BC’s Inland Rainforest – Conservation and Community
Conservation in the ICH
By Anne Sherrod
Chair, Valhalla Wilderness Society
All of BC’s Interior Wetbelt forests are severely threatened. They have been clearcut for over forty years now. Despite the fact that logging has created numerous species at risk, no significant reduction in the allowable annual cut (AAC) has occurred. Logging has been concentrated at low and middle elevations on the more gentle slopes. This has nearly decimated the old-growth Interior Cedar-Hemlock (ICH) forests that grow at these elevations.
In the drier areas of the Interior, BC is losing 9 million hectares of dry pine forest to the mountain pine beetle, a situation thought to be greatly exacerbated by global warming. BC is making the colossal mistake of endeavoring to log as much of it as possible, thereby also cutting down a huge of amount of healthy tree types that constitute the future forest in these areas. When this becomes no longer profitable, the companies will turn to the humid forests of the Interior Wetbelt, including the precious remaining old-growth Inland Temperate Rainforest (wet and very wet ICH) and what little remains of the old-growth moist ICH.
Right now the price of cedar is very high. On the coast, forests are being creamed for their cedar trees. (1) The only thing that keeps that from happening in the Interior is that many companies are temporarily busy logging the beetle kill. These human threats come at a time when the ICH is threatened directly by the increased drought and fire caused by global warming. Large numbers of drought-stressed cedars are visible in the southern part of the Kootenay-Boundary District, and many are dead or dying. (2) Our wetter forests may have the highest chance of surviving climate change, yet they are being cut down and shipped to the US to make patio furniture and fence posts.
Why Old-Growth Interior Cedar-Hemlock Should Be Protected
Global warming and massive species loss are now threatening to have dangerous impacts upon life on this planet in future years. The dense, humid, coniferous forests of the Interior Wetbelt have high levels of stored carbon and biodiversity. Researchers in Oregon have found that old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest (coastal Oregon and Washington) store higher amounts of carbon per acre than in any other type of vegetation anywhere in the world. (3) The Interior Cedar-Hemlock forests in BC may be drier with less biomass than on the coast, but they are still high biomass forests with huge trees, often 250-1,800 years old, and ancient soil.
The US Forest Service Climate Change Resource Center says that the elimination of logging US public lands, “could result in an annual increase of as much as 43 percent over current sequestration levels on public timberlands and would offset up to 1.5 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In contrast, moving to a more intense harvesting policy similar to that which prevailed in the 1980s, may result in annual reductions of 50 to 80 percent in anticipated carbon sequestration (Depro et al. 2008).” (4) BC’s old-growth inland rainforest must surely be even richer in carbon stores than that.
The wet and very wet ICH known as Inland Temperate Rainforest has revealed a previously unsuspected richness of biodiversity over the last several years. Since 2002 the Valhalla Wilderness Society has sponsored research on inland rainforest lichens by lichenologist Toby Spribille, based in Germany. Spribille has worked closely with BC lichenologists Curtis Björk and Trevor Goward, and they have collaborated with international experts. They have found that the inland temperate rainforests contain one of the richest epiphytic lichen floras in the world.
Spribille has now listed 283 lichen species for the Incomappleux Valley in the Central Selkirk Mountains. Most of them (about 74%) were found in old-growth forest. The Incomappleux species include three not previously known in British Columbia or Canada, three not previously known in North America, and nine that were not previously known to science at all (report now in press).The effect of this research on scientific understanding of biodiversity in inland rainforest was stunning, since the researchers found more species of tree-dwelling lichens in old-growth cedar-hemlock forests than species of trees, shrubs, herbs, grasses and mosses combined.
In 2007 Spribille accompanied a VWS exploration trip with several First Nations people into the head of the north arm of Quesnel Lake and the Penfold Valley. Spribille found more and larger specimens of various rare lichens in this area, including the COSEWIC species-of-concern Nephroma occultum, and Pseudocyphellaria mallota, a rare coastal species never before found inland. One species will soon be reported as new-to-science. The full extent of lichen diversity and rare species is not yet known, but so far this area of the west Cariboo Mountains has the highest number of disjunct oceanic species — coastal species not generally occurring in the Interior — that Spribille, Björk and Goward have yet mapped.
Current Park Protection
Protection of old-growth Interior Cedar-Hemlock forest has been gravely retarded by the unwillingness of the BC government to spare these large, old trees from the chainsaw. Many people believe that the very large Wells Gray Provincial Park, established in 1939, protected a large amount of old-growth inland temperate rainforest. But in reality, thirteen years before the park was created, a huge forest fire transformed an estimated 60% of the vegetation below 4,000 feet from climax forest to young forest. (5)
During the regional land use planning processes of the early 1990s, one-third to one-half of every park proposal in the Kootenay-Boundary Region was slashed when the government created the new parks. These exclusions sacrificed priceless stands of inland rainforest and mountain caribou habitat to logging. Consequently, today, despite a number of large mountain parks park protection in the Interior Wetbelt is mostly rock, ice, alpine meadows and high elevation forest. But there are still very important tracts of wet, very wet and humid ICH left to protect.
The following chart, derived from GIS analysis by Baden Cross of Applied Conservation GIS, shows the protection of old-growth ICH compared to what has not been protected. All the protected ICH put together represents only about 5% of the total forest land base of the Interior Wetbelt. Keep in mind that the green bars are shrinking as the old-growth is logged.
This analysis is focused upon old-growth forest in fully protected provincial or national parks. Many organizations, including the Valhalla Wilderness Society, have worked hard to achieve “forest retention” in the form of Mountain Caribou Management Zones, Old-growth Management Areas, and Wildlife Management Areas. In the northern third of the Interior Wetbelt, there is a significant amount of forest set aside in such zones. Quite a bit of it is “100% retention” protected under legislation and public vigilance over these areas is quite high. In the southern two-thirds, such protection has been insignificant and almost wholly focused on high- to very high-elevation spruce-balsam forest.
Many of these conservation zones, even the 100% retention zones, are protected from logging but not road-building, mining or tourism development. The percentage of forest protected in these zones is variable, anywhere from 30-100%. Zones with less than 100% retention suffer fragmentation by clearcuts and roads, which represent a ready invitation for more logging in the future. Managing agencies can and sometimes do change the percentage of forest to be retained, as well as the boundaries of these retention zones. So Valhalla’s analysis is based upon fully protected parks. Even in the northern part of the Interior Wetbelt, there should be a significant increase in the designation of inland rainforest under the Park Act.
Proposed New Protected Areas
Three new park proposals would significantly increase the protection of old growth ICH, much of which is wet or very wet. These are: The Walker Wilderness bordering the Robson Valley, proposed by the Save the Cedar League; the Selkirk Mountain Caribou Park Proposal in the southern Interior Wetbelt; and the Quesnel Lake Wilderness Area west of Wells Gray Park. The latter proposals were put forward by the Valhalla Wilderness Society. The Western Canada Wilderness Committee also has a proposal overlapping the one in the Selkirk Mountains. These proposals have been carefully assessed as the highest priority areas for protection by VWS in a 10-year study including GIS mapping, Conservation Area Design by the Craighead Environmental Research Institute, and fieldwork to identify rainforest values through lichen surveys.
There needs to be an all-out effort to save all our old-growth forests, especially Interior Cedar-Hemlock. At least twelve environmental groups are now calling for an end to logging all old-growth 125 years or older in the Interior Wetbelt. They need the support of every possible activist, organization and scientist. Already 50 scientists have signed a petition calling for an end to logging all old-growth forest mountain caribou habitat. (www.vws.org) In addition, groups in Germany are very concerned about BC’s Inland Temperate Rainforest. They recently delivered 4,500 letters from German people to the Canadian Embassy in Berlin. “Save the Cedar-Hemlock is a cry now being heard around the world and we need more and more people to join us.
Readers can find out more about the VWS project and Toby Spribille’s work at www.vws.org.
1) Forest Practices Board, High Retention Harvesting and Timber Sustainability on the British Columbia Coast,” Jan. 2008
2) BC Forest Service, “2007 Overview of Forest Health in the Southern Interior Forest Region,” 2007.
3) Harmon, M., et al., “Potential Upper Bounds of Carbon Stores in Forests of the Pacific Northwest,” Ecological Applications, 2002.
4) US Forest Service, Climate Change Resource Centre, “Policy Analyses and Climate Change, http://www.fs.fed.us/ccrc/topics/policy-analyses.shtml)
5) Edwards, R. Y., “Fire and the Decline of a Mountain Caribou Herd,” J. Wildlife Mgmt., 1954.
+ Valhalla Wilderness Society, New Denver, British Columbia, V0G 1S0. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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