The West Kootenays are located in the inland temperate rainforest region, a globally rare forest landscape that has old growth stands of cedar, hemlock, pine, fir and spruce. It is home to important plant and animal species at risk, including mountain caribou, grizzly bear, wolverine, fisher, northern goshawk, flammulated owl, pileated woodpecker, western screech-owl, and sturgeon.

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Protecting Old Growth Forests

The inland temperate rainforest covers 40 million acres and stretches 700 miles in a broad arc from central Idaho to Prince George. In our corner of the province, it’s found in the Columbia and Rocky Mountains.

Old growth forests support people, communities, jobs, plants and animals. These forests are a huge reservoir for carbon and support amazing biodiversity. They are critical to our success in avoiding the worst consequences of the climate crisis. 

BC’s current logging policy and regulations are insufficient to maintain healthy, sustainable forested ecosystems, particularly in the face of climate change and the need to manage for community and ecosystem resilience.

In many areas of the Kootenays, only 3-4% of the forest is to be retained as Old Growth Management Areas. The remainder can be harvested.  

In addition to very low targets, an internal report by the local ecologists showed that in the West Kootenay, only 17.5% of forests within Old Growth Management Areas are actually old, while some of the best remaining pockets of old forest are not protected and continue to be logged. The amount of protected old forest is a fraction of the area legally required for old growth protection. The recent old growth review commissioned by the Province outlined 14 recommendations to ensure the protection of this non-renewable resource and the province has yet to implement any of these.

We need government to commit to implementing the report’s 14 recommendations within the timeline laid out in the report, with immediate, mid-term and long-term actions taken over the next three years.

You can help by signing our petition and by letting your MLA know that the BC government needs to do more to protect old growth forests. You can also help by supporting EcoSociety’s efforts through volunteering or donating.

Sign the Petition

Have you stood beneath a tree that is more than 800 years old?

There are many hiking, walking and biking trails in the West Kootenays that take you through old growth forests of cedar, hemlock, pine and fir.

Head out on your own to experience these incredible old growth forests on these trails:

Download our old growth trails brochure.

There’s nothing like experiencing an old growth forest first-hand to help us understand their importance and what is at stake if they are not protected. Know of other trails that have old growth? Please let us know!

Old Growth Trails Map

Share your local knowledge

Local knowledge about our forests, plants & animals is of great value for everyone concerned about the health of our ecosystems and our communities.

 

Local knowledge has many different meanings and comes from many different sources and experiences, including:


Northern Goshawks
are a blue-listed species that need healthy old growth forests to nest in. The nests aren’t always easy to find. You can help the goshawks and help protect vulnerable old growth forests by reporting your sightings of northern goshawks and their nests.

A couple of apps you may want to look at to help you identify and record your northern goshawk sightings include:

Share your experience

Follow & use the Instagram hashtag #kootenayoldgrowth when you’re out taking pictures and see them here!

The West Kootenays are located in the inland temperate rainforest region, a globally rare forest landscape that has old growth stands of cedar, hemlock, pine, fir and spruce. It is home to important plant and animal species at risk, including
mountain caribou, grizzly bear, wolverine, fisher, northern goshawk, flammulated owl, pileated woodpecker, western screech-owl, and sturgeon.

The inland temperate rainforest covers 40 million acres and stretches 700 miles in a broad arc from central Idaho to Prince George. In our corner of the province, it’s found in the Columbia and Rocky Mountains. Old growth rainforests are valuable ecosystems that support people, communities, jobs, plants and animals. They provide  breathable air and clean water, and are vital to sustain the culture and livelihoods of Indigenous communities. These forests store large amounts of carbon and nutrients and help mitigate climate change effects like drought and flooding.

Old growth forests vary according to the species of trees and the landscape because each tree species has a different lifespan. Lodgepole pine are considered old growth at 120 years while Douglas fir are considered old growth at 140 years and western red cedar at 250 years.

British Columbia’s Forests: A Geographical Snapshot offers this definition:

“old growth forests tend to have more standing dead trees, or snags, and fallen trees than younger forests. The trees are often larger, and the forest canopy is layered, with openings that allow light, encouraging the growth of ferns, berry bushes and mosses.

Large trees and decaying woody materials such as standing dead trees and fallen trees provide nests, dens and food for many birds, mammals and amphibians.”


Adult goshawk with prey. Photo by Iosto Doneddu.
The range of the Northern Goshawk. Image by Alexander Kürthy.
Juvenile goshawk. Photo by Krzysztof Wiśniewski.

Goshawks Need Old Growth Forests & You

Northern Goshawks are one of the top predators in BC’s old growth forest. They are a blue-listed species in BC, meaning they are at risk, though not yet at the level of endangered or threatened. They nest in old forests and need large areas of healthy old growth to survive.

You can help. Learn to spot the northern goshawk. Report your sightings.

Goshawks will spend the winter in almost any habitat, but in the summer, they depend on mature and old growth forest to nest. The dense canopies of old forests prevent sunlight from reaching the forest floor, preventing a thick understorey from growing. This removes cover for prey and makes them easier to hunt. A pair of goshawks have a home range of over 1400 ha, most of which needs to be old or mature forests.

We can learn from the goshawk’s sad history in other places

The elusive Northern Goshawk has long been a symbol of courage and power. They fearlessly hunt any animal they can get their talons on, no matter the size: rabbits, grouse, martens, pigeons, crows, and woodpeckers. They were favorites for falconry in Europe and Asia for centuries, and in the Middle Ages only nobility were permitted to fly them because of the status they conferred to their owners. Northern Goshawks evolved in Eurasia and, just like ancestral humans, spread to North America across the Bering land bridge that connected Russia to Alaska over 20,000 years ago. 

Due to massive loss of forest habitat and persecution by hunters and farmers, goshawks became locally extinct in Great Britain and Ireland in the 1800s. When guns replaced hawks as the most effective hunting tool, attitudes towards goshawks changed. Many hunters viewed them as competitors and began to hunt the goshawks themselves. Farmers, especially poultry farmers, also killed goshawks to protect their livestock.

The eventual loss of the goshawk was devastating for the Brits who had admired them in the wild and had continued to fly them as falconers. Over the next hundred years, falconers reintroduced the goshawk to Great Britain by accidentally and purposefully releasing their pets. The story goes that it was just as expensive to buy two hawks as it was to buy one, so falconers would buy one for themselves and one for the wild. Reforestation efforts provided habitat for the released goshawks, and now there are around 200 wild goshawks in the British Isles.

The same threats that faced goshawks in Great Britain now face goshawks in British Columbia. They are blue-listed in B.C. primarily because of the loss of old growth forest. Because of their status as a species at risk, goshawk nests are important markers that protect the forest. When an active nest is found in B.C., it can trigger the creation of a breeding area reserve of 30 – 100 ha in which logging is restricted. However, once the chicks fledge and leave the area in July, the protection in lifted and logging will recommence. 

Forestry practices in this province are failing to protect old growth forests and failing to protect the animals that rely on them. Old growth and Northern Goshawks need more than temporary protection. We should learn from the mistakes we’ve made in the past to protect our forests, our land, and our wildlife. 


Sinixt and Old Growth Forests

This material was created in consultation with Sinixt Smum iem Matriarch, Marilyn James. All photos are by Taress Alexis except ones credited separately.

Sinixt Laws

The highest law of the Sinixt is the whuplak’n (whup-lock-en), the law of the land. The whuplak’n lays out how we must treat everything on this landscape. We must leave things the same or better than how we found them for future generations. This means a considered and far forward-looking use of everything that exists here. Sinixt tum xúlaʔxʷ  (toom-who-lau-h) is unceded meaning that these laws are still in force here.

Old Growth’s role in Diversity and Ecosystem Functioning

Prior to European settlement and massive impacts on the Inland Temperate Rainforest, most valley bottoms were old growth. It was just forest. All the parts of the ecosystem contributed to one another in a never ending cycle.

One example of ecosystem interconnections can be seen through how the Caribou rely on old growth lichens as primary food sources; the Sinixt, in turn, relied on Caribou as an important food source. Salmon returned from the ocean to feed animal and human people, as well as the old growth forests where their spent bodies returned to the Earth. (Coalroot by Heather Dewey)

Sinixt Uses of Old Growth

Sinixt lifeways have always been intertwined with the forests of their tum xúlaʔxʷ. Berries, meat, roots and medicines were harvested in old growth. Also, fibre to make pit houses, baskets, clothing, and countless other culturally important items came from old growth forests. 

Old Growth Cedar provided both beams and bark without trees being cut or killed. Beams were removed by making a cut with an adze, high up in a large cedar, and then cuts descending on both sides. Wedges were then used to pry a board from the live tree. Cedar bark was used for baskets for gathering as well as storage. Caches were lined with cedar bark and it was also used to make burial baskets and shrouds. Trees used for these purposes are now known as “culturally modified trees” (CMTs).

Edible Horsetail Lichen (Bryoria fremontii) which is known to the Sinixt as sqʷl̕ip (squil-lip), is an important winter food for caribou, styʔíɬc̓aʔ (sti-yilh-tsa) flying squirrels, deer, elk and moose. It was also a staple and emergency food for the Sinixt. It was washed then pit-cooked with other roots and bulbs and dried in cakes for storage. They then boiled the cakes with berries, roots or meat to eat them.

Devil’s Club (Oplopanax horridus) is known to the Sinixt as x̌ʷuwwugway’lhp. It is a powerful plant with many uses, both medicinal and practical. Traditionally a cold infusion was made of the roots to treat consumption, dry cough and other ailments. The mighty thorns were used to pin sewing together. (Devil’s Club by Moe Lyons)

Old Growth and Water

Sinixt laws are as applicable to current issues as they were in traditional Sinixt culture. The Sinixt recognize the deep value of Old Growth Forests to the ensuring of water quality and quantity as well as the role they play in mitigating the impacts of climate change. A mature cedar processes 150 gallons of water per day.

Old growth forest by Heather Dewey

Below is a list of species commonly found in old growth forests throughout the West Kootenays. Head out to an old growth trail with this species checklist and see what you can find!

Trees:

Western Redcedar (Thuja plicata)

Western Redcedar grows up to 60 metres tall when mature, with drooping branches and a trunk often spreading out at the base. This large coniferous tree grows best in moist to wet soils, with lots of nutrients. It is tolerant of shade and long-lived, sometimes over 1,000 years. Western Redcedar frequently grows with Western Hemlock and Douglas-fir. 

 

Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla)

Western Hemlock usually grows 30 to 50 metres tall. It has a rather narrow crown and distinctly drooping new growth at the top of the tree. It has mostly down-sweeping branches and delicate feathery foliage. Its bark is typically dark brown to reddish-brown, becoming thick and strongly grooved with age. Western hemlock tolerates shade and grows abundantly underneath mature trees, where it provides an important source of food for deer and elk. 

 

Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)

A large tree, reaching heights of 85 metres on the coast and 42 metres in the Interior. Older trees have a long, branch-free trunk and a short cylindrical crown with a flattened top. There are two varieties of Douglas-fir – coastal and Interior. The bark is smooth, grey-brown, with gummy resin-filled blisters when young, the bark becomes very thick with age and deeply grooved, with dark reddish-brown ridges. The Interior variety grows in a variety of habitats including open forests with pinegrass and mosses beneath. 

 

Shrubs:

Western Yew (Taxus brevifolia)

A low spreading shrub to a small tree, 5 to 15 metres tall; young trees are often square in profile, becoming more cone-shaped with age. The fruit consists of a coral-red fleshy cup (see photo) that is open at one end and contains a single seed. It is important food for black-tailed deer, elk, moose, and caribou. Several birds – including blackbirds, waxwings and nuthatches – and various small rodents eat the fruit. 

 

Devil’s Club (Oplopanax horridus)

Devil’s club is a somewhat sprawling, 1 to 3 metre tall deciduous shrub. It has thick, crooked stems and is covered in spines. Bears delight in eating large quantities of the abundant berries produced by devil’s club in the mid-summer months. They spread the seed in their droppings, helping the forest recover from natural and human disturbance, including landslides, blowdowns, and logging. 

 

Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus)

Thimbleberry forms waist- to head-high thickets of numerous erect stems. The stems are thorn-free. The bark is distinctively flaky and especially hairy on new growth. Large maple-like leaves occur at the ends of the stems. They will grow in full sun to part shade. These shrubs quick­ly form thickets, providing wildlife cover. Butterflies love the flowers and birds relish the fruit. Edible to humans.

 

Huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata)

Pacific Northwest forests are home to several species of wild huckleberry. The huckleberry is a deciduous tall, bushy shrub, with oval leaves. Flowers are urnshaped and pink. The fruit is a blueblack berry with a whitish bloom. The berries may be tart and are often made into jellies and wine.

 

Western Meadow-rue (Thalictrum occidentale)

Western Meadow-rue has male and female flowers on different plants. Young stems are purplish turning more green with age as they unfurl.  It is found in moist shaded and open coniferous forests such as old growth, and meadows.

 

White-flowered Rhododendron (Rhododendron albiflorum)

Native to Canada, the white flowered rhododendron likes open, moist, coniferous forests in upper montane, lower subalpine regions. This species does not produce the spectacular brilliant flowers that many of its relatives do, yet its delicate clusters of mildly citrus-scented white flowers and bright green leaves are a local gem. 

 

Fairybells (Prosartes trachycarpa)

Fairy bell plants grow in moist, shaded forests or openings, from low elevations up to about 5,000 feet. A beautiful woodland plant with 1 to 2 small, creamy white, narrowly bell-shaped flowers hanging beneath leaves at ends of forking branches. The leaves are mostly oriented horizontally and hide the red berries once fruited.

 

Herbs/Forbs:

Queen’s Cup (Clintonia uniflora)

Part of the lily family, Queen’s cup is a low plant which grows in clusters formed by a large system of underground stems. Prefers moist woods, from the lowlands to sub-alpine. At mid-elevations, may join with mosses to form a dense carpet. Produces a single pure-white, star-like flower with six sepals followed by a small, egg-shaped, metallic blue berry.

 

Northern Oak-fern (Gymnocarpium dryopteris) 

Northern Oak-fern has tripartite fronds, an unusual arrangement seen also in the much coarser, larger bracken fern. Unlike bracken, oak ferns stand only eight or nine inches tall and the fronds are strongly horizontal. Each stem is dark against the jewel-bright green of the leaflets. Oak fern’s color deepens as the fronds mature, but never seem to dull or tarnish. This small fern lives its life in the shade and disappears quickly at summer’s end. 

 

Rosy Twistedstalk (Streptopus lanceolatus var. roseus )

Rosy twistedstalk is a 12 to 30 inch perennial with light-green, alternate, oval leaves arranged on zigzag stems. The dainty, bell-shaped, rose-tinged flowers hang from twisted flower stems which are attached at the side of each leaf. The fruit is a round, bright red berry, and hangs below the horizontal foliage.

 

Five-leafed Dwarf Bramble (Rubus pedatus)

Five-leaf bramble may be found in shady, mossy places in mid-altitude to subalpine forests. It is a mat-forming, low growing and unarmed creeper that grows outwards. The flowers are rarely more than 15 cm off of the ground. The single flower atop each stem has white petals which lie flat and give way to a cluster of small, red, juicy berries.

 

Common Cowparsnip (Heracleum maximum)

This very tall plant has huge leaves and flat umbels of numerous tiny white flowers, the stem is grooved, woolly, hollow, and stout. This is the largest species of the carrot family in North America. The genus is named for Hercules, who is reputed to have used these plants for medicine.  Found in Moist, partially shaded places, up to 9,000 (2,700 m) elevation. Commonly confused with Giant Hogweed which is an invasive plant that causes skin irritation, blistering and burning upon contact. 

 

Western Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera oblongifolia)

Western Rattlesnake Plantain is a species of orchid most commonly found in mountain forests, often in the understory of conifers. This orchid forms a patch of broad lance-shaped to oval-shaped leaves at the ground, each 4 to 9 centimeters long. The leaf is dark green and streaked with white along the middle. The netlike veining on the leaf is also white, but not as thick as the midrib stripes. The plant produces an erect inflorescence up to about 30 centimeters tall. The top of the inflorescence has many white orchid flowers which may all face the same direction on the stalk or be spirally arranged about it.

 

Fragrant Bedstraw (galium triflorum)

Fragrant bedstraw gets its name from the vanilla scent of the dried leaves and was apparently used to stuff mattresses and pillows as the smell repelled fleas. It grows on the forest floor, spreading vegetatively by means of runners. Fragrant Bedstraw is found in rich woods and moist grounds in meadows and riparian edges, preferably in the shade.

 

Animals:

Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)

American red squirrels mainly feed on the seeds and cones of evergreen trees. They will also eat bird eggs, berries, and fruit when they are available. During the summer, they collect and hide seeds and nuts so they have food storage during the lean winter times. Sometimes they forget to dig up the seeds and unintentionally plant trees. To communicate, they make a lengthy, descending trill and a chatter of assorted notes and chucks. The most noticeable characteristics of the American red squirrel are the tail and the eye ring. The tree squirrel’s tail is bushy and dark red with hints of a white outline. The eye ring is a thick, white circle around the rodent’s black eyes. They are native tree squirrels and their populations are struggling in some areas due to the introduced Eastern gray and black squirrel.

 

Photo from eBird

Chestnut-backed Chickadee (Poecile rufescens)

This is the smallest of the North American chickadees, sporting rich rusty-brown flanks and back that render it easily distinguishable from other chickadees. It also has a scratchier, squeakier song that helps to separate it from other difficult-to-see dwellers of temperate rainforest canopies. The Chestnut-backed Chickadee is distributed in two geographically separate parts of the province: coastal regions and adjoining valleys of the Coast Mountains; and interior mountain ranges of the West Kootenay and adjacent areas to the north end of the Southern Rocky Mountain Trench. These interior and coastal populations are genetically distinct, consistent with post-glacial (Pleistocene) inland dispersal, especially in recent times. They prefer old growth where decaying and dead trees, snags and stumps for nest cavities are commonly found.

 

Photo by Joseph V Higbee

Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana)

A male Western Tanager is tropical in colour with an orange-red head, brilliant yellow body, and coal-black wings, back and tail. Females and immatures are a somewhat dimmer yellow-green and blackish. These birds live in open evergreen woods such as old growth forests where they often stay hidden in the canopy.

 

Pacific Wren (Troglodytes pacificus)

Pacific Wrens are most common in old-growth evergreen forests. They also live in deciduous forests, treeless islands in Alaska, and in mixed-species forests near streams. Wrens forage and build nests near fallen logs, upturned tree roots, dead trees, and thick understory cover of mosses and ferns, often near water. During the nonbreeding season, winter wrens use more types of habitats including parks and gardens. Pacific Wrens quickly hop through the understory moving more like a mouse than a bird as they investigate upturned roots and decaying logs for food. These energetic birds often bob their heads or entire bodies when they are standing still. In flight they rapidly beat their tiny wings to move short distances between cover.

 

Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis)

The Northern Goshawk is a raven-sized, robust forest-dwelling raptor. Adults are brown-grey to slate-grey on the back, while underparts are pale-grey with fine horizontal grey bars and darker vertical streaking. The head has a distinctive whitish line above the eye and a dark-grey to black cap. Immature birds are an overall mottled brown. This hawk is a top-level predator that requires mature and old rainforests and is considered an indicator species and an indicator of forest health and biodiversity. Due to habitat destruction, this species is at risk. If you see a Goshawk or a nest, please report it to your local conservation office!

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