The nature of any plant community found in a given area is the product of the specific environmental condition found there. The mosaic of diverse climatic conditions found in the West Kootenay produced an equally diverse range of plant communities. The region is a botanist’s dream .
Ecologists classify plant communities as belonging to specific “biogeoclimatic zones”, a term referring to the combination of climate, soil type and plant species that interact to produce a characteristic plant community. four biogeoclimatic zones are clearly represented in the West Kootenay.
1. Interior Western Hemlock Zone
Frequently called the Interior Wet Belt, this plant community thrives at the lower elevation sof the northern two-thirds of the region, where the high peaks have squeezed abundant moisture from the clouds. Here the heavy winter snowfalls and warm summers have produced impressive mature forests. Western hemlock, western red cedar, grand fir, Douglas-fir, wester white pine and wester yew are common, while on the forest floor, ferns devil’s club and moss predominate. Flowers include queen’s cup, trillium, wild ginger, spotted coral root and calypso orchid, to name but a few.
In the drier southern parts of the region we find a transitional forest of the Interior Western Hemlock zone. there is a tremendous variety of tree species in this zone with one, the western larch, being characteristic. An unusual feature of this conifer is displayed each fall when its needles r=turn golden and are she.
2. Interior Douglas-For Zone
This forest community, found in drier areas, is represented at lower elevations in the southwest Selkirks. Here mature forests are relatively open, allowing for more abundant growth of shrubs and small trees. Characteristic trees include Douglas-fir, lodgepole pine and trembling aspen. common Shrubs are false box, kinnikinnick, soopolallie and Oregon grape.
In certain areas, mostly dry, sunny slopes, the Interior Douglas-fir zone resembles the more arid Ponderosa Pine-Bunchgrass zone. Characterized by open, grassy hillsides dotted with ponderosa pines, this distinctive plant community is best represented around Deer Park, north of Castlegar.
An excellent example of the Interior Douglas-Fir community at its wettest is Champion Lakes Provincial Park above Trail. here the zone mingles with the Interior Western Hemlock forest to produce a tremendously diverse transitional community with twelve species of conifers occurring at the same elevations.
3. Engelman Spruce-Subalpine Fir Zone
This plant community generally prevails everywhere in the region at elevations of between 1524m and 2286m (5000 to 7500 ft). Only plants that can tolerate long winters and short summer growing seasons survive here. The Engelman spruce and the subalpine fir are shaped for survival; their conical form is ideal for preventing heavy buildups of potentially dangerous snow.
Mature stands of this forest are generally well spaced, allowing for luxuriant growth of low shrubs and flowers. At high elevations near timber line, the forest openings in summer are vibrant flower gardens. Common shrubs are blue and lack mountain huckleberries, white rhododendron, mountain ash and twinberry. Flowers include red and yellow monkeyflowers, arnica, Indian paintbrush, mountain valerian and monkshood.
4. Alpine Tundra Zone
The land above timber line is designated alpine tundra, but timber line is not a definitive term. High above the forested slopes, trees such as sublapine fir, whitebark pine, and Lyall’s larch surivive; in sheltered pockets, though dwarfed, they retain their tree shapes, wheres on more exposed sites they become Krummholz – dense, low-lying forms that hug the earth like blankets.
To appreciate the hardships of life in the alpine zone, one need only look at the twisted and contorted forms of these tangled old dwarfs, surviving here against all odds. They symbolize life in the alpine: fragile, yet tenacious. And when you visit this delicate area be especially considerate, for damage done here may take hundreds of years to repair.
In summer, the meadows come alive with colour and scent. The heavy snows of winter, which have locked up life for ten months, melt to provide ample moisture, and teh shrubs and flowers, free from a shading forest canopy, are drenched with intense sunlight. Life explodes.
Time is the key. Within the few weeks of an alpine summer, a plant must flower, reproduce and store food for the future. Most species, like the western anemone, are geared for this race. L=Using stored food energy from its tuberous root stock, it pushes its bloom through the still melting snows. For frost and moisture protection, the anemone has an insulating covering of fine hairs; and its bloom, in the shape of a parabolic disc, collects the sun’s rays to warm its developing ovaries.
Insects are as vital to the survival of plants are to insects. In their rush to live a year in a month, both alpine flowers and the insects that feed upon them conduct an intense struggle for survival, the insects competing with one another for plant food sources, and the plants, with the lure of colour an scent, competing for pollinating insects. The vivid colours, heady fragrances and steady humming sounds of an alpine meadow are testimony to this dramatic urgency.
The alpine community in the West Kootenay is blessed with an abundance of pant species. many field guides are available t help you identify and enjoy the flora here and I recommend you carry such a guide when you visit the sensational floral displays found in summer above timber line.
Where the TransCanada Highway penetrates the Selkirk Mountains, at Glacier, tourists now wander the trails barelegged and otherwise unprotected, little suspecting that Glacier was once teeming with mosquitoes. In 1955, Whipple alit from the train and was attacked by the legendary undulating cloud of insects which in seconds became a torture. Glacier, seemingly, was the mosquito capital of the world. If the alpinist starts his acquaintance with these mountains at Glacier, the easiest place to reach, he will be lulled into a false sense of security. Virtually all the other regions of the Columbias are in their pristine state of insect outlawry, except where mosquito breeding swamps have been drained, as the swamps above the waterfall at Fairy Meadow in the Gothics Group; some bugs still remain.
Insects include the black fly, horse fly, and sometimes the vicious deer fly. The black fly (Many “black” flies are coloUred orange!) prefers to settle and chew in protected spots, such as behind the ears or inside the tops of stockings. Midges occur, but are much rarer. The horse fly enjoys orbiting one’s head like a satellite around the earth, and can literally drive one buggy.
Biting insects can be expected by people backpacking in the valley bottoms, or at camps near treeline which are near wetlands. Black flies are found more near rapidly moving water. In the morning, they will often follow the climber as you wind your way up to your favourite peak. Bring adequate supplies of DEET containing insect repellent and a parka which will shield the arms, neck and ears, and minimize the use of the sometimes unpleasant repellents.
Ticks. Active in the early spring to early summer that climb onto grass and shrubs. When an animal or hiker brushes past, the tick moves onto its new victim. It spends a few hours crawling upward searching for moist flesh. Using an anaesthetic and glue, it painlessly sucks blood to eventually drop off when gorged.
A tick bite may cause Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, and tick paralysis – all present but rare in BC. Not all ticks carry disease ad it takes hours usually for carriers to transmit disease. The sooner you detach it, the better. To remove ticks, tent up the skin and grasp slightly below the head (yes get a tiny bit of skin that detaches anyway). Gently hold the tick by its mouth without grabbing or squeezing the body. Lightly, steadily, pull it directly back until your skin tents, hold it there until the tick lets go. Keep the tick to take to the lab. Wash the bite with soap and water. Monitor for signs of disease.
Learn to recognize tick habitat. They thrive on sunny, grassy slopes below 2000m (6560 ft), especially those frequented by large mammals like deer, elk, or bighorn sheep. Inspect your clothing and body occasionally while hiking and again thoroughly, at the day’s end. Ticks favour your groin, armpits, neck and scalp, but can bite anywhere. Ask a companion to check your scalp, neck and back. Dogs can transfer ticks to you and into your house.
The West Kootenay are a sanctuary for wildlife in southern BC. Easily the least populated part of the south, the WK still has a wide variety of critters including the endangered mountain caribou and grizzly bear. But there are also white-tailed and mule deer, moose, elk, mountain goat, big horn sheep, black and grizzly bears, skunk, marten, weasel, mink, marmot, pika, raccoon, squirrel, and chipmunk. It’s rare to see wolf, cougar and wolverine.
Because the WK region is a land of climatic contrasts, the key to the survival of its wildlife is adapting. Many species of small a=mammals in the region survive by adapting to the challenge of snow. Some – like the varying hare with its camouflaging white winter coat and huge snowshoe feet – adapt physically Others – like the hoary marmot – feast on the summer’s bounty and avoid the winter entirely by hibernating. Most simply adjust and carry on.
In winter, insulated beneath the snow from the harsh climate above , mice, voles and shrews forage for food on the forest floor. The long and lean weasel is able to invade this sanctuary to stalk its prey. Above ground and often active throughout the winter months is the red squirrel, perhaps the best known of the Selkirk small mammals. Dining on everything from mushrooms to birds’ eggs, the omnivorous squirrel thrives wherever Douglas-fir trees abound, for their seeds are a preferred staple of its diet.
Other small mammals that frequent the forests of the region include such predators as marten and lynx. In the alpine areas are the pika, hoary marmot and meadow vole – all vegetarians – and their predators, the long-tailed weasel and , rarely, the wolverine.
Whereas small mammals are plentiful in the WK, large mammals are not ,for prime winter range, that vital link in the survival chain, is generally absent here. Moose are rare, and elk and mountain sheep are localized in small herds.
However, the adaptable mule and white-tailed deer, though not numerous, are found throughout the area. Each spring, hunger drives numbers of them to roadside clearings. Generally shy and secretive animals, the more migratory mule deer are often seen high in the mountains n summer, whereas the white-tailed deer usually frequent low-lying forests year round.
the sure-footed mountain goat seems right at home in the rugged Selkirks. An uncanny sense of balance and hooves that both grip and hold permit these animals to roam the most vertical cliffs and peaks, and their sharp black horns make them nearly invulnerable. Only accidents, avalanches and man pose a threat to this hardy mountaineer.
The species of the deer family best adapted for life in the West Kootenay is the woodland caribou, commonly called “mountain Caribou”. These herds are an oddity, for the Selkirks are far south of the caribou’s native boreal forest habitat. A leftover ice age species, they are well equipped for winer survival: a coat of hollow hairs insulates them from the cold and their huge hooves are useful in travelling through deep snow (and spongy summer alpine tundra) in their search for food. Peculiar to the Selkirk caribou is their seasonal use of mature cedar-hemock forests and their dependence on tree-growing lichens as winter food source. Unfortunately, over hunting and the logging of the old lichen-rich forest have severely reduced their numbers. Stagleap Provincial Park, on the Salmo-Creston summit is one of the best places to see this endangered animal.
Mountain Caribou in B.C.
The inland rainforest region of western North America reaches from about central Idaho north to Chetwynd. In BC it is often referred to as the ‘interior wet belt’. Within this unique ecosystem once roamed up to 8,000 mountain caribou, a globally unique caribou type. Today fewer about 1,900 remain in BC, and there are only a few individuals in the US.
Mountain caribou seek out deep snow sub-alpine environments as late winter range and using their huge hooves as snowshoes walk on the snow and feed on arboreal lichen growing on old trees. In early winter and spring caribou migrate to increasingly rare old forests for food and security. In total they make 4 migrations each year moving up and down our mountains seasonally in search of food and safety from predators.
Large wilderness-requiring animals have been driven out of much of North America as people moved in and habitat was lost. Cougars, grizzly and black bears, wolverines, caribou and wolves have all been driven north and west by human development. In BC, the north and west corner of North America, we still have all these wilderness animals. Our rugged geography and sparse population has provided these species space adjacent to human settlement but separated from it by unroaded forest land and rarely traversed mountainous areas. In the past 2 to 3 decades this historic de facto wilderness has been lost to forest development and expanded commercial and resident backcountry recreation demands. (Even within BC parks wildlife is not protected from motorized backcountry recreation impacts.)
For over 30 years government biologists have known that habitat change through logging was having a lethal impact on mountain caribou. Logging continues to be the primary threat to caribou survival but the recent rapid growth of backcountry recreation has made it a prime concern too.
Twenty years ago the negative impacts of motorized recreation were documented. We often hear that backcountry recreation is non-consumptive, leaving only tracks in the snow, but research shows caribou may be permanently displaced from good habitat by backcountry recreation. Backcountry recreation effectively consumes habitat by preventing its use.
To date insufficient actions have been taken to address the issues raised by the public and provincial biologists with the result that the mountain caribou population has become fragmented and many herds are threatened with extirpation (2 were extirpated between 2002 and 2006).
The most recent census (released spring 2006) provides reason for optimism. The Hart Ranges herd, the largest single herd, increased from about 575 to 718 animals between 2002 and 2006.
In the South Selkirks it is thought that the elimination of one or two cougars (that hunted caribou) has allowed that herd to increase by 21% to 41 animals over a three year period. The MoE also reports excellent compliance with snowmobile closures in the South Selkirks area.
The factors that allowed these two herds to grow – intact habitat, low levels of human disturbance, reduction in predation pressure – are all within the purview of resource managers and point the direction for recovery and growth of other herds. Techniques that have been successfully applied elsewhere, such as maternity pens (captive breeding for caribou), also offer hope that we may once again have robust populations of mountain caribou in the Kootenays.
The first step in this direction is encouraging politicians to make healthy wildlife populations a priority. This fall the Species at Risk Coordination Office (SaRCO) will release its second options document detailing possible mountain caribou recovery choices for government. After release of this document they have committed to meeting with “parties affected by any decision” to receive input on the options proposed. There is no plan to hold public meetings even though managing a major wildlife species for extinction or local extirpations will be among the options.
In addition to increasing our quality of life, healthy wildlife is of great economic importance to our forest industry in a marketplace that is more environmentally demanding every year, and to our tourist industry and its “SuperNatural BC” branding.
Caribou recovery is a win-win choice for BC today and into the future. For more information please try: www.mountaincaribou.ca or, http://ilmbwww.gov.bc.ca/sarco/ . by Lawrence Redfern is Outreach Director for the Mountain Caribou Project. He is a professional forester and a professional agrologist. He arrived in the Kootenays in 1967 and has lived in Golden, Nelson and Kimberley. He now lives in Raspberry with his wife and two children. He is very interested in meeting with any groups who wish to discuss or receive information on this issue.
PORCUPINES – Damage Done to Automobiles. Seldom seen, these animals spend most of their time feeding on the bark and foliage of coniferous treetops when they are not asleep in their dens. Their wailing mating calls heard in the late fall are often mistaken for those of “wildcats.
Throughout the forests of the Columbia Mountains and the Rockies, porcupines are known for their destructive habits. West Kootenay trail heads are infamous for car-eating porcupines. Seemingly, they will eat anything, including the plywood off of cabin walls. At campsites, they habitually chew pack straps, ostensibly because of the salt present on the straps, but the cause of their satisfaction in chewing tires and especially brake lines of automobiles is less clear. Tires can even be deflated by their persistent attack, and brake lines severed or cut up to produce slow leakage.
The only effective way known to prevent this is to surround the automobile with chicken wire. Most busy trail heads have a big supply, but elsewhere, you will have to buy your own. Bad smelling sprays and moth balls have been tried, but have proven ineffective. Considerable protection can be had by leaning flat rocks against the tires, being sure to cover the edges of the tread where the porcupines prefer to chew. Flat wooden slabs left from logging operations do as well. If the vehicle has high clearance and the animals can easily walk beneath, be sure to protect the inner edges as well, but the brake lines are vulnerable.
The most common large mammals of the Selkirks are black and grizzly bears. Bears overcome the problem of winter food scarcity by hibernating one third of each year. To accommodate a four-month period of fasting, their physical form, behaviour and lifestyle are adapted to this survival strategy. Although descended from carnivores, bears are omnivorous. Being the dominant creatures of the natural community, they seek out the best quality foods – digestible, nutritious, energy rich – that their environment has to offer. In areas where meat is more easily available, it may form a significant part of their diet, but the bears of the WK are almost completely vegetarian. The black bear grazes on sedges, horsetails and grasses; the grizzly, adept at digging with its long claws, adds roots, bulbs and tubers to its menu the corm (bulb) ob the tiny spring beauty is a favourite spring food of local grizzlies.
Always curious and willing o investigate new foods, the bears spend the early summer eating whatever they can find. But as soon as the berries ripen, they turn to this vital dietary item. if a bear is to survive four winter months without food, it must store fat for energy and insulation. Berries – particularly huckleberries – which abound in the WK – are full of sugar-rich and easily digestible juices and are ideal for this purpose. A good year for berries is a good year for bears.
Unfortunately for the bears (and us), the food we humans eat and throw away is often highly nutritious, digestible or loaded with sugar. In their instinctive search for quality food, these animals often come into conflict with man. Inevitably, they lose. To save yourself and a bear from trouble, be careful with your food in bear country, Remember you are the guest.
Excepting possibly moose and, extremely rarely, cougar or wolverine, the only dangerous animals that the climber may encounter are bears, in particular the grizzly bear. Grizzly bears can be distinguished from black bears by a big, muscular hump above their front shoulders, and long curved front claws and a dished face. Grizzlies inhabit the high country, roaming through alpine meadows and across avalanche. Colour is not a reliable way to separate them. Some areas with historically high grizzly populations are: the Halvorson Group (Northern Cariboo) and South Thor Creek (Gold Range). Blacks have a straight face, no hump and shorter, less visible front claws. Black bears can be black, brown, cinnamon and occasionally cream-coloured, frequent berry patches and shoreline areas in valley bottoms.
But bears are rarely a problem. They generally are interested in avoiding humans and almost always run when surprised or encountered. Grizzlies have never been known to attack a group of 6 or more hikers. Grizzlies are potentially more dangerous than black bears, although a black bear with cubs or one that is hungry in a poor berry year, can be just as aggressive. Be wary of all bears.
A bear may attack when surprised, if you threaten its cubs or you come between a kill and he bear. While hiking or backpacking, you may want to advise the bears of your presence by carrying a bell or a can containing loose round pebbles. The bears will generally avoid the presence of men, although people with a sense of humour sometimes say that the bell calls the bears to dinner. In regions of heavy undergrowth near streams, stream noise may prevent the bear hearing the approach of humans, resulting in a possible surprise encounter, which is bad news. Be aware when hiking into wind. Bear’s strongest sense is smell. They can detect an animal carcass several kilometers away. Keep you ten, pack and campsite odour-free. Cook away from where you will be sleeping. At night, hang all food and trash at least 16 feet above the ground.
If you do see a bear, do not look at it in the eyes, as they may think you are challenging it. Never run and initially be still. Move slow if you have to. Bears are fast, run well down hills and swim well. Black bears climb trees well and you should climb at least 10 metres up.
Grizzlies. If approached by a grizzly bear, back off slowly. Do not run, because this may induce the bear to charge. Calm, low pitched talk often soothes animals and is probably wise. Even better, throwing a pack or rucksack on the ground between you and the bear often confuses the animal, and may distract him long enough for one to climb a tree, which grizzlies cannot manage. However, the grizzly can reach quite high, so climb far into the tree beyond its reach; a few unfortunates have been dragged out of trees by enraged bears. Remember that grizzly bears can run much faster than humans, so long runs are doomed to failure if pursued. Approaching bear cubs, or placing yourself between the cubs and the mother, are especially dangerous.
If all else fails, playing dead usually causes the bear to lose interest in its object. Curl up into a ball, protect your head and neck with your
hands, and thereby minimize exposure of vulnerable areas. This tactic requires considerable self control because the bear often sniffs around to assure himself that the “threat” no longer exists, and may paw the fallen creature (you). Fresh bear (capsicum) spray has been found to successfully repel bears.
If you are armed, and surprised by a grizzly (or vice-versa), as the bear approaches close, a loud whistle will usually cause the bear to rear up on its hind legs. It is then highly vulnerable to a shot in the heart. This is an old backwoodsman’s trick, developed before the repeating rifle.
One lone climber in the northern Coast Range deterred a stalking grizzly by lighting a fire right in front of him.
Black Bears. If you are attacked by a black bear, it is recommended to fight back as this usually causes the bear to back off, unless the bear recognizes you as food, which is very unlikely.
Bears are natural scrounges, and sometimes raid food supplies. It is best not to store food in a tent because the bears are induced to shred the tent to reach the food. (It also attracts squirrels and mice who gnaw through the tent.) However, this seldom happens. They are more likely to raid food caches while the owners are away. Prolonged storage is best done by suspending the food on a rope between two trees, high above the ground. Hanging food in a tree is often not effective because brown and black bears can climb them. Even canned goods are not safe because the bear will crush the can and eject the contents. Placing a cache in a cairn is not secure because the bear will easily destroy the cairn.
Bears possess admirable mountaineering talents, and at least one peak is known to have grizzly diggings on the summit.
Remember that your safety is not the only important consideration. Bears themselves are at risk when confronted by humans. Anytime they act aggressively, they’re following their natural instinct for self preservation. Often they’re protecting the cubs or a food source. Yet if they maul a hike, they’re likely to be killed or captured and moved. Protecting these beautiful, magnificent creatures is a responsibility hikers must accept.
COUGARS – Elsewhere referred to as a puma, mountain lion or panther, the cougar is a large, powerful cat that has no problem taking down deer or a human. An adult male can reach 80kg and be 8 feet long, including a 3-foot tail.
You will probably never see a cougar in the West Kootenay, but they are common and, most significantly, are the only true predator. They are carnivores and occasionally stalk people, but rarely to attack. They are very shy and typically avoid human contact. Nocturnal, secretive and solitary, cougars only come together to mate. Each cat establishes a territory of 200-250 sq. kilometres. They favour dense forest that gives cover when hunting. They also like rock outcroppings and steep canyons. Once present throughout North America, habitat loss and predator control programs have limited the range, but they are not endangered or threatened and are thriving here.
Never approach one feeding, flee from a cougar or even turn your back on a cougar. Avert your gaze, speak calmly, hold your ground, always give the animal a way out. If an animal approaches, spread your arms, open your jacket, do anything to enlarge your image. If it acts aggressively, wave your arms, shout and throw rocks or sticks. If attacked, fight back. Don’t play dead.
If you are out hiking and see a cougar, consider yourself very lucky. It is with good reason the first nations people called them the “Ghost of the Forest”. Most British Columbians will never see a cougar in their lifetime. Conflict between cougars and humans is extremely rare. In the past 100 years a total of 5 people have been killed by cougar attacks in B.C. All but one of theses attacks occurred on Vancouver Island. During the same period there were 29 non-fatal attacks (20) on Vancouver Island. The majority of these attacks were on children under the age of 16. Your best defense is awareness; a cougar attack is highly unlikely.
The cougar or mountain lion is at the top of the food chain. An adult male weighs between 140-200lbs, the female between 90-120lbs. The biggest cougars are found in the Kootenays and in the interior of B.C. Their primary prey is deer. It will also feed on wild sheep, elk, rabbits, beaver, raccoons, grouse, livestock, and the occasional roaming pet. Cougars are most active at dusk or dawn, but they can roam and hunt at any time of the day or night and in all seasons.
During late spring and summer, 1-2 year old cougars become independent of their mothers. While attempting to find a home range, these young cats may roam widely in search of unoccupied territory. This is when cougars are most likely to conflict with humans.
Below are a few tips from the B.C. Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks.
1. Keep children close at hand and under control.
2. Never approach a cougar.
3. Always give a cougar an avenue of escape
4. Do not run as this will trigger the chase response.
5. Pick up children off the ground immediately.
6. Stay calm. Talk to the cougar in a confident-voice.
7. Do not turn your back on a cougar, face the cougar & remain upright.
8. Do all you can to enlarge your image, pick up sticks or wave your pack.
9. Hike in groups of 2 or more. Make enough noise to prevent surprising a cougar.
10. Carry a sturdy walking stick to be used as a weapon if necessary
If a cougar behaves aggressively: Arm yourself with a large stick, throw rocks,
speak loudly and firmly. Convince the cougar that you are a threat, not prey. If a cougar attacks: Fight back, many people have survived a cougar attack by fighting back with anything, including rocks, sticks, bare fists, and fishing poles. These beautiful animals can be a rewarding and exciting experience if you are lucky enough to see one. Again common sense is the rule here.
MOUNTAIN GOAT Equipped to climb
The mountain goat lives out most of its life on talus slopes and windswept alpine ledges. The mountain goat is nearly immune from predators in this cold, harsh environment. The name of this animal is a misnomer as the species is more closely related to African antelopes, and its closest relative is the European chamois also an expert climber. The hooves of a mountain goat have hard outer shells and rubbery, concave footpads that act like suction cups when weight is applied.
These feet give the goat better edging and smearing ability than the best rock shoes. The mountain goat’s legs are relatively short, its body heavyset. This body type puts the mountain goat’s weight and centre of balance right over its feet as it moves and allows the goat to negotiate its vertical environment with ease and agility. It is not uncommon for a goat to leap ten feet from one ledge to another, turn around on narrow, icy ridges only inches wide, or pull itself up from ledge to ledge with its front feet. Experienced climbers often have better success on difficult rock in an unforgiving environment, and this is true of mountain goats as well as humans. In many areas of North America, fewer than half of each season’s kids survive the first year of life. Accidental falls and severe weather, both
HIKING with your DOG
Except in Valhalla and Kokanee Provincial Parks, Dogs are allowed on all other trails. But before you take your dog hiking, think about it. Most dog owners think there dogs are angelic, but other people, especially hikers, rarely agree. Barking dogs in campgrounds are very annoying. A curious dog, even if friendly, can be a nuisance. Dogs can bite even if not provoked. Many owners ignore their responsibility to keep dogs from polluting streams and lakes or fouling campgrounds.
Dogs in the backcountry are a danger to themselves – from porcupines and from bears who are infuriated by dogs and may cause a bear to attack.
Leave your dog at home. If you must hike with a dog, never unleash it.
Blessed with the freedom of flight, birds are far less secretive than mammals and are more easily observed by even the most casual wildlife watcher. In a year’s cycle, many species of birds, each adapted to its lifestyle and habitat, inhabit the ecological mosaic of the WK. There are birds of the forest, of the alpine and of the water; birds of the summer, the winter and those that just pass through.
Large flocks of small birds like pine siskins, redpolls and red crossbills wander the forest each winter, seeking the seeds of tree top cones and falling prey to such predators as the pygmy owl iIN the shade of the forest canopy, pileated woodpeckers excavate tree trunks for their insect prey, while brown creepers and red-breasted nuthatches probe the rough bark and branches for theirs. On the brushy forest floor, dark-eyed juncos patrol for seed and insects. I the depths of the mature cedar-hemlock forest, the winter wren finds its rightful place among the giant trees.
Along the torrential creeks and rivers you are likely to find the dipper or water ouzel. A permanent resident, it actively hunts the creeks for insects, fish and fish eggs year round. Undaunted by cold winter waters, the dipper plunges in and walks – even flies- under water. An oversized oil gland keeps it dry, a thick coat o feathers keeps it warm, and long flexible toes give it a sure grip in the sift current. For underwater visibility, the dipper is equipped with transparent eyelids – nature’s goggles.
Each summer along the larger lakes and rivers you will see another highly specialized bird, the osprey. this aerial fisherman makes spectacular dives from great heights to capture its prey. the northern squawfish, habitually basking in the sun near the water’s surface, is an easy target for the osprey, and the abundance of this fish supports a large population of these magnificent birds.
Winter brings a new cast of characters to the large lakes and rivers. Attracted by ice-free waters and a rich aquatic life, large numbers of ducks often winter in the area. Also commonly seen in winter is the bald eagle, though a small breeding population nests in the major valleys near water each summer, making it a year round resident. Opportunistic in nature, the eagles feed on virtually anything they can find. In summer they often harass and rob the smaller osprey of its hard-earned fish, and in winter they prey on coots an ducks, using shoreline cotton woods as their lookout posts.
The much rarer golden eagle is seldom found in the valleys. Primarily a hunter of mammals, this species is a bird of the alpine, where it hunts marmots and ground squirrels.
Perhaps the most fascinating of the alpine birds is the tiny calliope hummingbird. More like insects than birds s they buzz about the meadow. these bold and brilliant little creatures seek the colourful alpine flowers for insects and energy-rich nectar. Lucky is the hiker whose bright red sweater or orange backpack attracts for a moment this exquisite bird.
Special places for bird watching in the WK include: the Creston valley, famous for its whistling swan migrations, its large numbers of waterfowl and ospreys, and one of BC’s largest great blue heron rookeries; the West Arm of Kootenay Lake, which harbours wintering waterfowl and summering ospreys; and the Deer Park area north of Castlegar, where two Canadian rarities, the canyon wren and the white-throated swift, can be found.
Most of the mountain lakes in the WK are populated with scrappy cutthroat trout, which were packed in as fry by man on horseback long before the days of helicopters stocking became possible. As a result of these efforts todays’s hiker can often add some tasty pan fryers to his menu. A light fly or spinning rig is ideal for mountain fishing. Although abundant, the trout in mountain lakes are almost always small, generally weight=ing less than .5kg (one pound). Because of the short growing season, these fish, whose annual nutrition comes from gorging on summer insects, may take ten years to reach a length of 20cm (8 in).
Many of the creeks support populations of dwarf rainbow trout which can grow to 25cm, but which retain blotchy, juvenile markings. This colouration often confuses its identification(the scarce brook trout, an introduced species, has red spots with blue halos on a marbled green and blue background, whereas rainbows always have dark to black spots) but is an extremely valuable camouflage to this creek dweller.
The silvery rainbows of the large valley lakes and rivers; graduatin from insect to crustacean feeders to hunters of fish, can grow to unusually large sizes. The “Gerrard” rainbow, the world’s largest race of freshwater rainbows, is a native of the region; a record of 16kg (35.5lb) was landed in 1976.
For those who doubt the legends of Kootenay Lake’s “big ones”, a trip to Gerrard – where Trout Lake empties into the Lardeau River – offers proof. Each May, on a short stretch of spawning gravel, some 400 giant trout averaging over 8.5kg (18 pounds) can be seen finning steadily against the current. They are protected during this season.
Perhaps the best known “fish shows” in the region take place at the annual spawning run of the kokanee, or landlocked sockeye salmon. These residents of the West Arm of Kootenay Lake change in colour from silver to vivid crimson and green. Because of their relatively large size and delicious flavour, kokanee are the most sought-after game fish of the region.
Other game fish in Kootenay Lake include the char; Dolly Varden; burbot or ling, a freshwater cod sought in spring; white sturgeon, a primitive giant that can weigh over 225kg (500 lbs); and large mouth bass, which is often ignored here in its introduced home despite tremendous popularity in other North American locales.