All over the Canadian news this week has been articles about a proposed pipeline to Kitimat, where huge oil tankers would attempt to maneuver their way around treacherous waters to be delivered to Asia.
Please read what this stunning landscape holds, and why I fantasize about vising the Great Bear Rainforest some day to see the abundance of wildlife including the spirit bear, grizzly bear, and orca, as well as the Sitka spruce trees.
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.
I cannot believe all the spectacular landscapes and wildlife thriving in this area. It would be absolutely devastating if Enbridge and the Canadian government choose to build this pipeline through such an ecologically sensitive area.
For more information on the pipeline debate, read the following reports:
For the Record: Pipeline Debate and the Youth Coalition by Simon Jackson
Why not end the Northern Gateway in Prince Rupert by Gary Mason
Is there a better route for Enbridge’s oil? by Robert Matas
For more on the Great Bear Rainforest, this book is what you need: