ECORESERVES AGAIN: Comments on Research at Morice River
From The Log, Winter 2003, by Jim Pojar
Late this past August , towards the end of what was a magnificent summer in the northern hinterland, I was a guest at the marriage of two friends and colleagues-both keen botanists and naturalists. It was a moving ceremony, not least for me because the groom is the grandson of Ray Williston (in attendance and still alert) and the reception was held at a lodge overlooking nearby Burnt Cabin Bog Ecological Reserve. As a cabinet minister, Mr. Williston was persuaded by Dr. Vladimir Krajina and other concerned biologists of the value of ecological reserves, and was instrumental in getting crucial legislation passed in 1971-the Ecological Reserves Act. Even in those days of the buccaneering politics of W.A.C. Bennett and his Social Credit provincial government, some cabinet ministers and astute senior bureaucrats understood the clear purpose of, and need for, natural areas permanently set aside for scientific research and educational use. They also understood that ecological reserves were different than parks.
As I mused upon the joy, hope, and anxiety that the young couple must have been feeling during their wedding, I also reflected on my hopes and fears for ecological reserves. How difficult (but ultimately rewarding) it has been to get some of them established: Burnt Cabin Bog was proposed in 1973; I helped Dr. Krajina survey it back then; 27 years later it was finally established. How easily some reserves have been damaged or compromised, by unauthorized uses (hunting, fishing, livestock grazing, four-wheeling, and so forth) that stem in large part from an inability or unwillingness by government agencies to enforce regulations and manage ecological reserves in the spirit of the legislation.
Ecological reserves are legally protected natural areas where human interference with natural processes is supposed to be kept to a minimum. The major purposes of ecoreserves are:
- scientific research and educational use;
- establishment of representative “benchmark” areas against which to measure the effects of change in natural and managed ecosystems;
- protection and maintenance of genetic resources and biological diversity;
- protection of rare and endangered organisms in their natural habitat;
- preservation of unique, rare, or outstanding natural phenomena.
You and I know that’s what ecoreserves are for. You can find a similar version of the above on the British Columbia Parks website: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/eco_reserve/ Sometimes I wonder if cabinet ministers and their advisors have read the material posted on “their” websites.
Ecological reserves are NOT parks. Ecoreserves are established primarily for their scientifc and educational value; research and educational use are encouraged under permit. They are not created for outdoor recreation, although most are open to the public, for non-destructive observational use (i.e., natural history). They were not intended for commercial backcountry recreation, or for use by privateers masquerading as outdoor educators.
Even more recently, this September I helped lead a field trip for a group of Bulkley Valley citizens uneasily but earnestly engaged in the current form of limited participatory democracy in resource planning on provincial Crown land-aka land and resource management planning, in this case the Morice Land and Resource Management Plan (see http://www.ilmb.gov.bc.ca/slrp/lrmp/smithers/morice/index.html ). The group had many questions about ecology and forestry, including a set revolving around the differences between wild young forests and commercially managed young forests. In the middle of the 19,000 ha Swiss Fire, I lead them through the latter to the former. To the edge of the Morice River Ecological Reserve, ER#81, established in 1977, mostly burnt over in the 1983 fire. Twenty years later, the Morice River Ecoreserve supports a dense young forest of mostly lodgepole pine: no salvage logging, natural regeneration, no planting, no spacing or thinning, lots of snags and downed logs. The differences between it and the adjacent managed forest were clear and easy for people to observe and think about and discuss. What’s more, in 1983 we researchers established permanent plots in the reserve, and have been monitoring ecological succession there for 20 years. Such long-term data sets are rare indeed in British Columbia. There was much for the group to see and learn and talk about. Were it not for this Ecological Reserve, it would be difficult to find a reasonably accessible, wild young forest for such comparisons, within 100 km of the town of Houston. There is plenty of young forest in the area, but the silviculturists have been assiduous and most such stands have experienced some sort of management intervention. I was reminded once again, and forcefully, of the scientific and educational value of ecoreserves.
Nowadays ecological reserves seem to have been relegated to second or third class status by the provincial government and its responsible management agency, British Columbia Parks. In fairness, the relative neglect is unfortunately not a recent phenomenon. And of course, it is largely because Parks simply doesn’t have the resources to manage our parks, much less protect ecoreserves. But it is very worrying when some Parks people seem to regard ecoreserves as a nuisance. Our leaders and their handlers seem also to lack the original clear vision of the purpose and value of ecological reserves. Some could be prisoners of ideology, some perhaps are ethically ambiguous, most are ecologically challenged. That’s nothing new, but the lack of checks and balances in governance is. Although the legislation remains clear, the regulations governing ecoreserves contain loopholes that can be exploited. Now more than ever ecological reserves need all the friends they can get, and all support that the Friends of Ecological Reserves can provide.