In Carmanah Valley, a spectacular grove of Sitka spruce has been named after Randy Stoltmann, a renowned conservationist who died in 1994. On a trek to Carmanah in 1988 Randy and a friend discovered the “legendary giants” of the Carmanah Valley and brought international recognition to the plight of the rare ancient trees, which were scheduled for logging.
In 1990, Randy’s tireless work resulted in the creation of Carmanah Pacific Park. Today the Walbran and the upper Carmanah Valleys have been added and Randy’s dream became complete. The park was then renamed Carmanah Walbran Park.
Climate, topography, geology and other environmental factors have shaped a tremendously complex and productive ecosystem. The orientation and relief of the valleys result in a very wet climate for much of the year. Weather systems approaching Vancouver Island are funneled by the valleys and result in heavy downpours. Periodically, the upper watershed has a snow pack.
Old-growth forests consist of trees of a variety of species and age, a mix that is only possible in a forest that has been undisturbed for hundreds of years. As old trees die and fall over, they are replaced by younger ones that grow beneath the canopy. Dead and dying trees are essential in old-growth systems for the habitat and nourishment they provide. The death of a forest giant means the beginning of new life for many organisms over a long period of time. Initially, thick moss often builds up, helping to retain moisture.
Micro-organisms are quick to attack the dead tree and begin to soften the wood. Bark beetles chew their way in, introducing fungal spores and bacteria which secrete wood-digesting chemicals. Attracted by fermenting sap, ants tunnel in. A multitude of invaders such as mites, termites, sow bugs, centipedes and salamanders enter. Black bears and raccoons use their sharp claws to grub for dinner. If the tree remains standing, woodpeckers begin hunting the insect hordes inside, inadvertently creating cavities that become nesting sites for a variety of forest birds, bats and other cavity users.
The openness created by fallen trees and their high acidity and water content provides an ideal growing site for hemlock seedlings and huckleberry. Hemlock roots, like grasping arms, extend around the “nurse log” as they reach for the soil below. All of the nutrients stored in these logs are eventually released and made available to plants and animals in forms they can use. In this way, the energy of the forest is recycled and nothing is wasted.
Carmanah Walbran abounds in wildlife. Mammals that live in the park include squirrels, mice, voles, martens, raccoons, black-tailed deer, wolves, cougars and black bears. Bird species include the hair and pileated woodpecker, northern flicker, red-breasted sapsucker, winter wren, varied thrush, pigmy owl and the marbled murrelet. The lower reaches of Carmanah Creek and Walbran Creek support coho and chinook salmon, steelhead, trout, sea-run cutthroat and sculpins, while the upper reaches contain small resident cutthroat trout.