The Urgent Need to Protect BC’s Ancient Inland Temperate Rainforest
A Valhalla Wilderness Society Conservation Report See 8-page colour tabloid (PDF)
NDP MLAs “Overwhelmed” by Ancient Forest of the Upper Incomappleux Valley
CALL FOR PROTECTION
Two NDP MLAs, Michael Sather and Guy Gentner, are calling upon the provincial government to take the initiative to protect BC’s rarest inland temperate rainforests. They are making the call after a tour of the Incomappleux River valley in southeastern BC hosted by the Valhalla Wilderness Society.
See press release
In the presence of a tree that has been living for hundreds of years, in a forest that has been growing undisturbed for several thousand years, it is possible to feel an atmosphere of peace, harmony and connectedness; a sense of legacy, of passing on the essentials of life from generation to generation. An old-growth forest looks beautiful and harmonious because it is. It has had time to develop into its ideal form and highest level of harmony.
Experience an old-growth forest with your heart, and you may feel, amidst the silence, a hidden music. Experience it as a scientist, with your mind — explore its myriad forms of life, investigate how they live and what they do — and you will begin to uncover the many instruments playing in this natural orchestra, the notes they are playing, and perhaps catch a glimpse of the score, of an overall composition larger than anyone can imagine. The same wondrous diversity, the same interconnectedness of every part, the same flow of benefits, the same principle of the old nurturing the young that greets the eye, also underlies the science of what a forest is, how it works and what it is doing for the planet.
Inland Temperate Rainforest
Rainforests live a long time and grow huge trees because rain protects them from forest fires. Rainforests of the temperate latitudes hold a greater quantity of organic matter, living and dead, than any other terrestrial ecosystem in the world. BC has two temperate rainforests, one on the coast and one in the interior. The interior form has received less attention than its coastal counterpart, but it commonly has huge cedar trees that are 500-1,000 years old. The oldest ones range up to four metres in diameter, and their age may be upwards of 1,800 years old. Sadly, less attention has meant less protection for the Inland Rainforest.
Rainforest must stay wet all year, even in July and August. At the temperate latitudes, that usually happens only on the coast. BC’s Inland Rainforest is the only temperate rainforest in the world growing 400-600 kilometres from the ocean. It is the only rainforest in the world that derives a major portion of its moisture from snow. As a result, it is biologically unique, even though it shares many species of plants and animals with its coastal counterpart. Scientists have recently discovered 13 species of lichens new to science in the Inland Rainforest, and they are studying about 40 more that are potentially new discoveries.
Interior Cedar-Hemlock Forest
Inland Rainforest is the wettest form of Interior Cedar-Hemlock (ICH) forest. The old-growth (“climax”) forest is dominated by Western Redcedar and Western Hemlock. The dark green area on the map is where most of the ICH in BC is found. This region is a series of high, rugged mountain ranges running parallel from north to south. They extend a short distance into the US, as does the ICH.
Only the northern two-thirds of the Inland Rainforest Region has wet ICH. However, even the moist and dry forms were probably rainforest at some time after the Ice Age glaciers receded. Even now, they are more humid and lush than the pine forests to the west, south and east. There are huge old cedar trees, usually in the 250- to 600-year-old range, throughout the moist ICH, and even a few in the dry zone. This is why all of the Valhalla Wilderness Society’s project area, shown on the map on the left, is called the “Inland Rainforest Region”. It approximates what has long been known as the “Interior Wetbelt”.
Residents of the region probably believe that Interior Cedar-Hemlock forest is common; but on a global, national or even provincial scale, it’s not. Most of BC is too dry or too far north and too cold to grow cedar-hemlock, and it grows nowhere else in Canada. The Inland Rainforest Region is vast, covering 14.3 million hectares, but only 65% of it is forestland. Most of the rest is alpine tundra and the rock and ice of mountain peaks. Also, from mid to high elevation, the forest changes to Spruce-Balsam, which is not nearly as lush. Lastly, forty years of clearcut logging have decimated the old-growth cedar-hemlock in many areas. Only 15.7% of the Inland Rainforest Region (or 23.3% of the actual forestland) is intact old-growth. Only 5.1% of the forestland is intact old-growth cedar-hemlock. Only 3.2% is low-elevation intact old-growth cedar-hemlock, which includes both the protected and the unprotected amount.
The Incomappleux Valley
Rugged mountains have hidden many of their ancient Inland Rainforests in remote wilderness valleys. In the salmon-rich Adams River Valley, in the mountain caribou travel corridor of the Incomappleux River Valley, kilometre after kilometre of ancient forest was leveled to the ground by chainsaws before many people knew what they held. But in the late 1990s, wilderness explorers contacted environmental groups, which began to contact scientists and learn about the special values of these forests.
That is how the logging of the upper Incomappleux Valley (right) was stopped in 2003, leaving an 1,800-year-old tree three metres in diameter standing in a clearcut. A logger who was employed in the valley has told the Valhalla Wilderness Society that some of the trees were so big that only one at a time could be loaded on a logging truck. Fortunately, a remnant in the upper end of the valley remains unlogged (right).
The upper Incomappleux Valley is one of the oldest blocks of antique cedar-hemlock rainforest that has yet been documented. Field surveys have demonstrated an assemblage of northern and southern rainforest lichen species that has no immediate parallel. Its great age has allowed thousands of years for colonization for rainforest-dependent species, and for the development of the interactions of hundreds of plants and fungal species with thousands of poorly known invertebrate organisms.
Foresters and ecologists alike have long agreed on the importance of maintaining such unique, world-class ecosystems intact. Unfortunately, Pope & Talbot, Ltd. wants to continue logging the remaining forest on the left hand side of the river in the clearcut photograph above. The logging is currently stalled by a massive natural rock fall on the road.
The Incomappleux is unique worldwide in its combination of rainforest and boreal plant life, and harbours a high proportion of species that are globally in decline.Further fragmentation of this forest would represent a direct and immediate threat to many species whose distribution is limited to short distances, and for which a clearcut represents an immense migration barrier. Fragmentation would create canopy gaps allowing valley winds to penetrate into the heart of forest canopies that have been sheltered and humid for over a thousand years. This would dry out the habitats of species, such as the COSEWIC-listed Species of Concern Nephroma occultum, whose existence depends on very stable humidity and constant, undisturbed conditions.
Botanical Research in the Inland Rainforest
Scientists discover numerous species new to science in BC’s endangered Inland Temperate Rainforest
Researchers have recently discovered thirteen tree-dwelling lichen species previously unknown to science in British Columbia’s inland rainforest. They are currently studying about 40 more species that are potentially new to science. Most of them come from endangered, ancient cedar-hemlock forests. These discoveries mean that BC’s inland rainforest has one of the richest tree-dwelling lichen floras in the world.
“Such rates of discovery of new species are basically unparalleled in northern conifer forests,” says botanist Toby Spribille. “We are definitely looking at a major center of lichen diversity at a global level that we haven’t even begun to fathom or explain.”
The Magic and Meaning of Lichens
Imagine a forest in which the trees and rocks are encrusted and draped with literally hundreds of species of elfin lichens. Some are inconspicuous and homely, some suggest an exquisite miniature kingdom fit for fairy tales, others are large, disorderly and luxuriant on the limbs of trees. They are the product of hundreds, perhaps thousands of years of stable growing conditions in the old-growth forest.
Many species indicates many functions in the working of the forest ecosystem, and many linkages with other forms of life. Some lichens, like the leafy Lung Lichens (above, left), are natural fertilizers, aiding the growth of trees by capturing nitrogen from the air. The temperate rainforests are poor in nitrogen. Lichens can provide up to half the nitrogen requirement of a forest. Throughout the world, healthy lichen vegetation has come to stand for a healthy environment.
Many species of wildlife depend upon lichens for food and nesting materials. Mountain caribou are totally dependent upon hair lichens (above, centre), for their winter food. Some moths have a special relationship with lichens. In its caterpillar stage, the Lichen Moth (right, photographed in the Inland Rainforest Region) feeds on lichens. Lichens make unusual chemicals and little is known about their role in the ecosystem. Some moths sequester these compounds, making them taste bad to predators. Their vivid colour may be a warning that they are not good to eat.
Working closely with international experts, botanists Toby Spribille, Trevor Goward and Curtis Bjork have found that the Inland Rainforests support one of the richest tree-dwelling lichen floras in the world. Indeed, the number of lichen species equals or exceeds that of all other plants combined. Other species, such as the mosses or the insects, have never been studied intensively over a broad area in the inland rainforest. We don’t know what we are losing as logging moves ahead.
Science in the Making:
Inland Rainforest Reveals 13 New Species –
More to Come
The global importance of the upper Incomappleux River Valley has attracted many scientists since lichenologist Toby Spribille did the first, brief botanical survey of the area. Scientists from the BC Ministry of Forests, Glacier National Park, the University of Göttingen, Germany and botanical consultants such as lichenologist Trevor Goward, Curator of Lichens at the UBC Herbarium, mycologist Dr. Oldriska Ceska, and Dr. Adolf Ceska, formerly with the BC Conservation Data Centre, have visited the Incomappleux.
Spribille (left), and Curtis Bjork (left, centre) have identified 13 species of lichens new to science in the Inland Rainforest. Nine of these were found by Spribille in the Incomappleux. Many others, though known to science, had never before been found inland, but were typical of Coastal Temperate Rainforest. Some had never before been found in BC, or even in Canada.
In the Incomappleux alone, Spribille found 283 lichen species, of which 213 grow on trees, including nine of the 13 species new to science. “Such levels of lichen diversity and rates of discovery of new species are basically unparalleled in northern conifer forests,” he explains. “We are definitely looking at a major center of lichen diversity at a global level that we haven’t even begun to fathom or explain.” He expects that further research would turn up many more species new to science. Together, the researchers are currently looking at over 40 candidate new species, pending further studies.
About 90% of the nearly 300 lichen species found by Spribille were found in the old-growth forest. “Every valley has a unique set of species that reflects its special environment and history,” says Spribille. “Those growing in old-growth forest have likely grown in the humid canopies of trees for hundreds of years. We know almost nothing of how these species spread, but repeated experience has shown that they are not found in second growth forest.”
North of the Incomappleux, in the Cariboo Mountains and the North Thompson and Robson Valleys, there is much more intact inland rainforest, but it has been little studied. There could be other Incomappleux Valleys unknown to science threatened by the chainsaw.
Below, left: Brand new to science, lichen Pertusaria diluta is grayish green with pink fruiting bodies. Each fruiting body is about 0.03 millimeters wide.
Mushrooms, Rare Plants, and Species at Risk
BC’s Conservation Data Centre (CDC) lists 196 species-at-risk (red- and blue-listed) in the Interior Cedar-Hemlock (ICH) biogeoclimatic
zone. Of these, 30 are listed as occurring only in the ICH zone. Further analysis is needed to determine how many are forest species. Quite a few belong to non-forest habitats such as wetlands.
In 2003 the Valhalla Wilderness Society forest technician, Craig Pettitt, accompanied a team of botanical specialists on a trip to the Incomappleux. Dr. Oldriska Ceska (above, centre) found the rarePhaeocollybia piceae (above, right), a mushroom previously associated only with very old coastal rainforest. One of the few places this mushroom has ever been found is in the rainforest of Olympic National Park. Sixty-two other mushroom species were found in the old-growth, including 22 species that grow in coastal temperate rainforest.
In one brief foray into a wetland in the Inland Rainforest, Dr. Adolf Ceska (right), a botanical consultant formerly with the CDC, found the red-listed (endangered) pale bladderwort (Utricularia ochroleuca) and Toby Spribille found one of BC’s rarest orchids, the red-listed Liparis loeselii (right, bottom). It is only the fourth, and by far the largest, population ever found in BC. Spribille also found the uncommonAsplenium fern (below, centre) on a wet rock outcropping. Botanical consultant Dr. Adolf Ceska (upper right), formerly with the Conservation Data Centre, witnessed these discoveries and confirmed the identifications of the plants.
Viktoria Wagner (directly right), a student at the University of Göttingen, Germany, began surveying the mosses. In the summer of 2006, she returned to study the plants of the subalpine meadows in the Inland Rainforest region.
Since that survey, more species of rare or endangered plants continue to be found in the Incomappleux, such as the red-listed mountain moonwort (Botrychium montanum). Many species associated with coastal rainforest, but never before found inland continued to be discovered, such as the moss Hookeria lucens.
It takes a long time to determine whether species meet the criteria for being listed; there is a long backlog of candidate species, and with the poor state of knowledge on many species, it is certain that many are at risk without being listed. But further, the recent discovery of 13 new lichen species, with another 40 candidate species for being “new to science”, we do not even know completely what’s there, much less whether it’s at risk. It must be stressed that all the species of lichens, plants and fungi shown on this website were found with only cursory examination of a few small areas in the Inland Rainforest.