Canada’s forests are full of life, providing food and shelter for wildlife that range from the largest mammal in North America, the wood bison, to one of the smallest, the 5cm-long pygmy shrew. Birds also benefit enormously from the nutrition and protection wooded areas across the country provide, with an estimated five billion migrating south and returning to northern forests each summer to breed. Fish too reap rewards from healthy forests, and also play an unsung role in helping them grow and change.
With these interconnections in mind, we’ve put together a few examples to get you thinking big and small about how important forests are for wildlife, and what wildlife offers forests in return.
Supportive: Squirrels in Eastern Canadian Forests
There are 22 different species of squirrels in Canada; six of which have adapted to living in trees, while the other 16 are ground-dwelling species. Found in every province and territory, squirrels are often dismissed as pests. But in forests, it’s a much different story. The tree-dwelling eastern grey squirrel, for example, thrives in east coast forests thanks to an abundance of food and shelter. In return, they play an important role in forest regeneration by burying nuts and seeds that they use to feed themselves throughout the winter. Ultimately, some of their buried food will be forgotten and germinate in the spring, bringing new life to forests.
Connected: Salmon, Bears, and Trees in BC’s Central and North Coast Rainforests
British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest is the largest temperate rainforest in the world. It takes its name from the grizzly and unique white-haired black bears–known as spirt bears–that are found there. Martens, wolves, and black-tailed deer also make up some of the wildlife population, as do five different species of salmon. “Fish” may not be the first word that comes to mind when you think “forest”, but the Great Bear’s salmon population is an essential part its richness and long-term health. It goes like this: salmon swim upstream to spawn, which draws bears and other carnivores, who dine on migrating fish. The fish that make it upstream die after spawning, and then break down to provide nutrients to trees and other vegetation. The trees in turn help support developing fish eggs by enriching streams with their roots and needles, in addition to keeping things cool by providing shade. Thanks to a 2016 agreement protecting the Great Bear Rainforest and the implementation of sustainable land-use practices, this amazing cycle will continue for generations to come.
A Big Deal in the Boreal: Snowshoe Hares
The largest intact forest left on earth, the Canadian Boreal Forest is home to 85 species of mammals. Thanks to its substantial resources, it is also used by nearly half of the birds in North America each year, providing important breeding habitat. While big for bids and other better-known species, this 5000km expanse of forest is also home to the snowshoe hare, an animal that’s as widespread as squirrels. As ground-dwellers, hares prefer to live in dense layers of plants below the main canopy of the forest, which provides them with food and protects them from predators. Known as a “keystone prey species”, scientists suggest that any significant decline in snowshoe hare populations would significantly change the boreal forest. In particular, it would cause a major decline in carnivore populations, throwing the entire ecosystem out of balance.
Canada’s forests are home to countless unique species, and each one of them plays a unique role in keeping the ecosystem in balance. The complex relationships at play show how important wild spaces are in shaping Canada’s wildlife, and how important wildlife is in shaping the nation’s forests.
Capture a Photo of a Forest Near you and Win!
We want your family to join the Living Forests Photo Contest and show Canada how important forests are to you.
With a camera in hand, take your kids to a forest. It can be a small wooded area in your city or town, or even a national or provincial park. While you’re out enjoying nature, see if you can capture an image that will fit into one of these categories: