Interior Temperate Rainforest

Bowron Lake Provincial Park Interior Temperate Rainforest…A Special Place

British Columbia’s Inland Temperate Rainforest, stretches from the headwaters of the Fraser and Columbia Rivers to the northern extremes of Washington, Idaho, and Montana. This area includes most of Bowron Lake Provincial Park. This rainforest is the only place on earth where temperate rainforests are found so far inland from the sea. Weather systems from the Pacific Ocean collide with the Columbia Mountains to create lush interior forests, habitat for many unique plants and animals.

Anyone completing the whole Circuit will notice the presence of both western hemlock and western red cedar trees along the Isaac River portage route, as well as the luxuriant undergrowth and the dampness of the area….this is the Inland Temperate Rainforest. These conditions occur elsewhere throughout the Chain (there is one delightful grove of cedar trees right on the portage trail from Indianpoint to Isaac Lake, someone has placed a crude bench there, I have always thought that it would be a great place for a wedding)…it’s a matter of hiking in to find them.

From when I first journeyed out to Bowron Lake in the early 1980’s, I remember some of the old (original) log buildings still standing on the Bowron Lake Lodge property on the shore of Bowron Lake. These had no-doubt been built by the original owners of the lodge, Joe and Betty Wendle. It was the shake roofs that stand out in my memory, cedar shakes. I knew that cedar was readily available to the south, along the north arm of Quesnel Lake, I wasn’t aware that in fact the cedar stands were much closer at hand.

In 2013 I had been quite intrigued by photos posted on line by Dave Jorgenson and Cheryl McCarthy, of the cedar trees growing on the north shore to Sandy Lake. About the same time I read in George Gilbert’s memoir “Kicked By A Dead Moose” about the roughly built “shake shelters” that were erected in the 1940’s and 50’s by miners from the Wells Cariboo Gold Quartz Mine on both Unna and Rum Lakes as a place for their families to spend summer weekends. The Pavich cabin built in the 50’s on the bank of the upper Bowron River was also roofed with shakes cut from cedar bolts that came from Sandy Lake. I had to see the source of this cedar.

In May, 2014, a group of friends undertook our annual “May long weekend trip around the Bowron”. Actually in 2014, Isaac Lake was still frozen tighter than a drum so we contented ourselves with a relaxing 5 day trip on the Circuit’s West Side. This was going to offer the time needed to explore Sandy Lake’s north shore in pursuit of the Interior Rain Forest and the giant western red cedars.

On a drizzly May day, two of us paddled to the mouth of a noisy creek flowing into Sandy Lake on it’s north shore. We could tell from the sound of the rushing water that it was coming from somewhere much higher. While we were on the north shore, it might more correctly be called the north-east shore, we were at the east end of the lake. There were no cedars to be seen at the shore line but as we hiked inland (and upwards), soon a few small cedar trees were evident. The predominant growth at this elevation is actually bug-killed lodge pole pine and the ground was moist and spongy. The forest cover was interspersed with some fairly large open marshy areas.

We walked through one of the open spongy wet areas towards a wall of dense forest cover. As if by magic, as soon as we entered the forest, there were the cedars…lots of them and big ones too. There were also large beautiful spruce trees towering above us as well as dead trees laying in every direction. In places we used the downed trees as foot paths in order to negotiate the dense undergrowth. Fortunately it was early in the season so we didn’t have to contend with the Devil’s Club. The terrain became steeper and as we climbed, the trees became larger. This had to be the source of the cedar for those shake shelters and the shake roofs. We had to take a few of the classic tree hugging photos just to show their size but as the drizzle was being very persistent (and wet), we chose to make our way back to the canoe for the short paddle back to our camp and the chairs under the dry tarpaulin.

There is lots of readily available written material about B.C.’s Interior Rain Forest. It is unique in the world, it is very impressive. Anyone who has driven highway #16 from Prince George to McBride has seen the “Ancient Forest” signs. These signs mark the trailhead to an extensive network of hiking trails, some of which have even been made wheelchair accessible and all of them highlighting all that is wonderful about this very unique ecosystem. A quick Google of “B.C.’s Interior Rainforest” will bring up several (very local) websites complete with maps and photos. UNBC seems to have taken a very special interest in this precious ecosystem. Fortunately, it would appear that any destructive logging of these trees in this area has been halted, or at least is carefully monitored. There are trees in the Interior Rain Forest that are over 1000 years old.

Bowron Lake Provincial Park Vegetation Management and Forest Health (quoted from BC Parks brochure)

“The Parks (Bowron Lake and adjacent Cariboo Mountains and Cariboo River Parks) contain variants of the Alpine Tundra (AT), Engelmann Spruce-Subalpine Fir (ESSF, 2 subzone variants), Interior Cedar Hemlock (ICH, 3 subzone variants), and Suboreal Spruce (SBS, 1 subzone variant) biogeoclimatic zones. Except for a few recently burned areas, the forest landscape within the parks is predominately mature and old-growth forest, with some non-forested wetlands and alpine communities.
In the Sub-boreal Spruce (SBS) zone, subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa) and hybrid spruce (Picea engelmanni x P. glauca) are the predominant trees in mature ecosystems. Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesi) occurs commonly as large individuals in fire regenerated stands on morainal materials and often occurs with pockets of trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides), and paper birch (Betula papyrifera).

Extensive areas of fire-regenerated forests dominated by young lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) occur on dry outwash materials adjacent to the Swan-Spectacle lakes area.
The transition to Interior Cedar Hemlock zones (ICH) is marked by the presence of western red-cedar (Thuja plicata) and increasing amounts of western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla). In many stands, hybrid spruce and subalpine fir are still the dominant trees within the ICH portions of the parks. The Engelmann Spruce-Subalpine Fir (ESSF) zones occur above the Sub-boreal Spruce and Interior Cedar Hemlock. This zone is dominated by subalpine fir and Engelmann spruce is replaced by hybrid spruce. At higher elevations this zone is distinguished by having a discontinuous forest canopy in the form of islands of low, stunted trees interspersed between wet meadows and shrub communities.

Above the ESSF is the Alpine Tundra (AT) zone where trees can no longer grow due to colder temperatures, prolonged snowfall, short growing seasons and severe winter winds. The Alpine Tundra zone occurs above tree line at the highest elevation of the parks and is dominated by a mosaic of herb, sedge and shrub dominated communities. Other non-forested ecosystems occur on avalanche chutes, and in wetland complexes in areas of poor drainage.”