Where is the Great Bear Rainforest and how big is it?
The Great Bear Rainforest is made up of 6.4 million hectares (about 40%) of the endangered Central and North Coast Forest District on British Columbia’s north and central coasts – an area slightly larger than Vancouver Island. It is one of Earth’s last, relatively intact temperate rainforests, renowned for its size and biological diversity, including wolves, bears, old-growth cedar trees over 10 feet wide, salmon that weigh as much as a person – more than half all Canada’s wild salmon are found here.
It is home to 26 indigenous First Nations with ties to the land dating back millennia. The Great Bear Rainforest is also home to two million people. It is the economic lifeblood of many towns and cities, particularly Victoria, Vancouver, Prince Rupert, Kitimat and the coastal communities of the north and central coast because it provides clean healthy jobs – second to tourism in economic value.
What is a temperate rainforest?
A temperate rainforest is a cool, wet place where ancient trees flourish year round. They are found along the west coast of North America (Alaska to Northern California), South America (the Pacific Northwest), Europe (Scandanavia) and Japan.
Where does the name “Great Bear” come from?
The Great Bear was named by Captain Vancouver who charted the coast between 1791-1795. The two constellations that form the Big Dipper point toward the Great Bear constellation which is composed of seven stars – commonly known as The Plough or Charles’ Wain in Europe. It has also been called The Big Bear, but it’s official name is Ursa Major – Latin for great bear.
Some facts about the Animals of the Great Bear Rainforest
243 species of birds, 29 mammals, 22 reptiles and amphibians, 14 fish and several species of invertebrates live in the Great Bear Rainforest.
All these animals must be considered for their habitat needs – not just the charismatic bears and wolves that so many people think about when they hear “Great Bear” or “Rainforests”.
The rainforest is home to black bears, grizzly bears, marbled murrelet, northern goshawk, Pacific salmon, spotted owl, water tupelo, whitebark pine, among many others.
What are the threats to Great Bears?
Logging roads open up remote forest areas to industrial-scale logging which fragments wildlife habitat. When forests are cut down, salmon lose much of their spawning and rearing habitat. The biggest threat to forest animals however is hunting for food, market, and trophies.
Unsustainable hunting practices are the primary cause of the decline in populations of wolves, bears, cougar, moose, and deer. From 1990-2004 more than 1 million snares were removed from Great Bear forests – many still contain the skulls of bears and other wildlife. Many hunters continue to ignore limits set by government agencies resulting in unsustainable mortality rates that can damage local populations’ ability to sustain themselves over the long term.
How much old growth forest has been lost?
A 2009 Forest Practices Board report found that between 1997-2007 about 22% or 1/5 of Great Bear Rainforest’s productive old-growth forests had been cut. Over 1.1 million hectares of forests are protected from logging but there are over 20 proposed new oil and gas pipelines, roads, bridges, powerlines, and other development in the Great Bear Rainforest that threatens to fragment wildlife populations even further.
What is being done?
A landmark agreement was signed on February 6th, 2006 between BC Premier Gordon Campbell and Coastal First Nations represented by Chief Marilyn Slett representing nine member Nations – Haida Nation, Kitasoo/Xaixais Nation, Gitga’at First Nation, Metlakatla First Nation, Old Massett Village Council, Skidegate Band Council, Haisla Nation, Wuikinuxv Nation, and Heiltsuk Tribal Council.
Who lives in the Great Bear Rainforest?
There are 23 First Nations in the Great Bear Rainforest. For millennia coastal rainforest Natives have practiced a spiritual, subsistence way of life in harmony with nature through fishing, hunting and gathering. Their culture is one of the most intact traditional cultures on earth – untouched by modern civilization.
What are their rights?
First Nations people have constitutionally-protected Aboriginal Title to almost 50% or 9 million hectares of land in the Great Bear Rainforest. They continue to practice cultural, spiritual and subsistence activities which means they hunt for food and gather plants, berries, mushrooms, etc they need for everyday living. Hunting licenses are issued but there is no commercialization of wildlife or trade outside their communities.
This video is really interesting about the people in the forest and deforestation:
What is the Spirit Bear?
The Kermode bear or “Spirit Bear” as it is called by Coastal First Nations people – is a unique sub-species of black bear found only in the Great Bear Rainforest and Princess Royal Island off the coast of British Columbia.
It’s estimated that up to 1/10 of all Kermodes are white or cream-coloured. The recessive gene for white colouring is passed from parents to cubs, so only bears with two copies of this gene will be white. In areas frequented by tourists there has been an increase in the number of Spirit Bears because many Kermodes have been ‘tamed’ through being fed and have therefore lost their natural fear of humans – which can be dangerous!
What plants can you find in the Great Bear Rainforest?
There are many plants in the Great Bear Rainforest – some rare and endangered. Communities of rare plant species only grow in certain micro-climates within rainforests or along seashores.
The trees provide homes for mistletoe, mushrooms, lichen and ferns. There are hundreds of species that produce edible fruit or berries – salal, salmon berry, thimbleberry, blackberry, huckleberry, blueberry to name just a few.
What is cultural burning?
Native peoples in the Great Bear Rainforest have always burnt sections of forest under controlled conditions to create meadows for camas lily bulbs which provided food and medicines. The ash from these fires fertilizes rainforest soil and creates rich habitat for many animals who live in the surrounding forests. Blocking access roads with logs was also used as an effective way to fight fires because it can take days before firefighting crews arrive by plane or helicopter
Can you visit the Great Bear Rainforest? Is it safe?
Yes. There are hundreds of different eco-tours and activities to choose from for those wanting to visit the Great Bear Rainforest – from hiking, kayaking, fishing, bear viewing to even surfing!
Is it safe? As long as you use reputable tour operators who have been working in the area for years and comply with all local rules – it is perfectly safe. You can’t wander off on your own into the forests because road access remains a controversial issue but many bears have become habituated towards humans so please don’t try this without a guide.
The Great Bear Rainforest has its own website, so why don’t you visit the website, before you visit the Rainforest!