Preliminary surveys by biologists reveal diverse, endangered, and new species inhabiting the extremely rare lowland old-growth forest at Echo Lake west of Agassiz. Conservationists ramp-up call for the BC government to protect the area from logging.
A biodiversity survey (ie "Bio-Blitz") of an extremely rare but endangered lowland old-growth forest between Agassiz and Mission, the Echo Lake Ancient Forest, famous for its bald eagles, has revealed that it is also home to a large diversity of flora and fauna. This includes many species at risk such as various bats, frogs, snails, dragonflies, and moss. The surveys, conducted over a weekend last year by biologists and naturalists, and co-ordinated by the Ancient Forest Alliance, have now been compiled and will be submitted to the BC Ministry of Environment’s Conservation Data Centre and Wildlife Species Inventory. Over two days, approximately 174 plant, 55 vertebrate, 153 invertebrate, and 38 fungi species were found around Echo Lake.
“These biodiversity surveys show that protecting all of Echo Lake’s surrounding old-growth and mature forests is important not only for saving the largest night-roosting site for bald eagles on Earth, but also for a large diversity of other species, including many species at risk,” stated Ken Wu, Ancient Forest Alliance executive director. “And these new findings are just the tip of the iceberg from just a single weekend of surveys – future surveys will undoubtedly turn up much more. It further re-enforces the fact that it should be a no-brainer for the BC government to protect all of Echo Lake’s surrounding forests.”
In 2013 the BC government protected 55 hectares or over half of the old-growth forests around Echo Lake in an Old-Growth Management Area (OGMA) on Crown lands primarily on the lake’s south side. However, they left out about 40 hectares or so of old-growth and mature forests from the OGMA on the north and west side of the lake within a Woodlot Licence where the ancient trees can be logged.
Echo Lake is the largest night-roosting site for bald eagles on Earth, where as many as 700 bald eagles roost in the ancient Douglas-fir and cedar trees around the lake at night during the fall salmon runs. Along the nearby Chehalis and Harrison Rivers, as many as 10,000 bald eagles come to eat the spawning salmon during some years, making the area home to the largest bald eagle/ raptor concentration on Earth.
The area is in the traditional, unceded territory of the Sts’ailes First Nation band, who run the Sasquatch EcoLodge and whose members run eagle watching tours nearby.
Among the hundreds of species identified in the survey, some of the more interesting finds include the little brown bat, the northen red legged-frog, the barn swallow and the olive-sided flycatcher. A spider called the Theonoe stridula was also identified, a newly-recorded species for the first time in B.C.
Other species found through the survey or observed at other times at Echo Lake include Vaux’s swifts (a swallow-like bird associated with old-growth forests), pileated woodpeckers (Canada’s largest woodpecker, associated with older conifer forests and deciduous forests), red-breasted sapsuckers (associated with older forests), osprey, turkey vultures, river otters, beavers, black bears, bobcats, cougars, mountain goats, black-tailed deer, and bald eagles.
“The BC government so far has shown itself to be stubborn and intransigent on protecting the north and west sides of Echo Lake, which will lead to heightened conflict. Instead, they need to work with the local Woodlot Licencee, First Nations, adjacent private land owners like myself, and conservationists to ensure the area’s legal protection. This would entail shifting the Woodlot Licence boundaries – perhaps just 40 hectares or so of the existing 800 hectare tenure - into a second-growth forest in the vast region with an equivalent timber value, and then expanding the Old-Growth Management Area to encompass all of the forests around Echo Lake,” stated Stephen Ben-Oliel, a private landowner on the eastern shore of Echo Lake.
Ben-Oliel and his wife Susan are planning to organize an Echo Lake Festival on August 8-9, filled with natural history tours, musicians, art performances, tree-climbing workshops, and other activities to celebrate and help promote the protection of the remaining endangered forests around the lake. Updates on the festival will be posted in the future at www.ProtectEchoLake.com
The Ancient Forest Alliance is also calling for a larger provincial plan to protect the remaining endangered old-growth forests across BC while ensuring sustainable second-growth forestry jobs. Some of the key policies the organization is calling for include:
• A Provincial Old-Growth Plan based on science that would protect the remaining old-growth forests in the province in the regions where they are endangered (eg. Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, BC Interior).
• Ensuring sustainable logging of second-growth forests, which now constitute the vast majority of forested lands in southern British Columbia.
• Ending the export of raw logs to foreign mills in order to ensure a guaranteed log supply for BC mills and value-added manufacturers.
• Supporting the retooling of old-growth mills and the development of value-added processing facilities to handle second-growth logs.
In the Lower Mainland, about 80% or more of the original, productive old-growth forests have already been logged, including about 95% of the valley bottom ancient forests where the largest trees grow and most biodiversity is found. See maps and stats of the old-growth forests on BC's southern coast at: http://www.ancientforestalliance.org/old-growth-maps.php
“How many jurisdictions on Earth still have trees that grow as wide as living rooms and as tall as downtown skyscrapers? What we have here is something exceptional on the planet. Our ancient forests make British Columbia truly special – while we still have them,” stated TJ Watt, Ancient Forest Alliance campaigner. “More than ever we need the BC government to have the wisdom to protect our incredibly rare and endangered old-growth forests like at Echo Lake”.