More than just trees 

Naturalist speaker Andy MacKinnon giving a slideshow presentation on our coastal rainforests and what makes them so unique

WHAT: Whistler Naturalists speaker series presents Coastal Rainforests: More Than Just Trees?

WHEN: Thursday, Nov. 28, 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Millennium Place

There are patches of forest on the West Coast of British Columbia that have not seen a fire in hundreds, possibly even thousands of years. Then there are patches, says forest ecologist Andy MacKinnon, that haven’t had a fire since the last ice age, more than 10,000 years ago.

As a result of our wet climate and other unique conditions, the coastal rainforests of this province are a mysterious and one-of-a-kind phenomenon that require special care.

"What makes (the rainforests) different from forests anywhere else in Canada is that fire isn’t important in how the stands are structured, which species are found there, and that changes everything in terms of the ecology of the forests," says MacKinnon.

"You get forests that are more continuous, that are older, that have bigger trees, a bigger mix of live and dead wood and a whole host of creatures that are adapted to living in that forest."

MacKinnon has been invited by the Whistler Naturalists to give a Nov. 28 slide presentation on the coastal rainforests, and the more temperate sub-alpine forests around Whistler entitled Coastal Rainforests: More than Just Trees?

"I’ve been invited to talk about forest ecology like the plants and the fungi you find in the forest around Whistler, the geographical extent of the ecosystems, what’s been logged and what’s left, and why we might be interested, and why the world is also very interested," says MacKinnon.

MacKinnon is the manager of ecosystem conservation for the B.C. government. He is also the co-author of numerous field guides, including Plants of Coastal British Columbia.

With his background in ecology, he studies old growth forests with an emphasis on the temperate coastal rainforests of B.C. Currently he is involved in the issue of managing non-timber species in the forests.

According to MacKinnon, most forests in B.C. see forest fires every 50 to 150 years. Some areas in the Interior see fires every 15 to 20 years. As a result the trees are generally spaced wider and are of similar ages.

Rainforests are denser, wetter, and far more mixed in terms of the variety of the kinds of flora and fauna that flourish there. "The plants and animals can be very different than what we find in the Interior of the province," says MacKinnon.

The rainforests are also home to a large number of species that have yet to be discovered. While ecologists know the trees, plants and animals in the rainforests fairly well, "the insects are poorly known, the fungi are poorly know, and the microbes are not known at all," according to MacKinnon.

Of all the insect species collected in a study of the rainforest canopy in the Carmanagh Valley, 30 per cent were new to science.

"Especially surprising was the discovery of all these wingless insects. They’re adapted to living in these areas where things don’t burn. They don’t need to disperse all that far – you’re never too far to walk to the next big tree," says MacKinnon.

MacKinnon says the rainforests, specifically the Great Bear Rainforest on the central coast and the forests surrounding Clayoquot Sound on Vancouver Island, have attracted international attention for good reason.

"They’re wonderful. You have big, old trees, and all of the wonderful species that live in them," he says.

"But they are also the stands that are changed the most when they are logged. If you go into the boreal forest of B.C. where most of the trees are probably less than 150 years old, you can log and replace them with seedlings… and in another 150 years, it will probably look quite similar to what was logged. If you log in coastal B.C., it’s going to be very different. In a lot of ways the forests require more careful management than our Interior forests."

MacKinnon’s slide presentation is $7 for adults, and free for children and 2003 members of the Whistler Naturalists. A membership is $15 per person, and $30 for couples and families.

The slide show follows the Whistler Naturalists’ annual general meeting which starts at 6 p.m. Members and the public are welcome.

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