British Columbia

Logging looms over the Kootenays' old-growth forests, says filmmaker

Pristine forests along the Incomappleux river are the subject of new documentary from award-winning Canadian filmmaker Damien Gillis.

Pristine forests along the Incomappleux river the subject of new documentary from Damien Gillis

The Incomappleux forest is found within the Selkirk mountains and runs along the Incomappleux river. (Valhalla Wilderness Society/Vimeo)

A pristine old growth forest in B.C.'s Kootenay region is at risk of being logged, according to documentary filmmaker Damien Gillis.

The forest is tucked away within the Selkirk mountains and runs along the Incomappleux river. It is home to trees that are up to 1,800 years old and that could legally be cut down, according to activist groups in the region that worked alongside the filmmaker.

"[The Incomappleux forest] is under tree lot licenses that are held by Interfor, so it could be logged at any time," Gillis told host Sheryl MacKay on CBC's North by Northwest.

Logging of the forest has been contested by activists for decades. The Valhalla Wilderness Society is one of several organizations that have fought to protect the area.

Three people examine a tree branch in a wilderness area while the white water of a forest stream flows swiftly behind them.
Members of the Valhalla Wilderness Society assess the ecosystem in the Incomappleux Valley. (Valhalla Wilderness Society/Vimeo)

"They felt very strongly that this place needed to be documented lest anything should happen to it. But also as part of an initiative they were developing to add it to some of the existing parks in that area."

In 2011, the group drafted a proposal to protect the area, as well as an additional 130,000 hectares throughout the region in an effort to protect endangered caribou, lichens and old-growth trees.

Primeval: Enter the Incomappleux

Gillis travelled to the forest in the summer of 2015 to put together a film that will be premiering at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival, titled Primeval: Enter the Incomappleux.

The 20-minute documentary follows members of the Valhalla Wilderness Society as they venture through the forest and showcase some of the untouched ecosystems.

But getting to the extremely isolated forest with all of Gillis's camera gear was no easy feat.

"You have to go through a series of increasingly rugged forest service roads, and then the roads kind of stop because over time, Mother Nature has started to reclaim this place."

Old growth trees dwarf an activist inside the Incomappleux forest. (Valhalla Wilderness Society/Vimeo)

Gillis says the trouble of getting to the Incomappleux is one of the main reasons it is still standing.

"There's even a story about one of the logging trucks coming out, and he remarked after the road access had been washed out that 'it looks like this forest didn't want to be logged after all,'" Gillis said.

Activists worry the Incomappleux will end up like this clearcut in the Kootenay region. (Valhalla Wilderness Society/Vimeo)

​Gillis is the man behind several award-winning films, including Fractured Land which explores fracking in the province's Peace Region. But he says his latest production was something entirely different — and eye-opening.

"It changed me. I've had the experience and the privilege of filming some of the most amazing places in British Columbia ... and this truly blew me away."

"At its peak, only 0.5 per cent of the planet was covered in these kind of rare forests, so this is a real jewel. And we, in virtue of where we are located in BC ... we are stewards of this."

With files from CBC's North by Northwest

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: New documentary Primeval: Enter the Incomappleux showcases pride of Selkirk Mountain