The Muskwa-Kechika Management Area puts the wild in Wild West.
The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative released a report detailing the importance of the large, mostly untapped region in Northern British Columbia.
“The Muskwa-Kechika Management Area proves that good management practices work,” said Wendy Francis, Program Director at Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y). “And this study…will give land managers a clear picture to update their practices in the face of budget cuts, development pressures and most importantly, climate change.”
She said the report mapped “clusters of very rare and very diverse enduring features against where the existing parks and protected areas are.”
Enduring features are those features that won’t change.
“If you think of the earth as a place that has this layer of life on it being different kinds of vegetation and the animals that depend on that vegetation for their habitat; those things are going to start shifting around as the climate changes,” said Francis. “Underneath that layer, there are things that aren’t going to move and those things are called the enduring features.”
She explained that those included geology, underlying rock structure, angle of the land and its direction.
She said the report mapped many of these areas inside and outside the current protected area.
“We found that a lot of them are outside the current parks and protected areas, so that says we might want to do one of a couple of things,” said Francis.
She said that they “might want to look at…an agenda for expanding some parks, or creating some new parks in the Muskwa-Kechika.”
“If that’s not reasonable, then we want to make sure that if there is going to be any industrial development in these very diverse and very rare places, that it’s managed extremely carefully so that it’s not leaving any negative impact on the environment,” she continued.
Unlike much of northern British Columbia, Francis said development in the region has been minimal.
“Luckily there is very little industrial development in the Muskwa-Kechika, so currently they are free from development,” Francis said. “We’re just saying that in the future, if they are candidates for development, then knowing that they have this very high value as places of high biodiversity or places of high rarity that would be taken into account by the agencies that are approving new development.”
She explained that much off the Muskwa-Kechika has been protected since 1998.
“We thought that it was time to have a new look at that landscape and determine whether the current configuration of park and lands that are open for development was really the best configuration given where the most valuable lands are from a biodiversity conservation perspective and also given the fact that climate change is going to shift things around in that landscape,” said Francis.
The report was commissioned by the Muskwa-Kechika Advisory Board and finished in collaboration with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society in British Columbia, in addition to Gregory Kehm Associates.
“Really, the goal of the report was to provide information for the managers of the Muskwa-Kechika,” said Francis. “Those are both provincial government agencies, and increasingly, First Nations, who are assuming more responsibility for managing in the Muskwa-Kechika.
“We wanted them to have the benefit of this report as they’re moving forward with making management decisions,” she continued.
She said they also took “current models of how the climate is projected to change in British Columbia based on how changes in annual temperature, changes in annual precipitation and changes in annual growing seasons.”
“We projected those on a map for the greater Muskwa-Kechika area,” she said. “We were able to map those areas within the Muskwa-Kechika that we think are going to change a lot as a result of climate change and also those areas that we think won’t change very much.”
Francis said this report suggest that about 40 per cent of the alpine area in the region will disappear.
“Trees and shrubs are going to start moving up the mountainside and the alpine is going to shrink,” she said.
She said the “goal of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative is to basically keep the Yellowstone to Yukon landscape intact.”
“We want to keep the values that we have here today so we have a very unique mountain ecosystem and it’s unique in the world because it’s still very intact and very much in a natural state and we have abundant wildlife populations.”