Forestry is one of the pillars of the economy in British Columbia, alongside mining, cinematography and tourism. The agricultural sector is comparatively small but is flourishing in Fraser Valley and Okanagan where the climate is milder.
The British Columbian landscape is dominated by mountain ranges, including the Coast Mountains, the Cassiar Mountains, the Columbia Mountains, and the Canadian Rockies.
Most of the population lives along the Pacific coast, with the largest population centre being the greater Vancouver area – home to over half of the province’s total population.
About British Columbia
Situated between the Pacific Ocean and the continental divide of the Rocky Mountains, British Columbia (French: Colombie-Britannique) is the westernmost province of southern Canada. Southern British Columbia has a long coastline along the Pacific Ocean, while the northern part of the province has no coast at all as that part of the Pacific coast forms a narrow strip of Alaska, United States.
To the north, British Columbia is bordered by Yukon and the Northwest Territories, to the east by Alberta, and to the south by the United States. More specifically, British Columbia borders the U.S. states Washington, Idaho and Montana to the south.
The total area of British Columbia is 944,735 square kilometres (364,764 square miles), which is 9.5% of Canada´s total area. Only 2.1% of British Columbia is water and less than 5% is considered arable land.
Forests environments in British Columbia
From a botanical perspective, nearly all of British Columbia belongs to the Rocky Mountain Floristic Region. Yet, significant environmental variations are found within this broad designation, and British Columbia can be further divided into several bio-geoclimatic zone types. Naturally, the environmental conditions for forests differ depending on which zone they are found.
Bio-geoclimatic zones in British Columbia:
- Coastal Western Hemlock Zone
- Coastal Douglas-fir Zone
- Interior Douglas-fir Zone
- Interior Redcedar-Western Hemlock Zone
- Sub-Boreal (Hemiboreal) Spruce and Pine-Spruce Zones
- Boreal Zones
- Mountain Zones
Please note that many variations of these names exist, as well as sub-divisions within a zone.
Examples of animals that can be found in British Columbia.
- American badger
- Black Bear
- Common Raccoon
- Grey Wolf
- Long-tailed weasel
- North American river otter
- Western spotted skunk
British Columbia is also home to a large selection of plants and flowers. The rivers are home to a number of endangered freshwater fish species and the coast feature a very large selection of saltwater fish.
Forest protection and forest management
As British Columbia is a part of Canada, its forests ultimately falls under the auspices of the governmental department Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), which is responsible for coordinating environmental policies and programs, with a focus on the preservation and enhancement of natural environments and renewable resources in Canada.
Parks and Protected Areas in British Columbia
At the time of writing, British Columbia is home to four National Parks and three National Park Reserves. There are also 141 Ecological Reserves, 35 Provincial Marine Parks, seven Provincial Heritage Sites, and six National Historic Sites. How important each protected area is for the preservation of forest environments does of course vary depending on the focus of the site.
The Seven National Parks of British Columbia
Glacier National Park
This is a large (1,349 square kilometres) national park that includes a portion of the Selkirk Mountains and the famous Rogers Pass National Historic Site.
Despite its name, Glacier National Park covers a wide range of habitats, including forest environments. The forested areas range from lush temperate rainforest in the western valleys to drier fir and pine forests on the eastern boundary. Parks Canada divides the park into rainforest areas, snow forest areas and no-forest areas. Four bio-geoclimatic zones are represented: interior cedar/hemlock, spruce/subalpine fire, interior douglas-fir (in the eastern extremes), and alpine tundra (only at high elevations).
The valleys on the western side of the park are capable of supporting densely grown wet forests with a thick understory. Outside the wetlands, the lower valleys in the park are dominated by western red cedar, western white pine, western hemlock, interior Douglas fir, and white birch.
If we move up to middle elevations, we reach the sub-alpine zone, which is home to Engelmann spruce, hemlock and sub-alpine fir. The understory is still thick, but other species dominate compared to the lowlands.
The higher parts of this park is above the tree line.
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Gulf Islands National Park Reserve
Established in 2003, this 36 square kilometres national park protects parts of the Gulf Islands archipelago environment between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia, and provides a representation of the Strait of Georgia Lowlands natural region. Comprised of 31 km2 of land and 6 km2 of water, the park includes both islands, islets and water environments in the southern end of the archipelago.
The park is within the Coastal Douglas-fir bio-geoclimatic zone, and the dominating trees are coastal Douglas-fir, western red cedar, shore pine, Pacific dogwood, bigleaf maple, and red alder. Drought tolerant Garry oak and arbutus are more common further to the south but do grow here as well. Also present are bitter cherries.
The southernmost part of the archipelago Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) forms the
Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area, and Haida Heritage Site. This protected area is usually referred to simply as Gwaii Haanas, which is the name of the largest of the 138 protected islands.
The dramatic landscape here includes everything from deep fjords to rugged mountains, and nearly 90% of the land is forested. The remaining 10% is mostly alpine tundra, sub-alpine tundra, or lakes and wetlands.
The western coast of the park gets up towards 4,000 millimetres of rain annually, which makes the forest boggy. In combination with the strong winds, this serves to make the trees rather stunted. The dominating species are western red cedar and western hemlock.
The eastern side of the park is leeward, and home to a more classic coastal temperate rainforest. The dominating trees are (not stunted) western hemlock, Sitka spruce and western red cedar.
Kootenay National Park
This 1,406 km2 national park is found in south-eastern British Colombia, where it protects the whole Vermillion River and parts of the Canadian Rockies, including a stretch of the Kootenay River. It is one of the seven contiguous national and provincial parks that form the large Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site.
Kootenay National Park ranges in elevation from 918 metres to 3,424 metres, and the highest part is at the Deltaform Mountain. At lower elevations, the park is within the Montane spruce bio-geoclimatic zone and dominated by Douglas fir, lodgepole pine, western larch, trembling poplar, and western redcedar.
If we move up to higher elevations, we reach the Spruce Sub-alpine Fir zone, with more Engelmann spruce, white spruce, subalpine fir, and subalpine larch.
Some of the park is above the tree line.
Recent changes: In the 20th century, a drier climate in combination with forest fires have resulted in the Douglas-fir bio-geoclimatic zone expanding into the park, with more Douglas fir and ponderosa pine. After forest fires, such as the big ones in 2003 and 2017, pioneering vegetation emerge, e.g. lodgepole pine.
Mount Revelstoke National Park
This relatively small (260 square kilometres) National Park is found in the Selkirk Mountains, near the city Revelstoke. It is notable for being home to a portion of the world´s few inland temperate rainforest, and for having steep, rugged mountains in a comparatively warm and moist climate.
The paved road Meadows-in-the-Sky Parkway starts in the rainforest in the park´s south-western corner and brings visitors up through a sub-alpine forest, before reaching subalpine meadows.
At lower altitudes in the park, both rainforests and wetlands are represented, including valley bottom wetlands.
Old-growth stands of both western red cedar and western hemlock can be found in the park, including some trees that are over 800 years old. The hiking trail Giant Cedars Boardwalk makes them fairly easy to access on foot.
By the early 20th century, Revelstoke had become a popular skiing area, and it hosted many international competitions during the first half of the century. Today, the ski area has been converted to a trail system for hiking and downhill mountain biking.
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Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
Located in the Pacific Coast Mountains, this 511 km2 National Park is comprised of three regions: Long Beach, the Broken Group Islands, and the West Coast Trail. Examples of common species are western hemlock, Sitka spruce, and western red cedar.
Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the mountains, the park gets a lot of precipitation. (Hucuktlis Lake, inland from the Broken Group Island, is actually one of the places on Earth that gets the most rain.) The average precipitation for the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is circa 3,500 to 4,000 mm per annum.
The terrestrial portion of the park is within the Coastal western hemlock bio-geoclimatic zone, and the combination of lot of precipitation and cool temperatures has resulted in a temperature rainforest environmen. As mentioned above, western hemlock, Sitka spruce and western red cedar dominates.
The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is home to the famous Cheewat Giant, the largest known living specimen of western red cedar. It is also the largest known living tree in Canada and one of the largest in the whole world. The Cheewat Giant is 55.5 metres tall, with a maximum trunk diameter of 6.1 metres.
Yoho National Park
Yoho National Park is found in the Rocky Mountains, along the western slope of the Continental Divide, where precipitation increases with elevation. The park covers 1,313 square kilometres and is a part of a series of contiguous national and provincial parks in the region.
Douglas fir dominates in the lower areas of the Yoho National Park, but lodgepole pine will emerge after wildfires. The damp eastern shoreline of Emerald Lake is home to western red cedar and hemlock.
If we move up a bit, we will reach sub-alpine habitats dominated by Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir. The northernmost extent of larch is found around Lake O´Hara. Worth knowing is that Yoho is an especially important area for the protection of the whitebark pine. It is an important keystone species in subalpine areas of the park, where it helps stabilize the slopes and hold onto the snowpack.
Parts of the Yoho National Park is located above the tree line.
Yoho National Park is a part of the larger area declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. (The contiguous National Parks of Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho, plus the Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine and Hamber provincial parks.)