Darkwoods - it was to be a refuge from the Cold War, now it has become the largest private land acquisition for conservation in Canadian history. Over 55,000 hectares of pristine British Columbia rainforest in the Selkirk Mountains were purchased by the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) from the Pluto Darkwoods Forestry Corp., owned by the Duke of Wuerttemberg, a wealthy German who envisioned the land as a possible refuge in hard times.
This is truly an incredible property both in size and value, noted Federal Environment Minister John Baird who joined Nature Conservancy president John Lounds to announce the purchase at a news conference in Vancouver. 'This land is a significant investment in Canada’s natural legacy,' added Baird.
The area includes 17 watersheds, 50 lakes and a stand of western red cedar more than 500 years old. Darkwoods is home to 29 species at risk, including bull trout, red-tailed chipmunk and western screech owl, and provide a sanctuary for wide-ranging grizzly bears, cougars, wolves, elk and a herd of rare woodland caribou. It includes nearly 20 kilometres of lakefront on the western shore of Kootenay Lake. It lies to the south of West Arm Provincial Park and Midge Creek wildlife management area.
'The duke bought it as a safe haven for his family in 1967,' said Pluto Darkwoods spokesman Christian Schadendorf. 'It was the height of the Cold War, Russian tanks were rolling through Prague and it looked like the area was not a safe place to stay.'
The duke imported German foresters to manage the area in a sustainable way - an idea ahead of its time, said Schadendorf. 'The duke decided to sell (because) he is over 70 years old now; the Cold War is history; and there are increasing risks and costs associated with climate change on the property. The company’s sustainable forestry practices mean that the property has retained much of its ecological value.
'The (mountain pine) beetle infestation has hit us hard . . . and there’s way more frequent forest fires occurring,' said Schadendorf. The current dismal state of the B.C. forest industry was another factor prompting the sale, negotiations for which took three years.
The sale price is $125 million. Some $25 million of that has come from the federal government’s $225-million Natural Areas Conservation Program. Another $65 million has been raised by the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
The duke laid down a tough list of conditions for the sale. 'No speculators, developers or timber cutters needed to apply,' said Schadendorf. 'We wanted someone who could appreciate and maintain the unique beauty of the forest and its wildlife riches.'
Darkwoods supports a tremendous range of biologically rich habitats: rare old-growth forests, sub-alpine meadows, serene valley bottoms, productive creeks and lakefront lands. It offers scientists and other researchers the chance to discover and study the numerous rare species that grow, forage, breed and raise their young in this landscape.
'Conserving Darkwoods is essential to the recovery of the South Selkirk caribou population,' says biologist Trevor Kinley. 'It could also significantly affect the viability of the local grizzly population, and it will definitely influence the retention of natural biodiversity.' Most notably, Darkwoods provides crucial winter habitat for the only remaining Mountain Caribou herd in the region. The property connects a network of protected lands and wilderness management areas to create a vast tract covering more than 250,000 acres (100,000 hectares) - enough for animals such as caribou and Grizzly Bear to roam freely.
'This is just the first of many announcements to come as we advance this project,' said Lounds during the Press Conference. 'In addition to our conservation work we will also spend the next year raising the funds needed to ensure Darkwoods is secure for future generations. We are inviting others who share our conservation vision to help us make history.'
The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is a private, non-profit Canadian organization dedicated to protecting the country’s most ecologically significant lands. As the leading land conservation organization in Canada, NCC has conserved more than 2 million acres (809,000 hectares) of ecologically significant land since 1962.