Inland Rainforest Conservation

Inland Rainforest Ancient Cedar Stands – A Proposed World Heritage Site in British Columbia

Although iconic images of giant western redcedars have long been a part of our cultural heritage in BC's central-interior, in reality, large stature cedars like those on the Ancient Forest Trail east of Prince George do not occur widely in landscapes of the upper Fraser River watershed. They are largely confined to a small number of sites at the base of mountain slopes (often called “toe-slope” positions), where abundant groundwater flow and high humidity nurtures tree growth and reduces fire risk.


Former UNBC graduate student David Radies was instrumental in mapping the location of ancient cedar stands and studying their ecological characteristics.

Recent research at UNBC has highlighted the biological and cultural significant of the Upper Fraser ancient cedar stands. The long site continuity of these stands results in the accumulation of many rare species, especially canopy lichens. The cultural values of these stands has been highlighted by the construction of the Ancient Forest Trail, a community effort led by volunteers (see Ancient Forest Trail), which has made this a much-loved site for Prince George and Robson Valley residents (more than 15,000 visitors in 2014).


The location of remnant very-old cedar stands in the upper Fraser River Valley (ICHvk2 region) is shown in red (from BC Integrated land Management Bureau 2008). Provincial Parks (from left to right in light blue) are (A) Sugar-Bowl Grizzly Den and Grand Canyon of the Fraser, (B) Slim Creek, (C) Erg Mountain, and (D) Ptarmigan Creek. Map centre at 53° 49' 09.76"N, 121° 14' 06.52"W.

Unfortunately, this requirement for growth in wet toe-slope positions has had negative consequences for ancient cedar stands. Historically, roads and railroads were placed at the base of mountain slopes, where easy access on level roadside terrain meant that ancient cedar stands were often among the first sites chosen for logging. Ancient cedar stands now represent less than 5% of forested landscapes within the Upper Fraser River watershed.

One of the largest concentrations of remnant ancient cedar stands is found in the vicinity of the Ancient Forest Trail. Although few of these stands fall within BC Provincial Parks (<100 ha), the Ancient Forest Trail site has been given protection through designation as a Provincial Recreational Site and many of the adjacent ancient cedar stands are designated as "Guidance" Old Growth Management Areas (OGMAs).

This designation of guidance OGMAs, while valuable, is not binding on forest companies (see Legislation not Guidance Needed to Help Forest Professionals). In reviewing this practice of using "guidance" designations to protect rare ancient cedar stands, the BC Forest Practices Board concluded that, "There is a gap in the ability to manage for, and maintain, old growth values because government's 'old forest' targets can currently be met without conserving any forest older than 140 years (Forest Practices Board 2008). UNBC researchers Radies and Coxson (2009), writing in the international forestry journal Forest Ecology and Management, concluded that:

". . . cedar-leading stand types of exceptional age and stature should be immediately designated for protection, given their rarity in the landscape, and their lack of representation in protected areas . . . these sites represent significant biodiversity hotspots for canopy lichens, and are key to the maintenance of biodiversity within regional landscapes".

Subsequent nomination as a World Heritage Site would be based on the following criteria from UNESCO

  • to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance
  • to be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals
  • to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation

The designation of the Ancient Forest Trail area as a World Heritage Site would bring major benefits to the region, and indeed the province, both from protection of a rare ecosystem, and from growing recognition of the region as an international tourism destination.


Oblique aerial view of proposed scenario (Scenario 2) for the designation of a Provincial Park for the Ancient Forest trail area.
This scenario extends from the top of Driscoll Ridge to the lower elevation limit for growth of Ancient Cedars
(from Coxson et al. 2012). 


Connell, D. 2014 Socio-economic Benefits of Non-timber Uses of BC’s Inland Rainforest Research Bulletin. December 2014.

Coxson, D.S., Goward, T., and D. Connell. 2012. Analysis of ancient western redcedar stands in the upper Fraser River watershed and scenarios for protection. BC Journal of Ecosystems and Management 12: 1-20.

Coxson, D.S. 2010. World Heritage Sites in the Upper Fraser River Watershed? Legislation not Guidance Needed to Help Forest Professionals Protect These Sites. BC Forest Professional Magazine. May-June. pp. 22-24.

Forest Practices Board. 2008. Biodiversity in the Interior Cedar Hemlock Forests Near Dome Creek. Complaint Investigation 070762. FPB/IRC/137, Victoria, BC, May 2008. 221 pages

Radies, D.N., D.S. Coxson, C.J. Johnson, and K. Konwicki. 2009. Predicting canopy macrolichen diversity and abundance within old-growth inland temperate rainforests. Forest Ecology and Management 259: 86-97.



The placement of access roads and logging blocks in toe-slope positions in mountain valleys can be seen in this Google-Earth image (© 2009 Google Earth) of the McGregor River Valley in B.C.'s northern inland rainforest.


Wet old-growth cedar and hemlock stands in the Upper Fraser River watershed support a suite of unique canopy lichen species, such as Lobaria retigera illustrated here. This species is globally rare. Nearly all known occurrences are in high conservation value wet-temperate rainforests. Outside of BC, nearly all of the known locations where Lobaria retigera is found fall within designated World Heritage sites or national parks.


When lightning strikes the moist protected sites where Ancient Cedar stands are found, the individual trees hit by lightning burn and flare out, leaving only a charred snag.


Ancient Cedar stands in the upper Fraser River watershed can obtain exceptional age and stature, show here within the proposed Driscoll Ridge provincial park area.


Research plots in the Ancient Forest area examine the future impacts of climate change.