Darkwoods: Conservation values
Alpine plants on Darkwoods, British Columbia (Photo by Bruce Kirkby)
Why Darkwoods matters
There is not just one feature that makes Darkwoods such an important natural treasure. The property contains a multitude of special characteristics. Some of these are tangible, like the plants and animals that make their home here. Others are less easy to see, but just as vital to the long-term protection of nature and culture in the region. For example, Darkwoods is an important source of clean water that pours into Kootenay Lake and other water bodies. It is also a highly valued part of the wilderness backyard to the surrounding communities, who use it for recreation and resources.
Here are just some of the key factors that make Darkwoods a conservation project of global, national and local importance:
Darkwoods directly connects to an existing network of parks and wildlife management areas, creating a contiguous protected area of more than 250,000 acres (100,000 hectares) — enough for wide-ranging animals like mountain caribou and grizzly bear to roam freely. The conservation of Darkwoods also protects the integrity of the internationally renowned Creston Valley wetlands, located directly adjacent to the property's southern limits.
Darkwoods supports a tremendous range of biologically rich habitats: sub-alpine meadows, rare old-growth forests, serene valley bottoms, productive creeks and lakefront lands. These habitats shelter wildlife, including bears, caribou, cougar, lynx and moose. The conservation of key habitats in Darkwoods helps establish a cross-border wilderness corridor for a number of wide-ranging carnivores, including a key population of grizzly bear. Most notably, Darkwoods provides crucial winter habitat for the only remaining mountain caribou herd in the region.
Darkwoods is home to 19 confirmed species at risk, and scientists expect to confirm more as we continue our research on the property. Of particular concern is the South Selkirk herd of mountain caribou, listed as an endangered species in the U.S., and which is critically dependent on Darkwoods for the animals' winter range.
Other key species of concern include grizzly bear, bull trout, western skink and western screech owl (nationally endangered).
Darkwoods contains some of the most diverse forests in British Columbia, including priceless old-growth stands of vanishing inland temperate rainforest. Because they receive most of their moisture from snow, these "snow forests" are biologically unique, yet we know very little about them. Conserving Darkwoods provides an unprecedented opportunity to expand our knowledge about one of the world's rarest ecosystems.
Darkwoods plays a critical role in preserving freshwater systems throughout the South Selkirk Mountains, influencing 17 separate watersheds, numerous streams and more than 50 lakes. All this water not only provides sustenance to the forests and animals on Darkwoods, it provides valuable habitat for a plethora of birds, insects, reptiles, amphibians and fish.
Because of the great scale and topographical diversity of Darkwoods, animals and plants will be able to adapt to global climate change by migrating to different latitudes or elevations as temperatures fluctuates. As well, the forest represents an immense carbon store in its soil and trees. Conservative estimates suggest that more than 2 million tonnes of carbon are stored in Darkwoods, equal to the annual carbon footprint of over 500,000 Canadians.
Kootenay Lake and its surroundings have inspired and supported human cultures for thousands of years and today is no different. In the past, Darkwoods has been a valuable source of jobs in the woods. NCC strives to maintain that tradition, and continues to create active employment for the local community through our forest management activities.
Darkwoods is also important for the human spirit, offering a rare opportunity to enjoy the peace, solitude and natural beauty that are increasingly rare in this world.