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Earth Dr Reese Halter's Blog


Recently, while traveling on the eastern seaboard I was asked by school children where the most remarkable remaining wild forests in North America were located? My answer: British Columbia.

 The land base of British Columbia is astounding 95 million hectares and it contains picturesque fjords, jagged peaks, glaciers and more than 70 per cent of the 409 species of birds and 163 species of mammals known to breed in Canada – it’s biologically rich; and the critters depend upon forests for their habitat.

 In fact, globally forests recycle rain, create oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide, hold soils in place and control the flow of water to our rivers, which in many cases feed our oceans. Ultimately, forests provide us with the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink and over 7,000 medicines to keep us healthy.

British Columbia’s forest ecosytems are young – 14,000 years ago glaciers a couple miles thick receded, very quickly.

Lichens – those half algae and half fungus – landed first on bare rocks secreting acids, working with frost and other weathering processes making small openings for mosses and with the help of bacteria created the first soils.

The trees – lodgepole pines, spruces, hemlocks, firs, larches, aspens, alders, poplars and birches invaded the lands and quickly colonized them.

The diversity of landforms or topography and the types of forests are breathtaking; ecologically each forest type is a jewel and they all evolved to cope with change; wildfires, insect infestations, diseases, avalanches and 200 kilometre and hour winds than blow forests down. 

The Garry oak woodlands of the southern tip of Vancouver Island are gorgeous. They rely on the Stellar’s Jay to eat the acorns – their seeds, and help to distribute the trees by burying acorns in the ground and sometimes forgetting about them. 

The Sitka spruce along the west side of Vancouver island and continuing for 1,800 miles north into Alaska are the monarchs of the coastline. They tolerate the onslaught of salty ocean air – that corrodes metal within decades – and live almost 1,000 years reaching heights surpassing 311 feet. 

Rufous, Anna’s, black-chinned and calliope hummingbirds appear in these forests in late spring or early summer. They travel at 50 miles per hour and have migrated over 1,700 miles from their wintering habitat in Mexico.

With rolling shoulders and 200 wing beats per second, these critters are Nature’s helicopters – they must visit at least 1,000 flowers a day drinking nectar for energy and inadvertently cross pollinating the plants. 

Equally impressive are the colossal-sized western redcedars. One tree on Meares Island near Tofino has a staggering circumference of 66 feet. The wood is highly rot resistant and the First Peoples of British Columbia used it for houses, totem poles, dugout canoes, bentwood boxes, paddles and ceremonial drums.

Twenty five percent of the world’s bald eagles live in those forests and many of their inter-generational nests weighing a whopping 3,900 pounds are high-up in the treetops.

These forests also provide crucial habitat for the rare red-ochre or salmon coloured coastal wolves along the Great Bear rainforest that are dependent upon the intact ancient forests that provide streams for hundreds of millions of salmon.

It turns out that those salmon not only feed the wolves, ravens, eagles, bears (spirit, black and grizzlies) and 196 other species of animals but also 80 percent of the marine-based nitrogen comes from the remains of salmon carcasses dragged from the stream into the forests.

Perhaps the tallest tree to ever live on the planet grew in Lynn Valley – a Douglas-fir in the 19th century was felled and measure at 452.7 feet.

These ancient exquisite forests are home to the endangered spotted owls. Each owl eats about 100 flying squirrels a year, each flying squirrel is responsible for fertilizing the old growth forests by spreading soil fungus spores in their poop which nourishes millions of tree roots. 

Billions of aspen trees in the far north are a critical food source for beavers and moose. Beavers regenerate aspen forests by breaching their damns and flooding the land – aspens respond by growing new forests for existing mature root systems. 

The fire-loving lodgepole pine forests of the north provide habitat for the gray shadow of the northern woods – the lynx. A powerful cat that thrives in the snow, occasionally hunts in packs and is an exceptional swimmer.

In the autumn, the deciduous subalpine larches of southern British Columbia turn golden; they are home to the most complete and supreme mountaineer on the continent – the magnificent mountain goat. 

The intricate web of life in the forest provides an essential place for every organism whether it’s a 2,000-year-old coastal yellow cedar or a glorious yellow glacier lily or microscopic soil bacteria. 

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Earth Dr Reese Halter is an award-winning broadcaster and distinguished biologist. His latest books are The Insatiable Bark Beetle and The Incomparable Honeybee

Contact Earth Dr Reese Halter

Text © by Dr Reese Halter 2013. All rights reserved.


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