Northern BC’s other rainforest
With the rainy season coming to Terrace— October’s earlier and earlier sunsets and November’s gloomy days looming—I was googling Rupert’s average annual overcast days and Kitimat’s record snowfalls when I came upon a magical forest.
About 120 km southeast of Prince George are 20 hectares of trees amid the salmon-bearing Upper Fraser River, just outside Dome Creek. Known as the Ancient Forest, it is the “only inland temperate rainforest in the world” and the “Northern Wetbelt of east-central British Columbia.” It has outstanding examples of globally rare ecosystems and is located more than 500 km from the ocean. It may have had its beginning with the end of the ice age.
And I’m not the only one impressed by this: In March, the BC government announced the area will be protected from logging by the Ancient Forest/Chun T’oh Whudujut Park, BC’s newest Class A provincial park. I have a number of questions, right off.
First, why is it so wet? It’s inland, isn’t it?
It turns out these forests are restricted to a region of an “anomalously humid climate, in which a plentiful snowmelt during late spring is followed by ample rainfall during the height of the growing season.” If that’s not wet enough for you, let’s add fog: “The combination of prolonged snowmelt, frequent summer rains, warm summer temperatures and summer morning fog is instrumental in producing rainforest conditions and in keeping the forest environment productive throughout the growing season.”
Lots of precipitation—what else?
“In the inland rainforest, very old and antique forests are most likely to occur on lower-slope and toe-slope positions on the valley floor, and to be associated with riparian ecosystems.”
Lower slopes: not way high up where it get very chilly. And toe-slope positions are the inclined area at the base of a steep hill, which are composed of deposited materials like stream sediment.
So, it is fertile, like the River Nile, where sediments of yummy stuff get left behind as the river or stream switches back and forth over time.
And “riparian” means the interface between land and a river or stream. Excellent: very moist as well as nutritious and therefore delicious.
The western red cedar trees there are “antique,” some over 1,000 years old and greater than 10 feet in diameter. Is “antique” the same as old growth? No, it is not. In my magical forest, old-growth trees are mere youngsters. When we are talking about antique forest stands we are starting at 700 years old at minimum, then going up to the outrageous possibility of 3,000-year-old trees.
But why the Rocky Mountain Trench? Ah, its topography! All those linear mountain ranges going southeast with plenty of mountaintops to catch this warm, moist wind but not-that-cold air, and then the lovely warm valleys to keep in the heat. These are tea-cozied mountain ranges.
“Some inland rainforests on toe slopes and lower slopes resemble coastal rainforests in the complexity of their architecture, the lushness of their respective understoreys, and the presence of species with oceanic affinities.” Oceanic affinities, people! Like our north-coast rainforest salmon that feed the bears that feed the forests, my magical forest has that, too. The trees help feed the caribou, as the lichens growing on them provide critical winter food for caribou.
Visit www.ancientcedar.ca for more information, and to find the most magical piece of this forest: how the few dozen residents of Dome Creek worked with industry and government to keep these ancient trees alive.