A major step towards designating the Ancient Forest a UNESCO world heritage site, Premier Christy Clark said Tuesday the 11,190-hectare home to the planet's only know inland temperate rainforest will be made a provincial park.
Making the announcement during a media event at the Wood Innovation and Design Centre in downtown Prince George, Clark said legislation will be introduced Wednesday in support of that goal, calling the Ancient Forest one of the jewels in the province's crown of natural attractions.
Located about a hour's drive east of Prince George, the Ancient Forest is home to a grove of red cedar trees as old as 1,000 years and as large as 16 metres in diametre.
"Those are some of the rarest red cedars that can be found anywhere on earth," Clark said. "This is the only known inland temperate rainforest left on the globe and it is ours. It is ours to protect and there is no greater protection in Canada and North America than making something a class A park."
The day after the legislation is passed, Clark said work begin on getting the area named a UNESCO world heritage site.
"And we hope that will be another way to ensure its preservation but more importantly, let the world know that here in British Columbia, they can come see things that they cannot find anywhere else in the world," Clark said. "Right here, 120 kilometres from Prince George."
The Ancient Forest's main proponents, Nowell Senior and Dave King of the Caledonia Ramblers hiking club, and University of Northern British Columbia biology professor Darwin Coxson, were on hand for the announcement.
A centrepiece is a 500-metre wheelchair-friendly wooden boardwalk plus a further 2 1/2 kilometres of wood-planked walking trails built by volunteers.
That 200 people have donated over 14,000 hours of labour to a "forest trail" is testimony to the "great deal of regional pride" that has been devoted to the Ancient Forest, Senior said.
The designation not only ensures tourist-orient economic benefits for the Robson Valley "but also recognizes and highlights the inherent beauty and natural beauty of an ecosystem that deserves to be conserved," Senior said.
"This is a type of forest that has survived all types of natural threats to its existence. Drought, insect infestations, fires and disease have all been shrugged off by magnificent stands of 1,000-year-old cedar," Senior continued.
"Because they've remained undisturbed, a multitude of mosses, lichens and microscopic organisms, some of which are rare, others that are new to science, have made a home for themselves on these cedars."
It's "tucked away" between two mountain ranges 800 kilometres from the Pacific Coast and "in away shouldn't exist," Senior said. "But it does exist, making it even more precious."
A provincial park designation ensures the area will be excluded from timber harvesting and other commercial activity. Campsites are not anticipated for the Ancient Forest.
"The point of the park is to preserve the area forever," Clark said and later added the intent is to create a park that people from around the world will "visit respectfully."
She said it will also mean further support for volunteers' plans to extend the walking trail, which is made of cedar planks and is meant to encourage visitors to stay on the path rather than stray off into the vegetation.
King said logging will continue to be allowed right up the the park's boundary but should not have an "material effect on the park as a whole."
Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond said bringing the area to provincial park status has been a 10-year process and the site "is a bit smaller than was asked for originally but there has been hardy agreement that the boundaries reflect the nature of the park."
Senior and Coxson will be in Victoria on Wednesday to witness introduction of the legislation, which Clark said will be part of a larger bill related to provincial parks.
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