Return to the Wild - Evolving perspectives on Canadian wildlife
Driftwood piled along the rocky West Coast is a common sight in the northwestern forest.

Fish, forest and friction

The western part of Canada is covered in a lush forest and bordered by a rich marine ecosystem. Conditions are good for flora and fauna, but they are also good for forestry and fishing. These competing interests often conflict.

What makes up the northwestern forest ecozone

The area designated the northwestern forest ecozone for this virtual exhibit runs from the Alaska Peninsula down the coast to northern California. Inland it includes the southern region of the Yukon, most of British Columbia and the section of the Rockies that lies in Alberta. There is one tiny patch straddling a small southern portion of the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. Further south, it stretches out over parts of the northwestern United States, and a separate patch of it covers large areas of Colorado.

With both a coastal and a mountain element to the ecozone, climate and terrain vary throughout, however there is less difference between seasonal temperatures here than anywhere else in Canada. Summers generally are not as hot as in the prairie ecozone and winters tend to be milder than most areas. This ecozone receives the most precipitation of all the Canadian ecozones, yielding the tallest trees in the country. In the southern part of the Yukon, however it should be noted, things are colder and drier due to the more northerly latitude and the western mountains limiting the precipitation that gets past the range.

The Coast Mountains in British Colombia are young and rugged. Magma lies close to the surface in parts of this ecozone, creating many hot springs. The interior portion of British Columbia is mainly northwestern forest ecozone except for a small desert ecozone in the Osoyoos-Kamloops area. Deep fjords, high mountains and plenty of freshwater and saltwater combine to populate this fertile ecozone with varied, unique organisms.

Why conservation matters for the organisms that call the northwestern forest home

This ecozone abounds with trees, including lodgepole pine, white spruce, black spruce, balsam poplar, Garry oak, Pacific dogwood, coastal Douglas fir, western red cedar, western larch and Rocky Mountain ponderosa pine. Smaller vegetation includes sphagnum moss in the northern regions of the ecozone to salmonberry and calypso orchids further south.

This forest cover supports an equally abundant bird population, featuring the turkey vulture, the northern pintail and the downy woodpecker. Moist conditions favour reptiles and amphibians such as the Pacific tree frog and the leatherback turtle. Insects and fish such as the European earwig and Pacific halibut also thrive.

Many of the animals showcased in our virtual exhibit can be found here, including larger mammals such as the grizzly bear, the bighorn sheep and the cougar. This list also extends to smaller organisms such as the sea otter, the bald eagle, the Pacific salmon, the monarch butterfly and the smallest in our exhibit, the mountain pine beetle.

The effect of humans on this lush ecozone cannot be understated. Overfishing was already evident a century ago. Urban sprawl races in all directions possible from the Vancouver area. Oil tankers traversing the coast threaten maritime spills. If our desire to live in this beautiful region sometimes seems like an “us or them” question, it is worth remembering that there will be no beauty for us without them.