After Mexico in February, I was pretty sure that if my heaven wasn’t there, it was at least somewhere tropical, with warm ocean breezes and cold drinks and awe inspiring fish.
Maybe that’s my paradise, but I don’t think its heaven. Heaven is closer to home, and every time I leave it a piece of me stays behind.
The Upper Pitt River is a hidden gem within an hour of the sprawling metropolis of Vancouver. Accessible only by chopper ($$$$!!!!) or boat, the river is unpopulated and unspoiled. Glacier fed, it begins in the Garibaldi Range and flows south into Pitt Lake, one of two tidally influenced freshwater lakes in the world. The Lower Pitt River, wide, and turbid flows into the Fraser River about 40km from the ocean. While logging has occurred in the lower valley for over a century, the upper elevations of the Upper Pitt River Valley are protected within three provincial parks - Pinecone-Burke, Garibaldi and Golden Ears on the west, north and east, respectively.
Situated in the heart of Katzie First Nation territory, the Upper Pitt Valley is remarkably rich in its wild salmon and wilderness-dependent species. It supports the largest remaining wild coho population in the lower Fraser and has a unique race of sockeye that take up to 6 years to mature. It provides valuable habitat for all five species of Pacific salmon plus steelhead, cutthroat trout, Dolly Varden and the largest population of bull trout remaining in the lower mainland. The Upper Pitt River Valley attracts grizzly bears, black bears, deer, wolves, marbled murrelets, wolverine and mountain goats. Because of its remoteness and habitat values, the Upper Pitt Valley was selected for re-introduction of elk in 2004. The elk are now thriving.
After the river freshets, usually in May, the sea-run bull trout start returning to its glacial waters. Healthy, fat and chrome, these are not your typical bull trout. The bigger fish enter the river first, and they take hard and fight hard. While averaging a few pounds, fish up to 10 or more pounds are not uncommon. Incredibly aggressive, we fish giant streamer patterns up to 7 inches for them. As the summer progresses, the Chinook and sockeye start their runs. You are not allowed to target the Chinook, but every once in a while you get an incidental catch on your bull trout patterns. The sockeye are some of the largest of their species, and will actually eat flies. Once late September rolls around the coho return and as the river is typically extremely low and clear there are usually sight fishing opportunities for them. Over the winter resident trout populations provide great opportunities, and a small run of winter steelhead return in March – April.
Besides the fishing, there are numerous other reasons to visit the Pitt. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking, with snow capped mountains, blue-green waters and lush forests surrounding you. You very often see wildlife, especially bears during late summer and fall as the salmon are spawning. About 25 km up the river lays the second canyon on the Pitt. Nestled in its rock walls are two small pools, fed with bubbling hot spring water that flows out of the rock face. You can literally drop your hand over the edge of the pool and into the river itself.
The best way to experience the Pitt is by jet boat. The river is runnable by only the most experienced drivers, as it is filled with braids, log jams and gravel bars, and changes with every high water event. Every year boats are beached and sunk, and injuries and even deaths occur. I’m not trying to scare people into not going, but the dangers are a reality that many people take too lightly. With a competent and capable guide, you can be assured of a safe and incredibly thrilling ride.
So this, ladies and gentlemen, is my heaven on earth. Where I can breathe clean, fresh air and feel the wind in my hair. Where I can cast my little spey rod with my own flies to some of the most beautiful fish ever. Where I can soak my sore muscles in a steaming hot spring, listening to the rush of the river. Where I feel the excitement and adrenaline rush (as a passenger) as the boat takes hair pin turns and slides over gravel in inches of water. Where the scenery is familiar evergreen forests and rugged mountain peaks, and the glacial tint to the water fascinates me every time.
Where I feel at home.
If you take a look at this picture, you will notice that the majority of the trees are their natural, beautiful and healthy green colour. However, there are a few trees on the left that are brown. They look dead. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what tree looks like after it has been infested with the Mountain Pine Beetle. If you have traveled, well, anywhere in BC, you will have seen trees ravaged by this beetle. Here are some facts, courtesy of the BC Ministry of Forests and Range:
- The Latin name for the
mountain pine beetle is Dendroctonus ponderosae.
- The life span of an individual mountain pine beetle is about one year.
- Pine beetle larvae spend the winter under bark. They continue to feed in the spring and transform into pupae in June and July.
- Adult mountain pine beetles emerge from an infested tree over the course of the summer and into early fall.
- The mountain pine beetle transmits a fungus that stains a tree's sapwood blue.
- Comprehensive testing has confirmed that the blue stain caused by the beetle has no effect on wood's strength properties.
- The mountain pine beetle prefers mature timber. After 80 years, lodgepole pine trees are generally classed as being mature.
- B.C. is believed to have three times more mature lodgepole pine than it did over 90 years ago, mainly because equipment and techniques for protecting forests against wildfire have greatly improved over time
- Hot and dry summers leave pine drought-stressed and more susceptible to attack by the mountain pine beetle.
Beetles and Cold Weather
- Cold weather kills the mountain pine beetle. Mountain pine beetle eggs, pupae and young larvae are the most susceptible to freezing temperatures.
- In the winter, temperatures must consistently be below -35 Celsius or -40 Celsius for several straight days to kill off large portions of mountain pine beetle populations.
- In the early fall or late spring, sustained temperatures of -25 Celsius can freeze mountain pine beetle populations to death.
- A sudden cold snap is more lethal in the fall, before the mountain pine beetles are able to build up their natural anti-freeze (glycerol) levels.
- Cold weather is also more effective before it snows. A deep layer of snow on the ground can help insulate mountain pine beetles in the lower part of the tree against outside temperatures.
- Wind chill affects mountain pine beetles, but is usually not sustained long enough to significantly increase winter mortality.
- The Ministry of Forests and Range estimates that the mountain pine beetle has now killed a cumulative total of 620 million cubic metres of timber since the current infestation began.
- The cumulative area of B.C. affected to some degree (red-attack and grey-attack) is estimated at 14.5 million hectares.
- 14.5 million hectares is more than four times the size of Vancouver Island.
- Newly attacked trees turn red about one year after infestation. Trees can stay in the red-attack stage for two to four years before turning grey as they lose their needles.
- On a provincial level, the infestation has peaked and is now slowing down.
- 7.8 million hectares of red-attack were surveyed in 2008.
- This is compared to 10.1 million hectares the year before. This is the first decrease in red-attack since the current infestation began.
- The amount of habitat available to the beetle has begun to diminish as the beetle has already attacked most of the mature lodgepole pine in the Central Plateau region.
- The rate of spread in other areas of the Interior has been slowed by more diverse terrain and forests with a greater diversity of timber species.
- The mountain pine beetle in B.C. is as far-ranging as Fort St. John to the north, the Alberta border to the east, Terrace to the west, and the United States border to the south.
On my last two trips up the Coquihalls highway and heading down into Merritt it absolutely breaks my heart to see a sea of red rolling over the hills, as opposed to the traditional stunning forest green. I remember over four years ago first really noticing the effect that the pine beetle was taking on a trip up to the Skeena region. Each year it has gotten worse and worse, especially through the Kamloops and Cariboo regions, and the landscapes around our favoured lakes has been scoured from dead tree removal, with the stumpy carcasses of once majestic trees dotting the shorelines. Click on this map to see the extent of the damage in BC:
The David Suzuki Foundation also has some good information on the Mountain Pine Beetle, with a slightly more positive take on the effects of the infestation. Good food for thought.