MORE THAN JUST A PRETTY FACE . . .
“The Purcell Wilderness Conservancy Park is one of the most significant wilderness areas in southern British Columbia, recognized for its scenery and wilderness recreation opportunities. Its special status emphasizes the significance of it being the largest remaining block of wilderness in southeast B.C. It was created to preserve natural features and ecosystems and provide for wilderness recreation.” ~ PWC Master Plan
At the north end of Kootenay Lake, lies a unique, virtually intact wilderness mountainside, that reaches from lake shore to mountain peaks. It is bordered on three sides by the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy Provincial Park (PWC). Mt Willet (2740m), the highest mountain on Kootenay Lake presides over this west facing slope, from Hamill Creek, Argenta in the north to Fry Creek, Johnsons Landing in the south. In the forming of the PWC in 1974 and the subsequent boundary revision in 1995, this slope, known locally as the ‘Argenta Face,’ was not included.
The B.C. Parks annual reports for 2013, 2014 and 2015, all note:
“An important focus of protected areas management in future years will be in maintaining functioning ecosystems and facilitating the movement of species within and across boundaries. Large landscape level processes have always played an important role in sustaining ecosystems; these processes are now recognized as being critical in maintaining the resilience of the natural world. One of the key ways that BC’s protected areas system can address these processes is by focusing on protecting large landscapes.”
We think the “future years” have arrived. The time to incorporate this significant low to mid elevation system into the PWC is now.
Some of the direct benefits of this 3% (6200 hectare) increase in the park area will be:
- It is well established that the PWC is lacking in low to mid elevation forest. The inclusion of these slopes will help remedy that deficit.
- It will add significantly to the resilience, viability and long term sustainability of the conservancy.
- It will preserve existing habitat and viewscapes by affording the legal protection that the park status provides.“All of the ungulates of the Kootenay region, except bighorn sheep, are found within the conservancy ...”
- It will quadruple the existing PWC frontage on Kootenay Lake, significantly contributing to enhanced wildlife access to the water.
- It will incorporate noteworthy, unstudied caves, karst deposits and travertine flows.
- It will aid in creating a wildlife corridor between the Purcell and Selkirk mountain ranges, across the Nature Trust Lands at the head of Kootenay Lake. In addition, it is a valuable and essential North-South wildlife corridor.
- It will establish a link from the height of land to the valley bottom and the lake.
- It will protect some of the existing recreational opportunities such as: exploring the limestone caves, hiking trails and access to alpine lakes.
- It will provide the Hamill Creek special feature zone of old growth cedar and hemlock with a protective buffer and add rare old growth western larch and ancient alpine larch to the protected area.
- It will add Interior Douglas Fir which is currently under-represented in the B.C. Parks system.
- It will bring three already established trails to the park: A cairned route between Kootenay Joe Ridge and Mt. Willet, one to Heart Lake and Mt. Willet and one to the top of Mt. Willet from Argenta.
Some of the indirect benefits of this minimal expansion will be:
- It will preserve the significant, spectacular and unbroken forested mountain landscape within full view from Hwy 31 (part of The International Selkirk Loop Scenic Drive route) and two well attended Provincial campgrounds, Davis Creek and Lost Ledge within Kootenay Lake Provincial Park, located on the west side of the lake, delivering those promised, Super Natural B.C, million dollar views. The stunning peaks and lakeside slopes of Mts. Willet, Comb, Sawtooth and Kootenay Joe, can be seen all the way from Balfour to Meadow Creek. Valhalla Park, in the Slocan Valley, visible from Hwy 6, is a good example of how impressive an undisturbed shoreline to mountaintop area can be. There is an opportunity here.
- The Eco-tourism industry is rapidly growing in British Columbia and the north end of Kootenay Lake has much to offer in that regard. Lardeau River Adventures, The Grizzly Bear Ranch, Selkirk Snowcat Skiing, White Grizzly Adventures, Meadow Creek campground, Johnsons Landing Retreat Centre and Gramma’s Farm Vacations are a few of the local enterprises that rely on the natural beauty of the area. The annual run of the Gerrard rainbow trout draws many visitors every May; it has become a Mother’s Day destination. The grizzly bears and eagles feasting on spawning Kokanee along the Lardeau River are a huge attraction in the fall. The scenery is world class. Spectacular peaks, intact forest, huge old trees and clear blue waters; destination tourism at its finest.
- It will end a very long-standing, contentious issue between the communities and Ministry of Forests regarding the logging of local domestic watersheds and these, now proven to be, unstable slopes. After the fatalities of the catastrophic landslide in Johnsons Landing in 2012 it was established that the hillside composition is continuous between and beyond the communities of Argenta and Johnsons Landing, respectively situated near the northern and southern ends of the proposed expansion area. In a recent talk given by Peter Jordan (Geomorphologist) "Geological Hazards on the Argenta-Johnson's Landing Mountainside” at a community meeting in Argenta, he recommended that the residents “be vigilant” regarding the hillside. Leaving this mountainside intact would greatly enhance the quality of life and peace of mind for area residents.
The historic wildfire year of 2017 has raised concern about wildfire management and community protection.
It is a common misconception that including the Argenta-Johnson’s Landing Face in the PWC will increase wildfire risk to adjacent communities. While BC Parks’ does strive to allow natural processes (including wildfire) to proceed without intervention wherever and whenever possible, in fact, all government bodies including BC Parks recognize that human life and private property take precedence. BC Parks ensures fires are managed to protect human safety and property and when necessary encourages inter-jurisdictional actions with other agencies who have long-standing expertise in fire management planning and decision-making. Further, there is a Community Wildfire Protection Plan for RDCK Area D for the Argenta-Johnson’s Landing Face which addresses the community wildfire interface issue. This plan is not precluded by inclusion into the PWC. As evidenced in the RDCK-BC Parks-City of Nelson cooperative planning initiative with the West Arm Park, in these type special interface settings, agencies can work together towards landscape level pre-planning when required. Concurrently, the RDCK recommends that residents “fire smart” their own properties to maximize protection.
The operable forest in this proposal is a small fraction of the Crown forest land and represents approx. 1% of the current timber management land base in the Kootenay Lake Forest District. As mentioned above, this area can no longer be assumed to be safe to disturb. We are confident that the long term economics of this proposal outweigh the short term economics of industrial forestry. Sustained economic benefits resulting from the scenery and wild lands are already present here.
The PWC Master Plan is over 25 years old. During those years, pressure on wild lands and wildlife has increased exponentially. The main features itemized above are consistent with the original intent of the PWC. This minimal expansion provides a unique opportunity; the forest is primarily intact and adjacent to the Conservancy. Today far more is known about the imperatives of large landscapes, connectivity and diversity as they relate to the health and sustainability of natural systems. Legislating this boundary expansion will add critical area and habitat to the park and contribute to its long-term vitality, resilience and sustainability.
This proposal also reflects the spirit of the newly released “B.C. Parks Future Strategy”, which identifies the Kootenays as one of the highest demand areas. It supports the mission of B.C. Parks and its legacy: conservation, recreation, accessibility and bringing people together.
Let’s work together towards an outcome that will carry this vision that was originally conceived of in the late 19th century into the 21st century and beyond.
"Our parks are core to what it means to be British Columbian. World-class in size and splendor, they are arks for wildlife and ancient forests. The 'super' in ‘Super, Natural B.C.’, they attract people to visit, to settle, to invest in our economy and our lifestyle. Our parks are where youth, families, First Nations, new Canadians - all our citizens, can come together, to play, to discover and to celebrate life.”
“So today, by investing in British Columbia's parks, our government is re-committing to take good care of these special lands we love so much. And for that, I am deeply grateful."
~ Ric Careless, chair, Campaign for BC Parks ~ B.C. Parks Future Strategy
Our Mission Statement:
Our goal is the legislated inclusion of the Mt. Willet wilderness, from mountain top to lakeshore, (excluding private land) within the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy Provincial Park. This will permanently protect a disappearing essential wilderness and enhance the viability of the PWCPP. We seek public and political support for this inclusion proposal.