Cathedral Gorove is a great place to appreciate the grandeur of the West Coast rainforest.

Celebrating our magnificent forests

Canada celebrated National Wildlife Week last week.

Canada celebrated National Wildlife Week last week.

Each year a new theme is chosen to honour the work of Jack Miner who was one of the founders of Canada’s wildlife conservation movement. Starting in 1947, a week was set aside to draw public awareness to the need to conserve our wilderness and the wildlife that inhabit it.

Although we have made progress from the conception of this initiative we still have a very long way to go. Many of our ecosystems are in jeopardy and we have seen climate changes as a result of the way we have run our lives and economies.

This year’s theme spotlights our forests and encourages us all to go exploring in one of these amazing places. We are so fortunate to live on Vancouver Island in a very unique geographical and ecological area known as the Pacific maritime eco-zone which stretches from the tip of Washington State north to Alaska.

The Pacific coastal mountains rise steeply from fjords and channels that were created by retreating glaciers leaving many areas isolated. This area in geological terms is still young and part of the “Pacific ring of fire” making it prone to earthquakes and hot springs as the magma is still close to the earth’s surface.

Because of the inaccessibility of much of the rugged terrain, the west side of Vancouver Island is home to some of the tallest and oldest trees and also to the deepest fiords.

In addition, due to the unique climate, it is also one of the wettest areas in the world. Due to the proximity of the vast expanse of ocean the climate is much cooler in the summer and milder in the winter than the rest of Canada.

The other factor that influences the climate are the coastal mountains which block most of the precipitation from moving inland which results in some areas receiving up to 4,000 millilitres’ or 160 inches of rain in one year. It is a wonder that anything can thrive in this wet, damp climate and on first impression often the forest seems to be devoid of life but in reality it is home to a diverse and interdependent ecosystem.

The coastal rainforests are just one type of forest found in Canada; by far the largest type of forest is the boreal which starts in B.C. and expands across most of the central part of the country. Having visited Tofino many times it is probably one of the best areas to appreciate just how intricate a forest is.

Be sure to make a stop in Cathedral Grove on the way to see some gigantic trees, or visit the old trail in the Pacific Rim National Park. The most dominant trees found in the old growth rain forests are the Douglas fir, cedars, Sitka spruce, hemlock and yews; some of these trees can grow to be up to 70 meters tall and as old as 750 years. The old growth forest is always growing producing more wood, needles, roots and more plant life, this is due to the climate which rarely freezes and allows growth during other forests’ dormant winter months. This continuous growth allows them to store vast amounts of water in their sapwood to be used in times of drought.

These vast trees are home to many wildlife species and some that are endangered like the marbled murrelet, a sea auklet that nests up on a tree branch in a moss nest hidden from view.

On the east side of the Island, there are other unique forests especially in the gulf Islands and the Saanich Peninsula which are both part of the Maritime eco-system supporting unique forests of both Gary Oaks and Arbutus trees.

However, only half-a-per cent of the original forests still remain. Our forests not only provide a perfect habitat for a variety of birds, animals, amphibians, reptiles and insects, they also support the shrubs and other plant life that sustains them.

We all need to respect the forests that have taken thousands of years to evolve, some forest types risk disappearing forever due to past carelessness on our part.