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 number of special characteristics. Some of these are tangible, like the plants and animals that live 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:
Ecompassing 63,000 hectares and rising almost 2,000 metres in elevation from lakeshore to mountain peak, Darkwoods is big conservation at its best. The sheer size of this conservation area means that wildlife can move unhindered through the landscape, and the remote, inaccessible areas of Darkwoods are well-buffered from human-use pressures.
Darkwoods directly connects to an existing network of parks and wildlife management areas. This creates a contiguous protected area of more than 1,100 square kilometres. This is large 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, directly adjacent to the property's southern limits.
Thanks to the 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, 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.
Darkwoods is home to 39 confirmed species at risk. These include grizzly bear, wolverine, bull trout, western skink and western screech owl. Whitebark pine is a federally endangered tree that still grows well on Darkwoods. An ongoing whitebark pine restoration project on Darkwoods is working to fortify the population in the South Selkirks.
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. However, 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 120 lakes. All this water provides sustenance to the forests and animals on Darkwoods. It also provides valuable habitat for a wide range 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 fluctuate. 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. This is 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. Today is no different. In the past, Darkwoods has been a valuable source of jobs in the woods. NCC strives to maintain that tradition. NCC 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.