By Skye Harding
The forests of the West Coast are among Canada’s most treasured natural history. Ancient, old-growth forests define our country’s coastlines and values. As modelled in Indigenous culture and traditions, the unique forests and natural ecosystems are crucial to Canada’s identity. As a part of the handful of people lucky enough to have rich natural history in our own backyard, it is crucial to understand what makes our forests incredibly unique.
What makes our forests unique?
Known as the “rainiest ecological zones in Canada”, the West Coast forests are extremely biologically diverse. Composed of “multi-aged, multi-canopy old-growth forests”, each forest is distinct and has a rich history. The Western Red Cedar, the Western Hemlock, and the Douglas Fir are three crucial trees in our ecosystems. Specifically, the Red Cedar can grow up to 70 meters in height and range up to a thousand years old. Carbon dating has determined that they have been present in southern British Columbia for almost seven thousand years. Importantly, cedars supply calcium to the soil through foliage on the forest floor and produce a fungicide that prolongs the tree’s health. These two processes represent the cedar’s deep significance to the surrounding forest. Furthermore, they have been prevalent in Indigenous culture for over three thousand years. Similarly, the Western Hemlock and the Douglas Fir have a long history of usage by Aboriginal groups for utensils, clothing, and remedies. Overall, the trees serve as the roots of British Columbia’s ecosystems.
The Importance of our Forests
Sadly, our forests have been subjected to decades of harm. Human-run industry poses a large threat to ecosystems, coastal forests, and wildlife. In particular, much wildlife rely on Canada’s coastal rainforests. Specifically, it is home to a large population of birds, mammals, fish, and insects. For example, eagles and vultures greatly populate the trees of the Pacific west coast for their nests and use the forests for fishing and hunting advantages. In comparison, bears and wolves greatly profit off of the rivers and plants sculpted by the forests themselves. Salmon-filled creeks and berry bushes are essential to the food chain. In turn, these mammals are crucial parts of the food chain themselves; as tertiary predators, they maintain a balance of the lower levels of the food chain throughout the forests. Additionally, salmon populations of the West Coast hatch in freshwater creeks shaped by forests. The continuation of the species directly depends on forest-reliant freshwater streams.
Opening Our Eyes
Overall, Canadian West Coast forests are rich diversity and in centuries of natural history. It’s important to understand the richness of the history of our forests. Especially, as our forests are threatened by human industry, it’s important to see its negative impact on our own backyard. Further, it’s important to keep our eyes wide and to take in as much as we can. Our forests are unique in history and in diversity, which can easily go unnoticed when you you live amongst it.
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