by MIKE PODINA AND MONICA MARCU
At a meeting last week, some McBride residents spoke with concerns against the idea of creating a provincial park around the Ancient Forest.
The province is working with the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation and other organizations to potentially establish a provincial park, a requirement to propose the site as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Ancient Forest covers more than 12,000 hectares of mostly unlogged inland temperate rainforest containing giant, old red cedars, a unique ecosystem with an impressive biodiversity, according to researchers at UNBC, who presented some of their findings at the meeting.
Within the proposed park territory there are five trap lines and one guide outfitter. The trapper association president, Brian Monroe, says the increase in trapping fees if the Ancient Forest becomes a park will make the trapping unprofitable, and many trappers will have difficulties getting the permits to continue trapping in the park. He noted that a portion of the park boundary will be in the middle of the Frasier River, which will make it illegal to dock the boats without a permit. He proposed that the future park border be on the high water mark on the river.
Others were concerned that snowmobiling and other motor vehicles might be forbidden in the
future park. Logging was also mentioned, but the province says no compensation will need to be paid because there are no tree harvesting permits currently issued. Speaking about the value of the forest, logging and the much needed jobs in the Robson Valley, members of the audience noted that the McBride population and available jobs have shrunk. Some believe that the old cedar trees can be exploited better than before with today’s technologies, allowing wood pellets and other products to be made from the wood, creating some valuable local jobs.
Some residents would like the old forest to stay as it is, and not become a park; they spoke about the ancient trees as mortal, after all, by contrast with mountains. They commented that there are mostly very old trees, with few trees of diverse ages in the Ancient forest, therefore when the big trees die there will not be staggered tree replacement. But once designated a park, it will be almost impossible to reverse the status.
The Province has held a number of local meetings to consult with residents and get feedback on how to protect the unique ecosystems of the Ancient Forest, called Chun Toh Whud U Jud by the Lheidli T’enneh. The first consult meeting in McBride gathered about 30 people last month, and about 30 residents gathered again last week.
The meeting last week was conducted by Gretchen Prystawik from the BC Ministry of Forest Lands and Natural Resources Operations. It opened with representatives from Caledonian Ramblers Club from Prince George, who described the heroic and dedicated effort the club members made to build the board walk through the old forest, so even people with mobility problems can enjoy it. The board walk was built with lumber donated from McBride wood mills and by volunteers from Caledonia Ramblers Club and their friends.
A study of potential economic benefits for the region was presented as well: last year there were 15,000 visitors, of which 49.8% were tourists who spent about $217,000, thus contributing to the local economy.
A petition is also circulating that has gathered over 1000 signatures asking the government to increase the park area to more than 12,000 hectares, to encompass all the old growth forest in the area.
All the concerns and support will be captured within the document sent to the decision makers at the BC Ministry of Forest Lands and Natural Resource Operations, said staff.
The Ancient Forest is located 113 km east of Prince George and about 90 km west of McBride. The moist maritime air masses that create the coastal rainforests of the Pacific Northwest also create a second rainforest far to the interior, along the Rocky Mountain Trench – the only known rainforest so far from the ocean.