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Much ado ‘bout the ‘bou

Rhia MacKenzie and Joel Unger are second year Recreation, Fish, and Wildlife students at Selkirk College in Castlegar.   - Submitted
Rhia MacKenzie and Joel Unger are second year Recreation, Fish, and Wildlife students at Selkirk College in Castlegar.
— image credit: Submitted

Picture a Lord of the Rings-esque backdrop of giant ancient trees dripping with lichen, bubbling ponds with phosphorescence, and creatures very rarely seen…welcome to the Incomappleux Valley – part of the only inland temperate rainforest in the world, located north of Nakusp and approximately a four hour drive from Castlegar.

The Incomappleux Valley has been described by scientists as an ‘incomparable, intact old growth habitat undisturbed since the last ice age.’ The valley is home to a list of rare fungi, lichens, plants and the critically endangered mountain caribou.

The mountain caribou are an ‘ecotype’ of woodland caribou and have seen a decline of at least 50 per cent over the last 15 years. To date there are fewer than 2000 mountain caribou still alive. Areas like the Incomappleux are critical to the survival of the species.

For most, the common image of caribou is the large number of barren-ground caribou moving across the arctic, migrating from summer to winter grounds. Mountain caribou follow a different pattern, migrating vertically, up and down the mountains each and every year. They move from valley bottom to sub alpine mountain regions.

Old growth forests tend to be critical habitats that provide the caribou with a more closed canopy, thereby providing them opportunity to forage on ground shrubs early in the winter.  As the snowpack increases the mountain caribou move up the mountain and feed off on lichens growing on old growth trees.

Unlike other ungulates that tend to move away from snow, mountain caribou are especially designed to move efficiently in the snow. For their size, they have relatively large feet, acting like snow shoes that keep them on top of the snow instead of punching through with each step.

Lichens are the caribou’s primary food source and there is no shortage of it in the Incomappleux Valley. There are currently over 280 different kinds of lichen known in the valley including three species not previously known to B.C., Canada or North America, and seven species completely new to science. The diversity of lichens is huge here even on a global level.

The Incomappleux Valley is a unique habitat and is being threatened. The valley bottom is still easily accessible and as such, there are proposed logging and independent power projects that threaten the landscape. Due to past logging around the area, only small pockets of old growth remain and the Incomappleux is one of these special pockets. Recently, mega corporation TransAtlantic put in an application to construct an independent power project which would require further logging, construction, and major diversion of water.

Efforts are underway to try to protect this area of inland temperate rainforest and the mountain caribou. There is a proposal to protect the area and provide a corridor for the mountain caribou between other parks in the area. The proposed park that includes the Incomappleux valley is called the Selkirk Mountain Caribou Park. Other parks in the vicinity are mainly high alpine areas that contain mostly rock and ice and don’t protect the important low elevation habitat found in the Incomappleux Valley. If no action is taken, this unique habitat and all the rare flora and fauna found may be on the fast track to extinction. Let’s protect our local treasure and support the Selkirk Mountain Caribou Park.

For more information, or how you can help please visit www.vws.ca

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