Delving into Darkwoods

For the past few weeks I’ve been fortunate enough to start exploring the insect biodiversity of Canada’s largest privately owned nature conservancy: Darkwoods. Owned by the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), Darkwoods is a 136,000-acre tract of land located near Salmo, British Columbia in the heart of the Selkirk mountain range.

A map of the Darkwoods lands courtesy of the NCC.
A map of the Darkwoods lands courtesy of the NCC.

With public access only available by permit, Darkwoods Conservancy has been able to protect a network of pristine lakes, watersheds, meadows, and rare old-growth forests. Given the biological richness of the area, it’s of no great surprise that the first out of the three sites sampled by the 2014 BIObus trip has provided us with more than 8,600 specimens!

The southern portion of the Selkirk mountain range by M.A. Beaucher

Along with an abundance of arthropods, Darkwoods is a safe haven for 19 confirmed species at risk.  Interestingly, among the list of threatened species that includes grizzly bears, bull trout and western screech owls, Darkwoods is home to one of the last 15 surviving herds of mountain caribou. Although commonly known as mountain caribou, these noble animals are actually a type of woodland caribou that have adapted to the snowy mountain forests of British Columbia. Unfortunately, mountain caribou populations have dropped dramatically from about 2,200 individuals in the late 1990’s to approximately 1,900 in 2008 due to predation, habitat fragmentation and loss of the old-growth forests.  Active conservation efforts in areas like Darkwoods are giving this unique species a chance to come back.

A colourful Lepidopteran found in one of the traps.
A colourful Lepidopteran found in one of the traps.

The history of Darkwoods is just as fascinating as its wild inhabitants. Originally held by First Nations groups, primarily the Ktunaxa, the Darkwoods lands began to change hands in 1897 from the Crown to the Nelson & Sheppard Railway to six different resource companies. Around 1967 a German duke named Friedrich von Württemberg took an interest in the property. Purchasing it for his sustainable forestry company Pluto Darkwoods, the duke became quite attached to the area visiting it every summer. Concerned for the health of the forest, the duke – despite the nature of his trade – tried to reduce the impact of their timber harvest. This allowed Darkwoods to retain many of the old-growth forests that exist today. In 2008, the duke made the decision to sell Darkwoods to a buyer that would respect the lands and keep them from being subdivided. This buyer ended up being the NCC resulting in the largest purchase of private land for conservation in Canadian history!

An adult caribou enjoying a lazy afternoon. Caribou by the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve. Some rights reserved.
An adult caribou enjoying a lazy afternoon. Caribou by the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve. Some rights reserved.

Anyway, I hope this piqued your interest in the beautiful parks of British Columbia. To find out more about the conservation efforts of the NCC, visit their website at http://www.natureconservancy.ca/en/.

The crystalline turquoise waters of one of the many Darkwoods watersheds.
The crystalline turquoise waters of one of the many Darkwoods watersheds.

Thanks for reading!

Shannon

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