An image of the proposed Selkirk Mountain Caribou Park Proposal.

An image of the proposed Selkirk Mountain Caribou Park Proposal.

Nakusp council hears VWS caribou park presentation

Efforts to secure a network of wilderness areas in the region for Mountain Caribou and other species got a closer look from the Nakusp Village Council.

Efforts to secure a network of wilderness areas in the region for Mountain Caribou and other species got a closer look from the Nakusp Village Council.

Anne Sherrod, chair of the Valhalla Wilderness Society, presented an impassioned park proposal to the council in their July 12 meeting.

Soft-spoken and moving quickly through the presentation without the benefit of PowerPoint slides, the New Denver resident outlined the organization’s concept in 10 minutes.

The estimated 156,000 hectares singled out for parkland is set in the central Selkirk Mountains, in between Glacier National Park, Bugaboo Provincial Park and Goat Range Provincial Park, in a long triangle formed between the communities of Nakusp, Revelstoke and Golden.

A keystone to the VWS plan is the Incomappleux, a major tributary of the Columbia, with headwaters in Glacier National Park and entering at the Beaton Arm of Upper Arrow Lake. (Beaton Arm has been in the news as the possible site of a fixed-point crossing to replace the Galena Bay ferry, as proposed by the Beaton Arm Crossing Association.)

“In between the avalanches and the clearcuts, there are about five kilometers of river that have very, very rare ancient inland temperate rainforests growing on them,” she said.

The Valhalla group’s proposed park would formalize and tighten restrictions in the area, Sherrod said.

“It’s only partially protected. Theoretically it’s a no-logging zone, but it’s a bit of an irony if you see that the valley bottoms have been moderately to heavily logged. They are not protected from mining, from power projects or from tourism development,” she said.

Additionally, the current agreement stipulates that if the Mountain Caribou fail to thrive there, the government can declassify the area.

And that’s not acceptable to Anne Sherrod.

“Our proposal would take one-third to one-half of the Ungulate Winter Range and turn it into park. Other species would be protected. We have also added areas that have no (current) form of protection to protect areas that have stands of old growth inland temperate rain forest,” Sherrod said, adding that remnant areas remain because of access problems – remote, steep, not the best for logging.

“In addition to picking up old growth areas, we connected them because connecting parks is known to be key to protecting our wildlife or otherwise parks become islands of extinction,” she said.

She pointed out old grove forested areas along the Duncan, Westfall and Lardeau rivers.

“These are rivers that provide the spawning and rearing habitat for Kootenay Lake and the Arrow Lakes reservoir,” she said. “The Mountain Caribou Ungulate Winter Range was set aside a year and a half ago. If our park proposal could be adopted by the government … something like the West Coast Great Bear rain forest …it could be protected,” she said.

Much of the proposed park includes the bio-geo-climatic zone of higher elevation spruce and sub-Alpine fir forests where the Mountain Caribou like to hang out. Other zones include unusual marshlands where red-listed and blue-listed endangered species have been observed, Sherrod said.

“We would like to see part of the Ungulate Winter Range upgraded to park status … even if the Mountain Caribou disappear, other species would be able to be protected by that park,” she said.

“The loss of (the forest) is the reason why the Mountain Caribou is in the state that it’s in, headed for extinction unless we do something,” she said.

Sherrod points to landmarks like Kuskanax Creek, Boyd Creek. She identifies what she calls a major marshland in the Columbia Basin that hasn’t been studied.

“There is some of the rarest forest in the interior redbelt … there’s nothing like this south of the Robson Valley … It’s probably been growing uninterrupted since the last ice age,” she said. “It’s fairly famous now and we think it’s very, very critical to save that.”

“B.C. has 800 species headed for extinction … the Ungulate Winter Range should be for all species, not just the Mountain Caribou whose existence is so precarious and so dependent on what we do here,” she said.

Three significant regional economic engines – logging, tourism and mining – are the very things Sherrod seeks protection from with the proposed park. But, she said, with its remote location and steep slope, the area isn’t necessarily suited to logging development, for example.

The Fish River (Incomappleux) has been scouted by mining developers in recent months, according to a report previously published in the Arrow Lakes News.

A few tensions about mining exploration have been observed in the region – in April, a helicopter used to survey the Arrow Lakes region for mineral potential was damaged by vandals while parked overnight on the helipad at Nakusp Hot Springs. The vandals left notes, laced with expletives, and a scrawled message:  “No gold here.”

Sherrod’s approach, however, is to rally the wagons with presentations to town councils in an effort to both gather support and put public fears to rest about how a park’s protection might affect their livelihood.

Sherrod said she’s not expecting an endorsement – “We don’t expect any city council to approve the park proposal,” she said. Rather, Sherrod said, “we hope to allay fears.”

While conservation and forestry interests can sometimes be at odds, Sherrod said efforts to secure 156,000 hectares shouldn’t have much of an impact on logging prospects in the area.

“We believe our material will show that there is not  some extensive tract of loggable forest in the park proposal that would be significant for Nakusp. Most of it has already been logged. We hoped to allay any fears about the Mountain Caribou Ungulate Winter Range, that it might have taken away large tracts of loggable forest, thereby undermining the economic support of the town … It’s not as if a big area was excluded from logging to save the Caribou,” Sherrod said.

“There’s very little timber harvesting land base in the proposal … and it’s probably fair to say the majority of it has been logged,” she said, adding that clear-cut areas not visible on smaller maps would show that “a great deal of the timber harvesting land base has been logged.”

“Just as an anecdotal piece of information – there have been been people who are loggers and millworkers who have signed the petition. One of them said he was present at the logging of the Incomappleux (the Fish River) and there were trees so big there they needed to be dynamited to be logged,” Sherrod said.

Interviewed Friday, Sherrod said a petition supporting the park concept is circulating at area coffee shops and other places people gather. One such petition, a stack of sheets with names and addresses was observed last week at What’s Brewing coffee shop in Nakusp.

Sherrod estimated there are upwards of 1,500 names on the entire petition at this point.