Whistler Olympic Park and Callaghan Valley
A Profile in Biodiversity of the Surrounding Area
The Callaghan Valley is renowned for its ancient wilderness and natural beauty. It is located on the shared traditional territory of the Squamish and Lil’wat First Nations, two of the Four Host First Nations. The Callaghan Valley is important for its’ spiritual, cultural, and ecological significance to all neighbouring communities along the Sea-to-Sky Highway. It is also the site of Whistler Olympic and Paralympic Park. It is hosting the Nordic combined and ski jumping events for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, as well as cross-country ski and biathalon events for both the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Planning for, and development of, the Callaghan Valley for the 2010 Winter Games was done with great care and in collaboration with a variety of community interests. As a result, the original plans for the ski-jump venue were changed to reduce the environmental impact of the venue’s development by 30%. This helped conserve vital habitat such as ancient forests, stream crossings, and wetlands.
The Sea-to-Sky Highway that leads up to Callaghan Valley follows the Pacific Flyway migratory bird path as it winds from Vancouver’s north shore up into the Whistler alpine terrain. The Squamish River area along this route is another of British Columbia’s most Important Bird Areas. From small hummingbirds to the largest raptors, this important stop-over area attracts a huge variety of birds along their migratory paths.
Annual breeding bird surveys have confirmed several species of swallows, warblers, vireos, finches, and sparrows use the area. The Mallard, Harlequin, and Wood Duck can be found here seasonally. The Canada Goose, Lesser Snow Goose as well as raptors such as the Sharp-skinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, and Northern Goshawk also use this area. Rufous Hummingbirds can be seen as well and are vital to the health of the ecosystem as they act as pollinators for the local flora and fauna.
The sub-alpine terrain found in the Callaghan Valley provides essential habitat for native birds, too. Take a moment to listen for local songbirds, like the Black-capped Chickadee, American Robin, and tiny Golden Crowned Kinglet. They inhabit the area year-round because of the abundance of food and nesting areas. The American Dipper, North America’s only aquatic songbird can also be seen. It builds its nest dangerously close to the fast flowing local streams and rivers, and dives into the icy waters to retrieve its diet of aquatic insect larva. Bush and forest birds like the Ruffed Grouse, Varied Thrush and Winter Wren also live in the area all year, as does the Steller’s Jay, the American Crow, and the Common Raven.
You can see the Barred Owl and Great Horned Owl as well as other raptors in the area such as the Peregrine Falcon, Red-tailed Hawk, and Golden Eagle. One of the most recognized species is the majestic Bald Eagle. Bald Eagles gather in considerable numbers during the winter months to fish for coho salmon at Brackendale. This area is prime Bald Eagle habitat. Watch the skies as you travel through Squamish on the way to Whistler Olympic and Paralympic Park. You may be able to catch a glimpse of their spectacular aerial manoeuvres.
The flora and fauna in the Callaghan Valley consists of wildflower covered subalpine parkland on the valley floor and rolling, heavily forested terrain that rises to steep valley slopes. The parklands provide vital habitat for insects, and pollinators like bumble bees, as well as monarch butterflies. For monarch butterflies, the annual migration between Mexico and Alaska is a truly Olympian marathon. The ancient forest landscape is home to some of the oldest trees in southwest British Columbia.
Dominated by yellow and western red cedar, subalpine fir, red alder, and mountain hemlock, this ancient forest encloses winding streams and glacier-fed lakes. There are several hundred species of native plants, and many more species of fungi in this old growth forest.
Numerous wetlands are also found in southeast Callaghan Lake Provincial Park. Here, there are several small lakes that are home to freshwater char and coastal cutthroat trout. The wetlands are essential habitat for reptiles like the northern alligator lizard and western painted turtle. Amphibians such as the rough-skinned newt and several frog species, including the Pacific tree frog, and the bullfrog live in these wetlands. The bullfrog however, is an invasive species. It is not indigenous to British Columbia and often displaces native frog species.
Many small and large mammals depend on the variety of terrain, flora and fauna in Whistler Olympic and Paralympic Park for essential habitat. Small prey species such as the Douglas’ squirrel and chipmunk feed on seeds and vegetation from the valley floor. Striped skunks and racoons thrive on a diet of waterfowl eggs, insects, aquatic and land invertebrates. They also feast on seasonal fruits and nuts. Large ungulates including elk, black-tailed deer, and the mountain goat spend their winters grazing on the northeast ridge above Callaghan Lake. Moose are known to traverse the valley seasonally. Predators including the black bear, timber wolf, bobcat, cougar, coyote, and wolverine tend to thrive in this vast wilderness area which is also used by a small local population of grizzly bears.
Such wilderness near a big urban centre like Vancouver, which is Canada’s third largest city, is uncommon in the world. Threats to the Callaghan Valley are mostly human-related. Forest harvesting, as well as resource, residential, and recreational development pressures are the biggest threats to sustaining vibrant biological diversity because such activity tends to destroy wildlife habitat. Destruction of habitat in turn, displaces species. Climate change also impacts this sub-alpine environment. Warmer weather patterns can disrupt the natural cycles and biodiversity of this beautiful landscape. Several organizations have actively worked, and continue to work to conserve the biological diversity of these awesome and inspiring wild spaces.
Find out more. Check out the websites listed below:
- Canadian Biodiversity Information Network
- International Year of Biodiversity Official Videos
- Environment Canada - Hinterland Who’s Who Series
- Environment Canada - Biosphere
- Environment Canada - Project WILDSPACE
- Bird Studies Canada
- e-Bird Canada
- Important Bird Areas
- BC Breeding Bird Atlas
- BirdLife International
- British Columbia Ministry of Environment – Environmental Stewardship Division. Biodiversity in BC
- BC Nature
- Biodiversity Atlas of British Columbia
- Nature Conservancy of Canada
- Trans Canada Trail
- Whistler Biodiversity
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