Canadian jewel of ancient biodiversity could be logged at any time – biologist warns

Amber Peters is a biologist, and she took the time to talk to our community about a very special, threatened forest: the Incomappleux in British Columbia.

Tell us a bit about yourself. How did the Incomappleux forest come to your attention?

As a budding biologist, I turned down laboratory research opportunities because I felt I really needed to get my hands dirty in active conservation work. I wanted to be on the front lines, exploring the natural world and really doing whatever it would take to help protect it. I attended a screening of Valhalla Wilderness Society’s short film Primeval: Enter the Incomappleux, named after the ancient rainforest of the Incomappleux (in-com-a-plu) River Valley in the interior wetbelt of British Columbia. I was so inspired by the film and couldn’t believe such a precious ancient legacy could be logged, so I decided to immediately take action and get involved with the society. I am now completely immersed in this campaign and very emotionally connected to the survival of the Incomappleux and the rest of the Selkirk Mountain Caribou Park proposal. The Incomappleux is just the jewel of the much larger proposal that would create much-needed connectivity on the landscape for the long-term viability of some of the world’s most biodiverse systems.

The Incomappleux is a primeval inland temperate rainforest. Could you unpack these terms for us?

The term “primeval” refers to the age of the forest. It is ancient and may have been growing since the end of the last ice age over 10,000 years ago. Single cedar trees alone have been aged at over 1800 years old. A temperate rainforest is different than a tropical rainforest in that temperatures are more mild than extreme, but can vary a lot from season to season. The interior wetbelt of British Columbia, also known as the inland rainforest region, is a massive stretch of southeastern BC that is home to the only inland temperate rainforest on Earth. The ancient remains of this once-vast rainforest are now concentrated to just four known existing groves of truly biodiverse and intact ancient inland temperate rainforest. Like B.C.’s coastal temperate rainforest, the remaining inland rainforest that has not been logged hosts extraordinary biodiversity. Many coastal species are actually found in this inland microclimate though it is far from B.C.’s west coast.

To what extent is the forest already damaged by logging?

The majority of the Incomappleux valley bottom has been logged and all that remains is, I’d say, less than a fifth of the extensive valley. This unlogged portion at the far reaches of the valley is completely untouched. It is a fully intact system that is difficult to access, lending to its still-pristine condition. This ancient heart of Valhalla Wilderness Society’s proposal was spared from logging almost 15 years ago when a multi-day blockade of protesters fending off the logging companies was assisted by a massive rockslide that destroyed a bridge on the logging road. Protesters called it a miracle of Mother Nature. But until we see full protection under provincial or federal Class A park status, the Incomappleux remains threatened and logging could commence at any time.

Lichens played a major role in protecting the forest so far. Why are they so valuable?

Lichens indicate a very wet, healthy, and resilient ecosystem, and B.C.’s remaining intact inland rainforest is home to an incredible diversity of lichen species. Species completely new to science have been found in the Incomappleux valley, as well as rare species that warranted a moratorium on development in the valley upon discovery. These discoveries have helped to fend off further destruction of the valley, but the ruthlessly destructive B.C. logging industry is still chipping away at the edges of Valhalla Wilderness Society’s Selkirk Mountain Caribou Park proposal, and continues to threaten the remaining ancient forest of the Incomappleux Valley. Lichens are a primary food source for our critically endangered mountain caribou, a variety of caribou found only in BC’s inland rainforest and nowhere else in the world. Hair lichens that mountain caribou feed on can only grow in old growth forests, so you can imagine how quickly the caribou’s food source is disappearing. Lichens also play a role in fixing nitrogen in the forest soil, are used as nesting materials for many species, and have been known by First Nations to have powerful health benefits. Though little is known about the value of the biochemical contribution these lichens make to the ecosystem as a whole, we know that it is important to preserve their remaining habitat so we can continue to study their benefits to humankind and our inland rainforest ecosystem.

Why should we protect old forests that don’t give us timber, instead of planting and harvesting young trees?

The intact remnants of true inland temperate rainforest that still exist are unique because they remain wet enough all year round to host moisture-dependent coastal species. Research is finding the loss of these moisture-retaining ecosystems to be a great predictor of increased wildfires on the surrounding landscape. Temperate rainforests are also some of the greatest carbon-sequestering forests in the world, storing and sequestering more carbon than any technology we have or could presently dream of, and young plantation forests will never store the carbon that these ancient giants do. They also maintain watershed integrity to prevent floods and provide us a steady flow of fresh water throughout the driest parts of the year. These old forests are proven resilient, as they have withstood thousands of years of fires, pests, disease, climate variation, etc. Therefore we can rely on them as our best bet to stand strong and tall, providing us oxygen and fresh water, and maintaining biodiversity amidst an era of hotter, drier summers and general climate uncertainty. Medicinal and botanical products, wildlife refuge, spiritual values – the benefits of maintaining these ancient forests are endless. Forest plantations are failure-prone because they lack biodiversity and because we are managing them poorly. Nothing can replace the value of an ancient forest.

What is the Valhalla Wilderness Society fighting for? How would their proposal benefit the biodiversity of the region?

Valhalla is fighting to protect the most intact wilderness remaining in British Columbia, focussing largely on old growth forests. BC contains a huge portion of the world’s remaining wilderness, but sadly it is being lost at such an alarming rate that we refer to BC as “Brazil of the North”. The forest of the Selkirk Mountain Caribou Park proposal provides the world with massive amounts of oxygen and freshwater. Mountain caribou, wolverines, grizzly bears, bull trout and countless other species that are highly at risk are in dire need of the connectivity that this proposal would create between existing parks. If we want to see our already-protected parks persist long-term, then we must expand and connect them to ensure they are resilient enough to withstand major landscape changes that could occur over the coming years.

What can we do to help you protect this invaluable ecosystem?

The .5 million hectares that the society has already helped protect over the past 40 years in BC would not be protected today if it weren’t for public outcry! The BEST thing you can do is express your concerns to your local MLA and MP. Letter campaigns have won many parks in BC, starting with the Valhalla Provincial Park which was the first project of the society. See vws.org/action for more information. Next, you can collect paper petition signatures for us and mail them back to us, and also to share the online petition and film far and wide. Paper petitions actually carry more weight than an online petition. All relevant info can be found at vws.org/action. Thank you so much for your support.

Check out the brilliant documentary “Primeval: Enter the Incomappleux” :

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oG_yJmKQHak

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