New research led by the University of Northern British Columbia is recommending that the area surrounding the “Ancient Forest Trail,” about 130 kilometers east of Prince George, be named a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Citing the fact that these cedars have been reduced to less than four percent of the more than 130 thousand square hectare bioclimatic zone east of Prince George, the research indicates that these stands of ancient red cedars and surrounding biodiversity are “globally significant” and require the protection and status afforded other rich areas of scientific and cultural value deemed World Heritage Sites.
The comprehensive study, published in the BC Journal of Ecosystems and Management, went through extensive peer review, including by forest industry professionals. The article also points out the benefits such classification would bring, such as diversification of the regional economy by building upon a regional tourist attraction, which has already developed at the area.
“Having this published in a leading forestry journal sends a strong message of support, and should provide critical guidance to the provincial government,” says the article’s lead author, UNBC Ecosystem Science and Management Professor Darwyn Coxson. “There is much precedence to point to of ancient coastal rainforests being named World Heritage Sites, such as Haida Gwaii in BC, and Olympic National Park in Washington State, but in many scientific and cultural respects, the Ancient Forest is of even more value due to its extremely rare location so far north and so far inland.”
The Ancient Forest, accessible by trail from Highway 16, is a rainforest featuring massive western red cedars, some estimated to be over 1000 years old and home to an internationally significant diversity of lichen and fungi. The area, known for generations to First Nations and other local communities, was flagged for harvesting in 2006. UNBC students and researchers played a role in ensuring the public was notified of the cultural and scientific value of the area and the Forest was later declared off-limits to logging. Since then, multiple UNBC researchers and classes have visited the Ancient Forest Trail site to study the region’s biological systems, and their value for recreation, biodiversity, and economics.
“Many people in BC still do not realize the social and cultural value of this forest,” says Dr. Coxson, who co-wrote the study with UNBC Environmental Planning professor David Connell, and Trevor Goward of the University of British Columbia. “Becoming a Provincial Park and then a World Heritage Site will ensure the long-term protection of the ancient cedar stands, which to date, have been cared for by local community groups.”
To be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the site must first be named a provincial park. The Government of Canada must then recommend the site to UNESCO. The report recommends the BC Government extend the boundary of nearby Slim Creek Provincial Park to include the area surrounding the Ancient Forest Trail.
“UNESCO states that, for a site to be considered for World Heritage status, the area must ‘represent significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals,’” says Dr. Coxson. “We suggest that the immense cultural and biological values represented by this area meet these criteria.”