In the Great Bear Rainforest, rivulets twist far inland and clouds sink so low that the air seems infused with water. The ragged shoreline plummets to glassy pools and glacier-cut fjords. It’s not an easy place to navigate by ground. But for birds soaring above on thermals, this mosaic of land, sea and sky offers just what they need: plentiful food and habitat.
Look to the sky and you may see snow geese pumping their white wings into the wind as they head south. In the ocean, common murres and rhinoceros auklets dive like tiny seals into the waves and emerge with billfulls of silver fish.
Living on the Edge
One ancient tree in the Great Bear Rainforest — the Sitka spruce — provides habitat for several different bird species. Brown creepers make their homes under its plated bark, pileated woodpeckers drill nest cavities in its trunk and marbled murrelets lay their eggs on tree limbs high above the forest floor. But large trees like these are also valuable to humans: a single one can be worth tens of thousands of dollars.
The Nature Conservancy is working with its partners to ensure that the Great Bear Rainforest remains healthy and forested. As a result of historic land-use agreements we worked together to achieve, 5 million acres are now off limits to logging and more than 19 million acres are under strict land management guidelines called ecosystem based management. Over the next few years, we will continue to encourage sustainable forestry techniques that not only ensure the health of these animals, but also the health of the region’s economy.
Beyond the forest’s edge, breeding birds also rely on the abundant Pacific Ocean: nearly six million individuals from 15 or so seabird species come to feed in the waters off the Great Bear Rainforest’s coasts, Together with its partners, the Conservancy is turning its attention to the sustainability in the ocean, using science to pioneer ways of countering threats like fisheries conflict, habitat loss, marine debris and climate change.
A Satisfying Stopover
In addition to providing homes for resident species, the Great Bear Rainforest provides a rest stop and refueling station for millions of migratory birds traveling along the Pacific Flyway. At any moment in the spring or fall, the night sky might be full of millions of birds making their way to and from breeding grounds in the Arctic and throughout the Americas.
Sandhill cranes, one of the oldest bird species in existence, stop at the head of the Delkatla Inlet in spring and fall on their migratory routes. And nearly the entire world population of western sandpipers passes through the Fraser Delta on their way to Alaska each year.
It is this mobility and the vast ranges of these birds that pose the greatest challenge to conservationists. How do you protect a species that has a 5,000-mile range, crosses a half-dozen nations and two continents? The short answer is it’s not simple.
Partners in Flight
From the bald eagle that carries a salmon from the sea to the forest, to the woodpecker whose abandoned nest provides shelter for a pine marten or owl in winter, the birds of the Great Bear Rainforest play critical roles in maintaining a functioning ecosystem.
Now, with only a quarter of the original coastal temperate rainforest remaining, people have an important role to play in ensuring its healthy future. The unprecedented negotiations and agreements between the Great Bear Rainforest’s main constituencies — First Nations; industry; communities; workers; small businesses and nonprofits — have opened a window of opportunity to sustain the entire region’s ecosystem and the communities within it as a single unbroken whole.