British Columbia’s forests cover an area of about 60 million hectares (149 million acres) – the size of France and Germany combined. Most of the remainder of the province consists of alpine or other naturally unforested areas such as wetlands and grasslands. Only about 2% of B.C. has been permanently converted to agriculture, urban areas and other forms of development. That means B.C. has almost the same amount of forest as it did prior to European settlement.

Compared to most jurisdictions, B.C. is largely undeveloped, and much of the province remains as relatively pristine wilderness. The amount of roads is one measure of the level of development: about 45% of the province has less than 0.1 kilometre of road per square kilometre (equivalent to less than 0.16 miles of road per square mile).

Much of B.C.’s forests can be considered old growth forest. According to a definition developed by provincial scientists, old growth is considered more than 120 or 140 years of age for non-coastal forests, where fire is a frequent and natural occurrence; for coastal forests, where tree species are longer-lived and fire is rare, old growth is defined as trees more than 250 years of age. By this definition, an estimated 43% of B.C.’s forests are old growth – that is 25 million hectares (62 million acres), or about the size of the United Kingdom or the state of Oregon. In B.C.’s coastal rainforest, old growth accounts for more than half of the forest, with some trees reaching more than 1,000 years of age.

Old forests typically contain snags, fallen logs, and large trees not common in younger forests. Many plant and animal species require old forest habitat for some part of their life cycle. Overall, however, species benefit from a mix of forest ages across the landscape, as this offers a wide range of habitat conditions.

Forests cover two-thirds of the province, or roughly 60 million hectares.
An estimated 43% of B.C.’s forests are considered old growth.

Ecological Diversity

B.C. is Canada’s most ecologically diverse province. For example:

  • B.C. has an estimated one-fifth of the world’s remaining coastal temperate rainforests. These forests stretch the length of B.C.’s coast, covering an area of about 7.6 million hectares (18.7 million acres) – about the size of Ireland or the state of South Carolina. The mild, wet climate supports species such as western redcedar, Douglas-fir, western hemlock, amabilis fir and Sitka spruce. These are among the tallest trees in the world, and can reach an enormous size in this highly productive ecosystem.
  • Dry forests of lodgepole pine, the province’s most widespread tree species, dominate the gently rolling plateaus of central B.C. Like many interior (or non-coastal) forests, these pine forests depend on fire for renewal. For example, fires provide the high temperatures needed to open cones, which are sealed by a layer of pitch, and allow seeds to escape. These forests are also subject to insect infestations: the province is now experiencing its largest-ever infestation of the mountain pine beetle, which has infested about two million hectares in the west central interior.
  • B.C.’s harsh northern climate includes slow-growing forests of spruce, aspen, pine and deciduous shrubs, interspersed with areas of black spruce bogs and alpine tundra. The boreal forests of northeast B.C. are part of the extensive belt of boreal forests that stretch across Canada.
  • The valleys of south-central B.C. are the hottest and driest in Canada. Grasslands provide habitat for some of the province’s rarest plant and animal species, including desert species such as rattlesnakes. Forested zones are made up of ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir forests.
  • While interior forests are generally drier than coastal forests, there is a wet belt on the mountain slopes of southeastern B.C. These productive forests feature a wide range of tree species, including western red cedar and hemlock, which are commonly found on the coast.

These are only a few of B.C.’s 14 broad ecological zones, each of which is distinct in terms of climate, soil and vegetation. These biogeoclimatic zones are further divided into subzones and variants, depending on elevation, soil and other conditions. This ecological classification system helps forest managers to determine management practices that are best suited to the unique conditions of each part of the province.

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