Rare species uncovered at Ancient Forest

Photo courtesy Darwyn Coxson: Curtis Bjork (Univ. of Idaho) and Hayden Yeomans (UNBC student) conducting plant biodiversity assessments along the Ancient Forest trail.
Photo courtesy Darwyn Coxson: Curtis Bjork (Univ. of Idaho) and Hayden Yeomans (UNBC student) conducting plant biodiversity assessments along the Ancient Forest trail.

by EVAN MATTHEWS

With the Ancient Forest now designated as Chun T’oh Wudujut Provincial Park, the old is new again. Keeping with the theme, scientists have discovered a plant – the Bog Adder’s-Mouth Orchid – not seen in the B.C. Interior for 84 years.

Darwyn Coxson, a professor in the Ecosystem Science and Management program at UNBC, has been doing a biodiversity survey for all the plants in the new park.

“We often assume we understand more about our landscapes than we actually do,” says Coxson.

“(In the last 100 years) the interior in the northern part of B.C. has had far fewer scientists than the coast… We’re excited about the possibility of new discoveries in the area,” he says.

With the help of his students, Coxson started his studies in the middle of June. At the end of their first day of field work, students had found just over 400 plant species — an “astonishing total” — a total Coxson says isn’t likely to be exceeded anywhere else in western North America.

The two most notable species Coxson and his students have found to date are the Joe Pye Weed and the Bog Adder’s-Mouth Orchid, which are red- and blue-listed, respectively.

Many red-listed species are on the verge of extinction, while blue-listed species are sensitive to human activities and are at risk of disappearing in the future, according to Coxson.

The Bog Adder’s-Mouth Orchid was last seen in 1932, at Aleza Lake, Coxson says. Aleza lake is roughly 30 km west of Chun T’oh Wudujut Provincial Park.

In regards to the Joe Pye Weed, Coxson says it’s only the third population found in the entire province, and is under 100 individual plants. It’s encouraging to know its habitat will be protected, he says.

Photo: Darwyn Coxson
Photo: Darwyn Coxson

“Our study will be part of the information helping to draft the park management plans,” says Coxson. “The increase in visitation will have to be carefully managed, but I don’t foresee negative impact from visitation.”

Last year, the Ancient Forest saw 14,833 people visit the park from May through October (2015), according to B.C. Parks. With initial visits already up, B.C. Parks says 2016 traffic may be double what it was last year.

“Designation of a provincial park always attracts more attention, and visitation traditionally goes up,” B.C. Parks spokesperson David Karn said.

“It’s estimated we could see up to 300 people a weekend, which could mean as many as 25,000 to the park in 2016,” Karn says.

The spokesperson for B.C. Parks says it supports a UNESCO World Heritage Site nomination for the park, but if falls under the jurisdiction of Parks Canada. UNBC’s Prof. Coxson and the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation are spearheading the endeavor, according to the spokesperson.

“The Lheidli T’enneh First Nation has been very interested in learning and sharing the information,” sys Coxson.

Photo: Darwyn Coxson
Photo: Darwyn Coxson

“There is a lot of potential for interpretive signage and different ways of working with the Lheidli T’enneh to discuss the values of the area and traditional practices there,” he says.

When comparing other wet temperate rainforests around the world with World Heritage Site designation, Coxson says the Ancient Forest has similar qualities. Many other scientists have agreed, he says.

Economically, the new designations and discoveries have their benefits as well, says Coxson. Visitors who go to Jasper and Banff, Coxson says will likely be planning another day, or several days in the region to visit.

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