Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Ancient Cedars

In the rugged, high mountain region of southeastern British Columbia, along its border with Alberta, lies one of the rarest rainforests in the world. Living in this Inland Rainforest Region is an amazing array of wildlife -- grizzly bears that can be seen feeding on wild sea-run chinook salmon, endangered mountain caribou, wolverine, lynx, cougar, and gray wolf. Below magnificient mountains, in the moist and wet regions of the broad valleys, live old growth cedar-hemlock forests. In places the western red cedar are hundreds of years old, some are 2,000 years old. The oldest of these trees sprouted in the year 0009! These ancient cedar groves are also rich in lichens (at least 283 species in one area alone) and other plants.

This photo of "The Ancient Wall" by Paul Morgan, provided courtesy of the Save-the-Cedar League (STCL), offers a partial glimpse of the sheer size and awe of the ancient red cedars.

Robson Valley lies in the northern most part of the inland rainforest, harboring the headwaters of the Fraser River, the longest in British Columbia. It flows through Robson Valley, meandering 855 miles to the Pacific Ocean at Vancouver. Chinook salmon migrate up this river to spawn in the tributaries of this vast watershed.

Over 330 mammal and bird species are known to occur in Robson Valley. Rising above the valley, the vegetation changes to Englemann spruce-subalpine fir forests and meadows then to alpine at the highest elevations.

I learned about this area from my parents. Rick, a former student of my father's is the Executive Director of the Save-the-Cedar-League, based in Crescent Spur, BC. My father serves on the Board and we are in the midst of transferring his tenure on the Board to me. I have not had the opportunity yet to visit this magnificent area. Until then I am happy to share the richness of the area through pictures and words from afar.

The remaining intact inland rainforests are scattered among logged areas, some are just fragments, some are on conserved lands (within provincial parks and wilderness areas), but others remain vulnerable to continued logging and development. The red cedars are turned into fence rails and posts, cedar roof shingles, and patio decks. Scientists, native people, and conservation groups are using maps to identify additional areas that should be protected -- areas of old growth cedar and corridors of biodiversity that would maintain linkages between the existing conserved lands network. Something that is critical for the endangered mountain caribou. STCL and the Valhalla Wilderness Society, among others, are making incremental progress to protect the most important areas.

Much of the existing protected lands are weighted toward high elevation areas that are difficult to log. That is a familiar pattern. Here in New England, as states have identified and mapped areas of greatest biodiversity, the richest diversity often occurs in mid and low-elevations and valley bottoms, the places that have received the least protection and that are in the path of the greatest development pressure.

There are places in North America that should and can be logged (according to sustainable forest management practices) to provide wood products that we all use. And there are places that should not be logged. The ancient and old growth cedar-hemlock forests and surrounding landscapes in British Columbia is a place that should receive a gentle touch, with limited or no logging. These biological legacies are worth keeping.

Rick writes this week from Crescent Spur that a lynx was trying to get squirrels and birds at their birdfeeder, waiting patiently for 20 minutes, but the squirrels didn't cooperate (see photo above). Last week a cougar climbed the tree next to their chicken coop while his wife Julie was putting the chickens in to roost. The next morning they saw that 5 wolves had trampled the place during the night.

Save-the-Cedar League educates the public about Robson Valley's natural treasures through field trips, lectures, workshops, printed materials, and ecotours. Here's your chance to watch grizzly bears catching wild salmon and walk among thousand year old cedars. I will some day.

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