Inland Temperate Rainforest for The Narwhal
Less than one-third of the world’s primary forests are still intact, and deep in the interior of British Columbia, a temperate rainforest is being clear-cut as fast as the Amazon.
Today I’m very excited to share some work I photographed for the Narwhal last month. Journalist Sarah Cox and I headed north to see what was happening in the Inland Temperate Rainforest near Prince George BC. We spent three days touring parts of the rare inland ecosystem with Dr. Dominick Dellasala President of the Geos Institute in Ashland, Oregon and forest ecologist Michelle Connolly director of Conservation North.
The resulting story, “Canada's forgotten rainforest” is one of the Narwhals most popular stories of 2019 and I couldn’t have been more proud to be a part of it.
It was my first official job flying a drone (Mavic Pro 2) and the aerial perspective shows the scale of logging that really added another dimension to the story. In addition to the still photographs I took, I did also shoot quite a bit of video from the air, and decided that instead of having it sit on a hard drive I’d cut it into a little behind the scenes video of the entire assignment. Editing is not my specialty and Jayce Hawkins really brought my rough cut to life.
In kindergarden I started an earth club, I was inspired by a bright red coffee table book I was given as a gift on Volcanos, it was above my reading level at the time, but I got every adult I knew to explain how tectonic plates worked. At that time the talk of climate change or environmental degradation wasn’t close to what it is today but even then I knew we (us humans) had something special going with the planet that was worth protecting. High school came around and I spent all four years on Student Council capping off grade twelve as the president and after organizing the Spring Fling dance turned to working on a recycling program. University was when I decided I was going to be photographer after seeing an image of a whale and a scuba diver by Brian Skerry.
This was the kinda of work I imagined myself doing when I decided to pick up a camera in 2010. Its been a long road to get to here - but being invited to Prince George to see and ultimately share what is happening to the forests in the area was in lot of ways a milestone in my career.
(Above) I photographed Dr. Dominick DellaSala, president and chief scientist at the Geos Institute, in front of a slash pile waiting to be burned in the Anzac River Valley of British Columbia.
The Geos Institute is part of an international project to map the world's unlogged forests and he says clear cutting BC's primary rainforest is happening "if not faster, then comparable to what we’re seeing in the tropical rainforest of Brazil."
The whole trip was a roller coaster of emotions: seeing a variety of pristine, cedar, hemlock and spruce dominant forests mixed with a level of destruction and clear cutting I wasn’t expecting. It was incredible to see this grove of ancient cedar trees, Michelle had surveyed them the year before and with a GPS took us bushwhacking to get there. Some cedars here are estimated to be more than 1,500 years old but what little remains of this area isn’t protected and is now slated to be clear-cut.
The Inland Temperate Rainforest holds one of the highest diversity of Lichen on the planet. Including oceanic species so far from the coast their presence is “almost inconceivable.” Says Scientist Trevor Goward. We collected a few specimen in the field for this photo, (above) I really wanted to shoot them away from a forest setting so the background wouldn’t detract from the differences in lichen and have an almost scientific illustration feel to it.
I had spotted this slash pile and picked it out as a potential portrait location on our drive down Fraser Flats. It wasn’t until our drive back that I had Michelle a forest ecologist and our guide sit right in the centre of it. Logging contractors attempted to burn this pile and other piles like it that lined the road, but would have been stopped by wet weather. Fire is a natural disturbance to most forests but trees can grow to be many hundreds of years old in the inland Temperate rainforest because fire often can’t gain a foothold.
We came across a black bear or potentially a small Grizzly Bear Track on a logging road. Grizzly Bears do not retract their claws when they walk so the faint claw mark on the furthest right appendage suggests it may be a Grizzly. This was just the beginning, we ended up spotting three black bears, one grizzly, a lynx, a fox, deer, and a moose on this trip. I was only quick enough to get a photo of a black bear and the rest you’ll just have to take my word on it.
I learned all about how Old Growth is currently protected in BC on this trip, below you can see the new boundaries of an old-growth management area (OGMA) are marked with orange spray paint along the Fraser Flats forest service road. In B.C., old-growth management area boundaries provide only minimal protection for old growth forests and can be moved or have a road put through them to accommodate logging, with the approval of B.C. forest district manager. Michelle Connolly says they are too small and too fragmented to protect biodiversity. What really is needed is binding legal protection for these areas.
(Above) Clear cut logging in the Anzac River Valley. The valley bottom, where caribou migrate to find lichen during deep-snow winters, is also slated to be logged. (Below) Clearcut near Highway 16, west of Prince George, B.C.
Logging is historically one of BC’s most important industries and it has undergone changes before. All that stands of an old Canfor mill beside the railroad tracks in the town of Upper Fraser is a beige-coloured tower with protruding pipes. When the road replaced the railroad here most mills were relocated into bigger centres. (Photographed below is an abandoned Canfor Sawmill in Upper Fraser) Prince George is still home to three pulp mills, a paper mill, seven lumber mills, a chip mill, a pole and post mill and two pellet mills but the industry is changing again.
With few forests left to fill the shrinking supply in this area, Canfor recently announced it will reduce operations at two Prince George pulp mills and at sawmills in St. George and Mackenzie. The company also plans to close its sawmill in Vavenby, putting more than 170 people out of work.
Shooting “Canada’s Forgotten Rainforest” was demanding, beautiful and heartbreaking all at the same time. I ask Sarah in the airport waiting for our flight home how she can do this kind of reporting over and over again and not take it on personally. She told me it was her job (and ultimately mine as well) to bear witness.
When no one else is looking or the when the locations become more remote it is our job to share in the most honest way possible what is happening on a landscape scale. Most people will never see or meet the experts and locals that have the lived experience like we did on this trip and the public and ultimately the government can decide what should be done.
I want to finish this post on a positive note - The Goat River Watershed pictured below is one of the few watershed in the inland temperate rainforest that hasn’t been logged, and it is important to the fish and the surrounding habitat it stays that way. It was protected by years of activism in the area and this is what more valleys in the area should look like. Old growth forest isn’t a renewable resource and even if the area is re-planted the bio-diversity and soil nutrients will be lost - its time BC started taking its old growth protection seriously.