Kildala Arm. The Kitimat Ranges are one of three main subdivisions of the Coast Mountains in British Columbia, the others being the Pacific Ranges to the south and the Boundary Ranges to the north. The Kitimat Ranges lie between the Nass River and Portland Inlet in the north and the Bella Coola River and Burke Channel to the south. They are bounded on the east by the Hazelton Mountains and on the west by Queen Charlotte Sound. The Kitimat Ranges are part of the Coast Range Arc, a large volcanic arc system and terrane that extends from northern Washington through British Columbia and Southeast Alaska to southwestern Yukon. The Coast Range Arc formed as a result of subduction of the Kula and pre-existing Farallon Plates under the North American Plate. It is most famous for being the largest granitic outcropping in North America and is usually referred to as the Coast Plutonic Complex or the Coast Mountains Batholith. The current landscape of the British Columbia coast developed from repeated glaciation cycles. The most recent was the Fraser Glaciation from 25,000 – 10,000 years ago which started with climatic cooling and possibly increased precipitation that triggered the growth of alpine glaciers. These advanced and thickened eventually emerging from the confines of their valleys and coalescing to form small mountain ice sheets. Ice continued to accumulate and expand, eventually spreading across the interior plateau and coastal lowland, covering much of the province and parts of the continental shelf eventually producing the Cordilleran Ice Sheet which attained its maximum size of about 560 miles (900 km) wide and was over 5,000 feet (1,524 m) thick. At the glacial maximum, ice loading caused the underlying land surface to be significantly depressed, resulting in an isostatic sea-level change of up to 755 feet (230 meters) above present conditions. Deglaciation started about 12,700 years ago facilitated by calving ice fronts as marine waters inundated and drowned the isostatically depressed valleys such as Douglas Channel and Kildala Arm.
Aboriginal peoples have inhabited the coastal fjords of British Columbia for thousands of years. Village sites were located on major waterways, river terraces and riparian areas, and along major trade routes between the coast and interior. Five First Nations people claim this area of the Kitimat Ranges as their ancestral home including the Tsimshian, Nisga’a, Haisla, Gitxsan, and Gitanyow. The predecessors of the Kitamaat people were the Owikenos who originated from Vancouver Island and settled at the mouth of the Kitimat River at the head of the Douglas Channel. They made allegiance with a Gitxsan band from the Skeena River and the two groups lived together and, according to legend, became the Kitamaats. The Kitamaats would visit their relatives on the Skeena from time to time and a well-worn trail extended up the Kitimat Valley and over the low divide to Kitselas. The mountains of the Skeena Valley are highly mineralized and gold placers were discovered in the late 1800s in many of the Kitimat Range watersheds. Lode deposits of gold, silver, and copper were found in the region of the Kitselas Canyon in 1893 and this was followed by a rush of claims and the development of trails. In 1905, George Little arrived at Kitselas and built a sawmill in 1911. The area was surveyed as a townsite of Terrace and thrived as a principal point of call for steamboats on the Skeena River. In 1914, railroad construction crews provided an economic boost and soon Terrace was connected to the rest of Canada. Beginning with the manufacturing of cedar poles and railway ties, logging and lumber operations grew from the seemingly endless supply of trees. Today the forest continues to provide the economic mainstay of the area. Timber Supply Areas are the primary management unit used for the allocation of timber harvest, licensing, forest management planning, and harvest volume schedules. The watersheds of the Dala and Kildala Rivers and the surrounding area of 310,098 ha, are part of the Pacific Timber Supply Area that was established in 2009. Over 95 percent of the timber harvest within the Pacific Timber Supply Area is allocated to British Columbia Timber Sales, a provincial government agency that plans and designs logging operations. The agency then builds roads and auctions off the timber to the highest bidder, who then cut the allocated blocks of land. The remaining 5 percent of the timber harvest is allocated to First Nation tenures. A tenure agreement in British Columbia is a legally binding contract that transfers specific rights to use publically owned forests to private forest companies, communities, and individuals in exchange for meeting government management objectives.
The Kalum Land and Resource Management Plan encompass over 5.4 million acres (2.2 million ha) in Northwestern British Columbia including the watersheds of the Dala and Kildala Rivers. Dala-Kildala Rivers Estuaries Provincial Park was designated in 2004, following recommendations from the plan. The park protects 1,831 acres (741 ha) of provincially significant coastal habitat such as significant over-wintering and migration staging sites for migratory birds, as well as habitat for trumpeter swan, great blue heron, western grebe, red-breasted merganser, and Canada goose. The park also protects important Kitimat Range grizzly bear habitat, significant runs of pink and chum salmon, and minor runs of coho and Chinook salmon. The Kildala River supports an important run of oolichan or eulachon which are of significant cultural importance to the Haisla at Kitamaat, and the Dala-Kildala Rivers Estuaries Park was specifically intended to protect these fish. The eulachon is a small anadromous smelt found only along the Pacific coast of North America from northern California to the southern Bering Sea. The origin of its name was originally derived from the Chinook trade language. However, each First Nation group possesses a different word for the fish that is specific to their own language. It has also been termed the ‘candlefish’ for the unusually high oil content that allows it to burn like a candle when dried. It is also known as the ‘salvation fish’, as the spawning runs occur in early spring when First Nations people were low on winter food supplies. Historically when eulachon runs failed to appear, hundreds of indigenous people would die of starvation. Eulachon are eaten fresh, dried, smoked, salted, and frozen whole, however, the product of greatest cultural, nutritional, social and economic value is the oil or ‘grease’ rendered from the fish. Eulachon grease is produced for food or trade from aged or rotted fish that are cooked until the oil of the fish has separated and can be removed. The grease is a very nutritious food and used as a staple in many First Nations diets and is distributed widely in potlatches, traded with neighboring villages, and relied upon as a medicine. The importance of grease is best signified by the ancient trade routes used to link the coastal bands with people inhabiting the interior plateau. These routes are famously referred to as ‘grease trails’ as the heaviest traffic occurred during the eulachon season. The eulachon run to the Kitimat River usually peaks during mid to late March and historically millions of eulachon were caught. The last strong run returned to the Kitimat River in 1991 with over a million spawners. In 2006, the run was the lowest recorded with less than 1,000 spawners. The Haisla people now travel to the Kemano River or the Kildala River to fish for eulachon, however, in recent years these rivers have also suffered major declines. Read more here and here. Explore more of the Dala and Kildala Rivers and Kildala Arm here: