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Beauty in Peril - The Stoltmann Wilderness.

The 500,000 hectare (1.25 million acres) Stoltmann Wilderness is a rare, pristine region of rainforest valleys, soaring mountains, and massive glaciers. Located a few hours' drive northwest of Vancouver, B. C., this lush temperate rainforest of the Elaho Valley is named for Randy Stoltmann, a young wilderness conservationist and author who died in an avalanche in 1994, shortly after he proposed that this area be protected for the future.

The evolution of more than 10,000 years has resulted in an intricate biodiversity. For example, a small section of a tree trunk from the lushest areas of the Stoltmann is home to 30 different species of mosses, liverworts and lichens.

Explorers first arriving from Europe in me late 1700s found a lush tree-garden with a canopy more than 200 feet high -- the future site of downtown Vancouver. As John Clarke, a famous Vancouver mountaineer, photographer, and environmental educator, explains during his captivating slide shows of the B.C. coastal forests, exceptional Douglas firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii (Mirbel) Franco, Pinaceae) reached 250-300 feet and some even topped 340 feet -- making a dense canopy with Western red cedar (Thuja plicata Donn ex D. Don, Cuppressaceae), which grows 175-225 feet. At that height, the old forest canopy was taller than the buildings of downtown Vancouver today. A 315-foot-tall Douglas fir still stands in the Coquitlam River watershed at Meech Creek. Many red cedars and Douglas firs had trunk diameters so enormous that only one could fit onto the bed of a train car! Darius and Tabitha Kinsey visited the early logging camps, photographing with a 100-pound camera, in the early 1900s. T heir photographs of giant trees are reminders of the biological wealth that flouished in the Pacific Northwest.(1) One of the last giant red cedars near Vancouver -- with a trunk diameter of 14 feet; circumference equaling 44 feet -- was cut down in the Capilano watershed area in 1993.

In general, these trees were sound to the core, meaning that they could have lived untold years longer, if left alone. In fact, a yellow cedar (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis (D. Don) Sudw., Cupressaceae) cut down on the Sunshine Coast in the 1980s was dated at over 1,835 years old. A cross-section of this tree can be seen at the Western Canada Wilderness Committee office in Vancouver. Today it takes at least three hours of driving to find anything even remotely resembling the forests that greeted the first Europeans. Areas like the Stoltmann are only a pale comparison to what this region once was. Logging companies just now are reaching the Stoltmann, after harvesting more accessible areas. Unfortunately, clearcutting destroys the complexity of these unique forests. The maps of the B.C. coast shown in Figs. 1 and 2 compare the extent of old growth forests in 1860 and 1996. The scarcity of green in 1996 indicates the rarity of the ancient forests in southwestern B.C. and the need fo r complete protection of those remaining.


The Stoltmann Wilderness is one of the last remnants of a magnificent, old-growth forest of the south coast of British Columbia. Aggressive clearcut logging practices by International Forest Products (InterFor) are quickly liquidating these valley bottom forests with all of their biological diversity. Swept away with the forests are rare species of plants and animals, including arthropods and insects that have yet to be documented, and potential medicines that may be lost forever. There is little pretense of sustainability to the logging practices -- it is purely fiber extraction with minimal regard to wildlife, proximity of roads to stream beds, or aesthetic regard for spectacular waterfalls and breathtaking mountain peaks. In these headwaters, the provincial government makes logging profitable by reducing stumpage rates to offset the timber's declining value as loggers blast more expansive roads into the extreme headwaters. Preservation of the remaining wilderness needs no ju stification other than to maintain its existence. These forests store the memory of every natural event since the last ice age and, most importantly, they contain the "genetic signature" of this landscape before European newcomers arrived.


Tropical rainforests, which hold between two fifths to one half of all species on the planet, contain an average 250 species of trees per hectare compared to only 10 per hectare in temperate lands.(2,3) These tropical forests once occupied 14 percent of Earth's land mass, but within the last 50 years have been reduced to less than seven per cent.(3) In his 1989 lecture tour, environmental economist Norman Myers, Ph.D., author of The Primary Source: Tropical Forests and Our Future(2) and Gaia: An Atlas of Planet Management,(4) explained several economic incentives for saving the world's tropical rainforests. Myers noted human's lives are tied to rainforests through the many foods and medicines that have originated in them. These include cocoa, coffee, corn, potato, tomato, avocado, bananas, papaya, guava, mangoes, citrus fruits, pineapple, soy beans, peanuts, mung beans, wing beans, cashew nuts, Brazil nuts, rice, millet, yams, taro, cassava, protein-type low calorie sweeteners, vanilla, tranquilizers, anesthetics, cancer treatments, contraceptives, quinine, curare, and cocaine -- just to name a few.

Myers stressed that the indigenous peoples of these regions -- who have shared these gifts of nature -- are quickly being swept asie in a manner similar to the way native peoples were treated in North America. Brazilian Amazonia, for example, had 230 native groups with an estimated six million people (conceivably several times more) only five centuries ago. By 1900 they had dropped to probably one million and today only half as many such groups survive. As the tribal people and their lifestyles disappear, so too does their knowledge of the gifts of the forest environment.

In The Primary Source, Myers explains another important reason to preserve old-growth forests: wild plants' genetic resources. A story of wild corn illustrates the point. Wild gene support came to the developed world from a small patch of montane forest in south-central Mexico, from a weedy-looking form of wild teosinte (Zea diploperennis Iltis, Doebley, & Guzman, Poaceae), the closest relative of corn. This was the first known perennial teosinte with the same chromosome number as corn, allowing it to cross with annual varieties of corn. This one tropical corn species was on the brink of extinction when it was found at the edge of a desolate forest -- it also resists seven major diseases and withstands harsher weather than any other corn species. Ultimately, this one wild plant may extend the range where corn can be grown by one tenth (many million hectares) translating into billions of dollars per year. This one discovery has implications for common food products (corn flakes, popcorn, preserves, salad dressing, catsup, soft drinks, beer, and bourbon) and might provide an excellent alternative to genetically modified foods containing non-vegetable genes.

Another example comes from sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum). Myers explained how, in the 1920s, sugarcane production in the U.S. deep south fell from 180,000 tons per year to only 43,000 tons when growers ran into trouble with a mosaic virus. Fortunately, mosaic-tolerant varieties of wild sugarcane species saved the industry. Wild sugarcane species have since supplied resistance to red rot, gummosis, and other pathogens that plague sugarcane growers. Myers pointed out that all our crops are dependent upon regular infusions of genetic material from wild relatives. Protecting the diversity of our wild plants will determine our future.

Another tropical plant, a huge water lily (Victoria amazonica (Poepp.) Sowerby, Nymphaeaceae),(5) is claimed to support the weight of an adult human. Its complex and intricate internal structures inspired metal-beam architecture -- the construction basis for modern high-rise buildings. Fast-growing softwood trees in tropical forests, such as the giant ipilpil (Leucaena leucopcephala (Lam.) De Wit, Fabaceae), also known as white leadtree, grow four meters high in six months, almost 10 meters in two years, and more than 15 meters in six years.(2) L. leucocephala can sustainably yield up to 50 tons of wood per hectare each year -- experimentally up to three times more -- that can be used for pyrolysis into liquid fuels or directly for electricity generators and industrial boilers. Myers explains many other uses of these soil-building, leguminous trees. One experimental plantation in Hawaii harvests the ipilpil trees after only four years, when they are about five inches in diamete r. This brings about 250 tons of wood per hectare; the foliage, mechanically removed, is worth $150 per ton as a high-nitrogen animal feed. As for hardwoods, a plantation of eucalyptus can generate 10 times as much sustainable harvest as can a patch of virgin forest, but it costs $1,000 per hectare to establish, let alone maintain.(4) Myers says globally organized sustainable development funding should promote such development.

Many important anticancer drugs, such as the Madagascar rosy periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus (L.) G. Don f., Apocynaceae), also come from tropical forests. This plant drug has made remission of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and soft-tissue sarcoma increase from a one-in-10 chance before its discovery, to a nine-in-10 today. Using the active alkaloids, vincristine and vinblastine, in combination chemotherapy has resulted in 80 percent remission in Hodgkin's disease, 99 percent remission in acute lymphocytic leukemia, 80 percent remission in Wilm's tumor, 70 percent remission in gestational choriocarcinoma, and 50 percent remission in Burkitt's lymphoma.(6) The rosy periwinkle, which has turned out to be the most important and effective cancer treatment to date, was not among the folk cancer remedies (it was a folk remedy for diabetes) so ably listed by Jonathan Hartwell of the National Cancer Institute, and it did not show any activity on NCI's screening programs. Unfortunately, 95 perc ent of Madagascar's rainforests have been destroyed.

Another effective treatment -- for cancers of the ovaries, breast, uterus, prostate, and testes, and other hormone-related cancers -- is Taxol(R) or Paclitaxel(R) from the Pacific yew tree (Taxus brevifolia Nutt., Taxaceae) of British Columbia and elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest -- that grows in temperate rainforests such as the Stoltmann Wilderness. yew trees have grown for thousands of years in these forests until modern-day clearcut logging practices. In fact, the eastern half of a block in Sims Creek of the Stoltmann Wilderness once had a high concentration of yew trees, before its destruction.


Despite the valuable gifts from the world's tropical rainforests, many of these teeming jungles -- usually only tropical -- are clearcut for short-sighted reasons: packing crates, construction, cattle ranching, and slash-and-burn agriculture by peasants forced off their traditional crop lands by a rich elite. Sustainable development options, such as rubber tapping, Brazil nut gathering, and ecotourism are often overlooked. According to Myers, who is also a respected world economist, scientists and others know exactly how to save the virgin forests of the world. Myers claims that stopping this destruction would cost only $1.3 billion each year for the next 10 years and sustainable use of the forests would thereafter be self-financing. Compare $1.3 billion per year with the more than $14 billion spent on military activities every week in 1989.(3,4) Myers suggests third world loans from the World Bank, never to be repaid but to be flat-out forgiven, be converted into sustainable de velopment projects such as establishing national parks (making possible the cataloguing and subsequent use of unknown species), more tree farms, more fuel wood lots, plantations of fast-growing trees, broad scale irrigation systems, creation of wells, education, and, of course, land reform to redistribute crop lands (e.g., 80 percent of the land in Brazil is owned by only four percent of the people).(3)

Fortunately, various countries have preserved several large areas of tropical rainforest for their valuable edible and medicinal plants. For example, Costa Rica, which boasts the highest number of per capita botanists in the world, established its National Parks System in 1970 to protect wilderness areas. Now 12 percent of the country is protected as national parks and a further 16 percent as Indian reserves, biological reserves, wildlife refuges, and wildlife corridors. This means that more than a quarter of Costa Rica is set aside for conservation.(7) Can, and more importantly, will the Canadian government follow this lead by protecting the Stoltmann Wilderness?

Visitors to the Stoltmann often call it "Better than the Bahamas." Sims Creek offers gorgeous sandbars to camp on in the middle of its turquoise colloidal-mineral-rich waters. The Stoltmann still has some of the freshest air and water possible to experience anywhere. Mountain climbers who have traveled the world say that the Stoltmann is as beautiful as the most spectacular places they have ever seen. Our current challenge is to keep it that way! (For more information on how to participate in the preservation of this temperate rain forest, see the Stoltmann website <>.)


A healthy thousand-year-old red cedar near Sims Creek was called "The Hollow Tree." Sixteen people once fit inside that tree. This author once went inside with a group of Witness Program(12) visitors to the Stoltmann Wilderness.

Shamans and medicine men of the Peruvian Amazon believe that while being inside one of these ancient giants the energy from the tree's spirit is strongly healing. It is said that there is a `light' emanating from the tree that can be seen only by those who have eyes to see. Anyone, however, is able to perceive the uplifting effect, if they choose! Some, however, chose not to see the light: one logger, upon learning the Ministry of Forests planned to assess The Hollow Tree for protection, immediately cut this magnificent life form down. "Now let them try to save it," became the big joke among the loggers in Squamish.


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(12.) The Witness Program is a cooperation between the Squamish Nation, the Roundhouse Community Centre of Vancouver, and several leading wildlife photographers, artists, and mountaineers to bring people into the Stoltmann Wilderness to Witness the beauty and power of the place and learn about its heritage.

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(31.) The Nature of Things with David Suzuki. "The Great Northern Forests" (Two-hour special television program). Program #612-2407-7C09. Recorded Jul. 16, 1997.

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(33.) Marles R. Personal communication with editor. Jan. 21, 2000.

(34.) Turner N. Personal communication with editor. Jan. 10, 2000.

Article copyright American Botanical Council.


By Suzanne Diamond