The Pacific temperate forest ecoregion is the largest temperate rain forest on the planet and was named the Great Bear Rainforest by North American environmental groups in the 1990s due to the amount of Grizzly bears that inhabit the area. The Great Bear Rainforest is located on the West Coast of Canada mainly in British Columbia from Vancouver Island it stretches north to the border of Alaska, an area of some 25,000 sq miles. This makes it one of the largest areas of unspoilt temperate rainforest in the world.
The area is defined by high rainfall of up to 3meters a year and mild temperatures ranging between 10-24°C although the area is home to some impressive mountains where tempreatures can drop far lower. The Northern Pacific rain forests are fairly new having formed in the past few thousand years after the ice sheets retreated, they do represent one of the few areas on the planet where confiers still dominate whereas in other areas flowering plants have long displaced confiers due to a greater ability to adapt.
This area’s climate is heavily influenced by being a coastal area with mountains behind this creates the very high rainfall and a mixture of wildlife from forest , mountain and coastal environments, for example I have seen seals eating salmon in a river while a grizzley bear feeds on salmon less than 20 meters away. It is a rich eco system despite poor thin soil creating biomass up to four times greater than a tropical rainforest. The amount of moisture means that fire is very rare so forest fires that would normally renew and clear areas isnt a factor, areas are cleared are small and mainly due to storm damage or small scale avalanches. This results in an incredabily damp decomposing habitat filled with decaying trees , mosses and fungi. Due to the poor soil trees often root in other fallen trees so it is possible to see an ancient fallen tree now with several other trees growing out of it.
The main forest tree species is Sitka spruce, Douglas fir, Red cedar and Western Hemlock, there is an abundance of mosses (see photos) which cover many of the upper branches and provide habitats for various animals. Once you travel north of Vancouver Island Douglas fur becomes less frequent. Further north you reach the beginnings of the Gulf of Alaska you reach sub polar rain forest which is a thin strip between the coast and the alpine zone, here only Sitka spruce and Hemlock thrive. The salmon run even affects the growth of the trees and shrubs as the volume of fish carcasses carried by predators up into the tree line from rivers and streams deposits vital minerals into the thin poor soils. A good salmon run year means a good growing season for the flora the next year and this can be seen in tree rings and the levels of marine minerals found in the trees themselves.
These temperate rain forests have been subjected to large scale logging since the end of World War 2. Logging remains controversial as some argue the logging clear cuts help the forests renew but it can take a very long time for the old growth forests to replace themselves. The value of some of these huge trees is impressive with a large tree being worth around $40,000 this has lead to some technological methods of logging in particular Heli-logging where large helicopters pull the trees out by air and deposit them in inlets for collection. Some argue this has less of an impact environmentally as logging roads and transport routes don’t need to be cut into the forests allowing more isolated areas to be logged with less impact. In early 2006 an agreement was reached between the Canadian government and a variety of interested bodies including conservationists, logging companies, and First Nations (native populations). This agreement created a series of protected areas 250miles along the coast. These areas will eventually protect 4.4 million acres with another 11.6 million acres to be logged only under sustainable forest management. The best defence for many of the coastal valleys which provide such rich habitat is the global economic down turn which has reduced demand for timber in the USA, which is Canada’s main export market.
The Great Bear forest is rich in various species especially large predators due to the vast expanse of wilderness, cougars, wolves, black bears, Spirit bears and grizzly bears are the larger mammalian predators, with a wide variety of mustelids such as otters, mink, martins and fishers. Bird life includes Bald Eagles in abundance as well as Marbled Murrelet, Blue Herons to name but a few. Reptiles are also represented but in smaller numbers due to the climate and Salamanders can be found in pools and streams. A survey on Vancouver Island revealed 15,000 new species of invertebrates which is 30% of all invertebrates found in Canada.
The most famous and important marine species is of course the Salmon, several species of which make their annual spawning runs into the rivers and streams of the forest in such numbers that the spawn helps shape the whole eco system. Other marine species include Humpback and Killer whales and a variety of Seal species.