This story is part of a feature that first appeared in print in Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine’s February 2023 issue. Read the entire e-edition here:
The B.C. government has announced a new conservancy status for the Incommappleux Valley, a remote valley east of Revelstoke that connects to Glacier National Park at its north end. The valley, which was heavily logged prior to a landslide that damaged the access road into the area in 2005, has been the subject of calls for conservation efforts for years.
The B.C. government unveiled the new conservation status on Jan. 26, announcing that about 58,654 hectares will be protected in the new conservancy. In 2020, the B.C. government restricted logging activity in the area by adding it to its old growth deferral program.
“The rich and unique biodiversity of the Incomappleux Valley makes this one of the most-significant protected areas established in the province in a decade,” said George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. The government cited old growth trees, diverse lichen species, grizzly habitat and endangered fungal and plant species as some of the conservation values in the valley.
The deal to secure the conservancy will see several groups pay logging tenure holder Interfor for its rights. The Nature Conservancy of Canada is facilitating and funding the conservancy and protections, with support from the Government of Canada, Teck Resources, Wyss Foundation, Wilburforce Foundation and individual donors.
“When we work together with Indigenous communities, governments, industry and private citizens, we can achieve great results for nature,” said Nancy Newhouse, the B.C. Regional Vice President for the Nature Conservancy of Canada. “Incomappleux is an exciting example of this strategy in action.”
In its announcement, the B.C. government emphasized partnership with First Nations groups in future plans for the area. “Conserving the Incomappleux Valley is another example of how we are taking a comprehensive ecosystem approach to managing our forests,” said Bruce Ralston, Minister of Forests. “By partnering with First Nations and protecting our oldest and rarest forests, we are creating a healthier environment supporting sustainable forest management.”
In a statement, the Shuswap Band Chief and Council said it appreciates that other important considerations are emerging in the forest sector other than fibre. “We feel that stewardship of the lands and resources is long overdue and that this transfer is a step in the right direction as are recent policy shifts in the sector such as landscape level planning,” they wrote. “The Incomappleux licence transfer and commitments by government to work collaboratively on managing these areas presents an opportunity for Shuswap to demonstrate stewardship is needed and at the forefront. We look forward to having our place in the forest sector to benefit all and future generations.”
Heavily logged in the past
Although the government announcement and social media blitz focused on old-growth trees, and some resulting news media stories characterized the valley as a pristine area, the Incomappleux has been heavily logged over the years. When asked, a B.C. environment ministry spokesperson how much old growth remains in the valley, the spokesperson said the total was 3,181 hectares within the 58,654-hectare conservancy.
B.C. Government doesn’t disclose amount paid
When asked how much the parties paid for Interfor’s harvesting rights, the B.C. government spokesperson didn’t provide a figure, deferring the question to the Nature Conservancy.
What is a conservancy?
When asked for a technical definition of the level of conservation provided, a B.C. environment ministry spokesperson said, “[c]onservancies are Crown lands set aside for the protection and maintenance of biological diversity, the preservation and maintenance for First Nations social, ceremonial and cultural use, and protection and maintenance of recreation values. Conservancies provide for a wider range of low impact, compatible economic opportunities than Class A parks, with commercial logging and mining prohibited.”
Heli-skiing, sledding, dirt biking permitted?
A conservancy designation provides for a wider range of recreational activities in the area than a provincial park designation, but it does prohibit mining and logging. When asked if motorized activities like heli-skiing would be permitted in the new conservancy, an environment ministry spokesperson said, “Commercial recreation activities that are compatible with the conservancy designation, such as heli-skiing, for example, would be able to continue, subject to approval of a park use permit.”
Ministry plans to deactivate Incomappleux FSR
The forest service road (FSR) leading into the valley was badly damaged when a steep section collapsed in 2005. At the time, the B.C. government said it was up to tenure holders to fund a replacement road, and access has been limited since then. In response to questions, a government spokesperson said Ministry of Forests plans to deactivate the FSR. “The level and scope of the deactivation will be determined through engagement with First Nations. Landowners or tenure holders in the valley who have used portions of the road also be contacted for their input,” they said. They added that the majority of the valley “has seen no logging for more than 15 years and a socio-economic analysis indicates its protection will have minimal impact to the forest sector so today’s announcement will have little impact on fibre supply.”
Funding for future conservation initiatives?
A B.C. environment ministry spokesperson said that funding for any future conversation projects would follow engagement with First Nations on plans for the valley and then normal budget processes.
B.C. government to pay for mining tenures
A spokesperson said the government had “secured funding for potential compensation for mineral tenure holders impacted by the creation of the conservancy.” It said the payment for the logging tenure “was negotiated between the Nature Conservancy of Canada and Interfor, but declined to disclose the amounts when asked. “This funding was provided by the Government of Canada through Canada’s Nature Fund, Teck Resources, the Wyss Foundation, the Wilburforce Foundation and several individual donors. The funding was applied to various aspects of the project, including but not limited to the buy out of the forest tenure,” the ministry said in response to questions from the Mountaineer.
There are 158 conservancies in B.C., ranging in size from 11 to 322,020 hectares.