INCOMAPPLEUX ANCIENT FOREST
Drive: Incomappleux River Road: 0.0 Turn off Hwy #31 on Beaton Road (NW of Trout Lake and NE of the Galena Bay ferry, the fastest way here from Nelson) and pass through Beaton & Camborne (south of Pool Creek)
15km (2 km. beyond Camborne) Road forks – mainline continues N. on E. side of river;
28km Turnoff right for Boyd Creek
30.2km Kellie Ck. bridge (in 2004, any vehicle)
41km Battle Brook
The Incomappleux River drains the southern half of Glacier National Park and flows due south to empty into the Beaton Arm of Upper Arrow Lakes. Battle Brook drains the area immediately to the south of Glacier NP and drains west into the Incomappleux about 15kms south of the park.
Ancient groves of western red cedar and hemlock, beards of moss slung from elbowed branches, silence except for the continuous shush of glacier-fed creeks and rivers all typify this ancient rainforest. The youngest of the large trees here were saplings when the first Europeans were landing on the eastern shores of North America 400 years ago. The oldest trees were young in the dying days of the Roman Empire, nearly two millennia ago.
The primeval “very wet” Inland temperate rainforest in the upper Incomappleux Valley may be the only stand of its kind, for its age and size, remaining anywhere south of the Robson Valley. Upwards of 80% of the existing forest has been logged. Few people alive have seen another old growth forest of this size, with trees of this age in south-eastern BC.
Parks in the central and northern Selkirk and Purcell Mountains are high elevation habitat. But by far many more species inhabit the lower elevations. Keeping the lower elevation forests out of parks is slowly wiping out species dependent on the low- and mid-elevation cedar-hemlock forests.
Lichenologists have discovered rare or endangered species of flora in the Incomappleux River valley, normally present only in coastal rainforest. One of these, a phosphorescent pale green moss called ‘Goblin’s Gold’ is found only in the moist underworld of fallen root stumps. Spores of this ancient flora have been found in our oldest known fossils. Farther south in the valley, in the Kelly Creek marshes, is found an endangered species known as the ochroleucous bladderwort, a ‘carnivorous’ plant that catches small underwater insects in a bladder- like traps on its leaves.
Over the past four decades, three-quarters of the Incomappleux River valley in the southeastern interior of BC has been logged. The steep terrain cradled by the confluence of the Battle Brook and Incomappleux rivers contains the valley’s last 1000 hectares of commercially loggable intact old-growth forest – it is all that remains.
Logging was stopped in the Upper Incomappleux Valley in 2003, because a large natural rockslide buried a bridge on the logging road, blocking and forcing the company to postpone its logging plans and temporarily close the road. Damage to the support structure for the bridge will be costly to repair, making it potentially unprofitable to log. The expense of repairing it has protected the trees ever since, but the trees could legally be logged at any time. It left an 1,800 year old tree three metres in diameter standing in a clearcut. The trees were so big that only one at a time could be loaded in a logging truck.
The logging company that had the licence, Pope & Talbot, went bankrupt, leaving five approved cutblocks within the big trees. The licence has been transferred to Interfor.
The Valhalla Society wants the whole area set aside and protected, not broken up into fragments. Any logging of the old growth forest opens up the forest canopy, allowing more winds and drying that will destroy the moist rainforest ecology. At least 50% of the range must be protected if wildlife populations are to have the necessary travel corridors to survive. This rainforest represents such a rare ecosystem that logging it would result in an incalculable loss to the world’s biodiversity storehouse.
There is also an application for a private power development 10 kilometres above the confluence of the Incomappleux River and Battle Brook. This would require pushing a road nearly to the boundary of Glacier National Park, totally destroying the intactness. Additional power development applications exist on McDougal, Kellie, Pool and Boyd creeks — enough to devastate the river ecosystem. If it is subject to logging and power production, no one will ever see the likes of this forest again.
Inland Temperate Rainforest
The Incomappleux is part of a well-watered ecosystem known to biologists as the world’s only inland temperate rainforest (ITR). Half of all the Coastal Temperate Rainforest in the world is in a narrow strip from Alaska down to Oregon. Inland Temperate Rainforest is even more rare. It occurs nowhere else in the world but in the central and northern interior Wet Belt. It embraces part of the West Kootenay, extending southward into Washington, Idaho and Montana, and as far north as BC’s Robson Valley near McBride. This unique rainforest is home to populations of wolf, lynx, wolverine, grizzly bear, cougar, bighorn sheep, elk, moose, mule deer, white-tailed deer, mountain goat, and the endangered mountain caribou.
The western slopes of the Cariboo, Monashee, Selkirk, Purcell and central Rocky Mountains capture moist air as it moves inland from the Pacific Ocean. It creates the only rainforest in the world where a major part of the precipitation falls as snow. This makes for a unique mixture of plants that includes species from coastal, interior and boreal zones. Stands of Western Red Cedar and Western Hemlock do not occur together inland anywhere else in the world. Normally they are found only on North America’s west coast and in the Far East.
Inland Temperate Rainforest occurs nowhere else in the world but in the Interior Wet belt of BC, a small portion of which extends into the U.S. The U.S. Forest Service in Idaho calculated its similarly huge cedar trees at 1,800 years old. Inland Temperate Rainforest is a type of Interior Cedar-Hemlock (ICH) forest. ICH is the climax forest at low and/or middle elevations over much of the Interior Wetbelt. ICH is classified as dry, moist, wet or very wet.
Many scientists consider only the “wet” and “very wet” to be rainforest. Only these types maintain enough moisture throughout the summer to host many rainforest species otherwise found only in coastal rainforest. Due to wetness these forests rarely burn. Therefore Inland Temperate Rainforest has huge trees that may be 500-2,000 years old. The forest itself may be thousands of years older than its oldest trees. The ICH extends across the BC-US border as far south as central Idaho. Some scientists refer to all ICH as Inland Temperate Rainforest. But today the huge Western Red cedars found in the northwest US occur only in small, isolated groves. These groves have lost most of their coastal lichens.
All ICH is dense, humid, high-biomass forest of critical importance to carbon sequestration and storage, and all ICH has a growing constellation of species at risk. But the wet and very wet are the rarest and have by far the highest biodiversity. Inland Temperate Rainforest hosts many coastal species that do not otherwise occur inland, but its ecology is unique. A large part of the precipitation falls as snow, and there are both coastal and boreal species. These wet ICH forests support hundreds of species of lichens — 283 lichen species have been identified in the Incomappleux Valley alone. Over the last 10 years lichen experts have found species of lichens new to science in these rainforests, and expect to find many more.
Only 18% of the Inland Rainforest is fully protected and one-third of all fully protected Inland Rainforest is in one park: Wells Gray Provincial Park. The majority of this forest burned in the 1940s. Not surprisingly, only 20% of the protected Inland Rainforest is old-growth. That’s counting all the forest 140 years and older. Trees 1,000+ years old would be exceedingly more rare in protected areas.
Only 51,457 hectares of wet ICH old-growth exist in fully protected areas. Only 10,014 hectares of very wet ICH old-growth exist in fully protected areas. About two-thirds of the combined wet and very wet ICH in parks is over 1,000 m. in elevation, soon to transit to spruce-subalpine fir. This elevation level has far fewer species than the low-elevation rainforest. 47% of Inland Rainforest in parks and ecological reserves is on steep slopes 40% or over — slopes this steep are usually avoided by mountain caribou.
About 17 kilometres of river valley were left unlogged. Due to rugged terrain only about 1,500 hectares of the upper Incomappleux is loggable, but a great deal more is walkable, and because it is contiguous with Glacier National Park, it is part of a large intact wilderness.
The Incomappleux River originates in a glacier in the park and travels 18 kilometres within park, unforested due to continuous massive avalanches. A park proposal would protect another 17 kilometres of the river, as well as an intact tributary, Battle Brook, arising from the Battle Range. The lowland forest along the river and Battle Brook is extremely rare primeval rainforest. Scientists say the forest may have been growing uninterrupted since the last Ice Age. There are many two- to three-metre diameter trees in the 800-1,500 year range. The oldest range up to four metres and an estimated 1,800 years old. Only about 1,500 hectares of the big trees are within the timber industry “operability line.” This is contained along the lower five kilometres of river, between the clearcuts downriver and a steep-walled canyon with massive avalanche tracks upriver. Yet the visitor can walk amongst these awe-inspiring trees all day long and not come to the end of them.
Upstream of the ancient forest, the Incomappleux River and Battle Brook adjoin Glacier NP to form a remote, wild, intact ecosystem of riparian habitat and avalanche tracts — a haven for Grizzly Bears, offering such amenities as endless cow parsnip and strips of Inland Rainforest for rest in the shade. The bears also use the intact ancient forest downriver, though we’ve seen only their hair on rubbing trees and paw prints.
The Incomappleux has remnant stands of primeval Inland Temperate Rainforest with trees up to 2,000 years old, and a biodiversity legacy many thousands of years old. These forests abound with rare lichens, mushrooms, plants and many other forms of biodiversity, some of them red-listed (endangered) or blue-listed. Species of lichens never before known to science have been found here, and scientists say it is likely that more will be found. These remnant forests are the focus of international scientific research on old-growth biodiversity.
Other features include:
Habitat for about 90 endangered Mountain Caribou. The Central Selkirk Mountain Caribou herd has been relatively stable at of 85-92 animals since 2002, but this is approximately half the numbers since 1996 and 1999. Every other subpopulation around it has been in steep decline, and some have too few numbers to survive. This important Central Selkirk herd could be our only real chance to keep mountain caribou in the southern Interior Wetbelt.
Spawning grounds for the blue-listed Bull Trout and other trout and kokanee salmon of the important Kootenay Lake and Arrow Lakes Reservoir fisheries. Core habitat for blue-listed Grizzly Bears and Wolverines. 27,364 hectares of untracked wilderness contiguous to Glacier National Park River (upper Incomappleux).
These old-growth areas remain intact after 50 years of logging in the area, mostly because they have been too remote, or steep, or had other issues making it unprofitable to log. A number of logging companies have pulled out or gone bankrupt, leaving these forests behind.
The primeval “very wet” Inland temperate rainforest in the upper Incomappleux Valley may be the only stand of its kind, for its age and size (hectares), remaining anywhere south of the Robson Valley. Upwards of 80% of the existing parks in the central and northern Selkirk and Purcell Mountains is high elevation habitat. But by far many more species inhabit the lower elevations. Keeping the lower elevation forests out of parks is slowly wiping out species dependent on the low- and mid-elevation cedar-hemlock forests.
No one could have had access to the Incomappleux for the last several years without the heavy labour of a small crew of volunteers who collectively brushed out the road and repaired it.
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 for their winter food. Some moths have a special relationship with lichens. In its caterpillar stage, the Lichen Moth 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.
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.
Two mycologists collected 100 species of mushrooms in one day in the upper Incomappleux. Twenty were found in a clearcut and a spectacular 80 species in the ancient rainforest; 41 of the 80 were coastal species. They included the rare old growth rainforest mushroom, Phaeocollybia piceae. Uncommon even in coastal old-growth, at the time of its discovery in the Incomappleux it was (and likely still is) the first inland occurrence.
In the Incomappleux, stable growing conditions over thousands of years have allowed time for some of the most fragile small species, including many that need coastal conditions, to establish colonies. Time has enabled the creation of a precious legacy of ancient soil enriched with millions of microscopic organisms, and undisturbed root systems with invisible filaments from organisms, all interconnecting to hasten the process of decay and the transport of nutrients to support continuous rebirth. In the ancient forest, the Mountain Moonwort is a primitive fern that goes back to the melting of the glaciers and is found only in ancient cedar-hemlock forest.