Spread along the north-west coast of British Columbia the Great Bear Rainforest is one of Canada’s greatest natural assets, and is of global importance. When we talk about rainforest, Canada is not often the first place that comes to mind, the word rainforest usually conjures up images of the tropics, most famously the Amazon rainforest. There are however two types of rainforest, tropical and temperate, the tropical rainforests are found across the Equator whilst the temperate are found in places such as Canada, New Zealand, Tasmania and Japan. The tropical rainforest tends to get the most coverage, especially with regards to deforestation, it is however the temperate rainforest that has seen the largest decline due to deforestation. The Great Bear Rainforest is one of the largest areas of temperate rainforest left in the world.
The area is one of the greatest wildlife destinations in the world, it is both Canada’s Amazon and Great Barrier Reef, from the forest to the sea the Great Bear Rainforest is teeming with life. Here are just a few of the iconic species that rely on the Great Bear Rainforest:
Legends of the local First Nations people describe that the creator (the raven) made 1 out of every 10 black bears white, to remind the people of when the area was covered in glaciers, and to encourage them to be thankful for the green forests today. The spirit bear is also believed to have super natural powers, which describes the name, the spirit bear. The spirit bear is a black bear, they are not albino, they have a double recessive gene, which leads to their fur being white, it is very similar to people, we have different hair colours, so do the black bears. This gene however is unique to the Great Bear Rainforest, there are no spirit bears anywhere else in the world.
At one time grizzly bear were found throughout the west coast, from Alaska to California. However the population has declined dramatically and now the Great Bear Rainforest is one of the last strongholds for this species. The bears rely on the rivers, estuaries and fjords of the Great Bear Rainforest to catch their main prey, salmon. Growing to a huge size, grizzly bear can weigh in at almost 500 kg. They are recognisable by their impressive size and the large hump of muscle between their shoulders.
Coastal Grey Wolf
The wolves found in the Great Bear Rainforest are sometimes referred to as coastal wolves. These wolves behave in a way that is different to wolves found inland. The key differences include smaller size and stature, fewer wolves within a pack and their food source, coastal wolves are often seen eating salmon, as well as crustaceans. This trait in particular is unique, and is only seen in coastal British Columbia and Alaska. Similar to the grizzly bear, wolves have seen large declines across North America and the Great Bear Rainforest is a vital habitat for this species.
After almost being hunted to extinction, sea otters are making a return in British Columbia. This species relies on the kelp forests found along the coastline of the Great Bear Rainforest. As I said the sea otters rely on the kelp forests, but the kelp forests also rely on the otters, the sea otter eats species such as sea urchins, who feed on the kelp. When the ecosystem is missing sea otters, there are too many sea urchins which causes a decline in the kelp, however when there is a healthy otter population the ecosystem is nicely balanced. Sea otters spend most of their lives in the water. They have some of the thickest fur on the planet and do not have an insulating fat layer, like most marine mammals, so they depend entirely on their fur for warmth.
Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest is not safe, although partly protected the area is still at risk from unsustainable logging and the oil industry. Plans are in place to increase oil tanker traffic in the waters around the Great Bear Rainforest. Whilst the wildlife itself is also threatened by trophy hunting. There are a number of charities and first nations groups fighting for the protection of the forest, I have linked below a few, but there are many more. The area is one of the last remaining wildernesses in North America, it is the same now as it was thousands of years ago, it contains the oldest trees and unique species, it is incredibly important that we are aware of the Great Bear Rainforest and work towards protecting this incredibly significant place.
Pacific Wild- http://pacificwild.org/