The Great Bear Rainforest is nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Coast Mountain Range on the west coast of British Columbia. The ancient Great Bear Rainforest is one of the largest tracts of temperate rainforest left in the world (2 million hectares), and is home to thousands of species of plants, birds and animals. In this lush rainforest stand 1,000-year-old cedar trees and 90-metre tall Sitka spruce trees. Rich salmon streams weave through valley bottoms that provide food for magnificent creatures such as orcas (killer whales), eagles, wolves, black bears, grizzlies, and the rare and mysterious white Kermode (Spirit) bear.
Coastal temperate rainforests constitute one of the most endangered forest types on the planet. Rare to begin with, they originally covered less than 1/5 of 1 percent of the earth’s land surface. Coastal temperate rainforests have three main distinguishing features: proximity to oceans, the presence of mountains, and high rainfall. Their ecology is marked by the dynamic and complex interactions between terrestrial, freshwater, estuarine and marine systems. Coastal temperate rainforests are primarily found in the coastal regions of North America, New Zealand, Tasmania, Chile and Argentina. In addition, they are found in extremely limited areas of Japan, northwest Europe, and the Black Sea coast of Turkey and the Republic of Georgia.
Close to sixty percent of the world’s original coastal temperate rainforests have been destroyed as a result of logging and development. North America’s ancient temperate rainforest once stretched the Pacific coast from southeast Alaska to northern California. Today, more than half of this rainforest is gone and not a single undeveloped, unlogged coastal watershed 5,000 hectares or larger remains south of the Canadian border. One of the largest contiguous tracts of temperate rainforest left in the world is on British Columbia’s mainland coast in the Great Bear Rainforest.
BC’s coastal temperate rainforests are characterized by some of the oldest and largest trees on Earth, the most common of which are Sitka spruce, red cedar, western hemlock, amabilis and Douglas fir. Trees can tower up to 300feet and grow for more than 1,500 years. The biological abundance of BC’s coastal rainforests is the result of over 10,000 years of evolution which began when the glaciers of the Pleistocene Epoch melted. These coastal forests have evolved to their biological splendour because natural disturbances, such as fires, happen infrequently and are usually small in scale.
Terrestrial and marine systems in BC’s coastal rainforest zone are inextricably linked. The dynamic interaction between terrestrial and marine systems is described in the Conservation International/Ecotrust paper Coastal Temperate Rainforests: Ecological Characteristics, Status and Distribution Worldwide: ” The forest reaches out to the sea, which in turn furnishes the wind and rain necessary for maintenance of the forest character. This exchange of nutrients and energy creates the base for a complex food chain, rich enough to support numerous migratory as well as resident species.”
” In North America approximately 350 bird and animal species, including 48 species of amphibians and reptiles, 25 tree species, hundreds of species of fungi and lichens, and thousands of insects, mites, spiders and other soil organisms are found in coastal temperate rain forests. Although much remains to be learned about both systems, biological diversity indices for some taxa in coastal temperate rainforests (notably invertebrates, fungi and soil organisms) may compare to those of tropical rainforests. Researchers are just now discovering the number of organisms, particularly insects, living in the canopy of North American coastal temperate rainforests. These woodlands may support the highest fungal and lichen diversity of any forest system.”
Wild salmon are the most important keystone species for coastal rainforest ecosystems and grizzly bears depend on healthy salmon runs for their survival. Wild salmon are an important food source for a wide array of wildlife as well. Recent research is suggesting that even the ancient temperate rainforests on the coast utilize salmon. Bears drag the carcasses of spawned out salmon into the forest, facilitating a major upslope nitrogen transfer into the forest soil.
Years of industrial logging have left vast holes in this precious forest. Clearcut logging is ongoing, logging roads cut deep swathes across watersheds, and wildlife habitats are permanently destroyed. The provincial government of British Columbia has pledged to protect the area, but it must follow through on its commitments if the Great Bear Rainforest is to be protected.
More Information on the Great Bear Rainforest:
Raincoast Conservation Society
Victoria, BC, Canada
Location: The Great Bear Rainforest is located on the west coast of the British Columbia mainland, stretching from just north of Knight Inlet (off north central Vancouver Island) to Princess Royal Island and all the way north to the Alaskan border.
Sea Kayaking and Wildlife Viewing in regions of the Great Bear Rainforest provides an unforgettable adventure. Exploring from the safety and comfort of a mothership, paddlers depart from numerous coastal locations, including Bella Bella, to spend a week or so discovering the wild beauty of British Columbia’s Central coast. Taking advantage of the kayak’s silent travel and shallow draft, adventurers will explore tiny coves and narrow passageways, and watch the abundant wildlife found in this remote region. See below for links to trip operators.
Knight Inlet cuts eighty miles through the remote Coast Range of Mountains to the head of Knight Inlet, and Mt. Waddington, the highest mountain located totally within British Columbia. The area is a true west coast adventure, with great towering mountains rising straight out of the sea, cascading waterfalls and waterslides, and a history rich in native culture. Knight Inlet is prime black bear and grizzly bear habitat, bald eagles, orcas and other wildlife are abundant, fishing is superb, and the river system supports a phenomenal fall salmon run. Needless to say, the opportunities for nature photography in Knight Inlet are superb.
Princess Royal Island is located amongst the isolated inlets and islands of Canada’s forgotten coast, in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest. This is an extremely remote area of British Columbia, accessible only by boat or air. Aside from the Tsimshiam, who once inhabited a coastal village on the island but now no longer live here, almost no people have entered the inland rainforest of Princess Royal Island. Princess Royal Island is best known as being home to the legendary white Kermode Bear, Spirit Bear of the North Coast of British Columbia. These magnificent bears are a sub-species of the black bear, and are not found anywhere else in the world.
Rivers Inlet is carved deep into the rugged Coast Mountains,and is known internationally for the majesty of its scenery and its unspoiled wilderness. Rivers Inlet is also one of the most famous sport fishing destinations in BC, with an impressive history of producing some of the largest Chinook Salmon in the world. The legendary trophy-sized chinook draws anglers from around the world.
The Discovery Coast is the southern section of the Inside Passage that stretches from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert, through the protected waters of British Columbia’s central and northern coastline. The Discovery Coast extends from Port Hardy to Bella Coola on the Central Coast, and includes the communities of Namu, McLoughlin Bay, Bella Bella, Denny Island (Shearwater), Klemtu, Ocean Falls, and the Hakai Pass area.