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The variety of climates in British Columbia, combined with the diverse terrain, results in a pattern of distinct ecosystems. Among them are grasslands, oak parklands, temperate rainforests, dry pine forests, desert-like steppes, meadows and wetlands.

British Columbia’s varied physical geography and climate make it the most biologically and ecologically diverse province in Canada. It is home to Canada’s wettest forests along the Pacific Coast and the country’s driest forests in the southern Interior.

The various habitats have made British Columbia home to the greatest diversity of plants and animals of any province in Canada. Three-quarters of Canada’s mammal species are found in the province, 24 of which occur exclusively in British Columbia.

There are 1,138 species of vertebrates in B.C., comprised of the following:

488 species of birds
468 species of fish
142 species of mammals
22 species of amphibians
18 species of reptiles

Over 250 bird species breed in the province, 162 of which (55%) breed nowhere else in Canada. Invertebrate species probably number between 50,000 and 70,000, including 35,000 species of insects.

British Columbia has an estimated 2,790 native vascular plant species, (nearly 27% are considered species at risk). Approximately 1,000 bryophytes (mosses and liverworts), 1,600 lichens, 522 species of attached algae, and well over 10,000 species of fungi are present in the province.

British Columbia has the second-largest parks system in Canada, after Canada’s National Parks. The 972 parks and protected areas (provincial parks, ecological reserves, recreation areas and other protected areas), covering over 13.5 million hectares, are diverse in their features and facilities. There are more than 340 campgrounds, 11,000 campsites, 263 day-use areas and 6,000 km of hiking trails within the provincial parks.

Nearly one-tenth of the province's parks are wilderness, largely untouched and frequented mostly by back-packers and mountaineers. Inland and coastal waters are dotted with marine parks intended primarily for water-borne users.

The province is home to Canada’s only grizzly bear sanctuary, located in Khutzeymateen Provincial Park in the Khutzeymateen Valley in northwest BC, and has the largest intact coastal temperate rainforest in the world, which is protected in Kitlope Heritage Conservancy. The entire Tatshenshini- Alsek region, almost one million hectares in northwestern B.C., has been protected as a Class A provincial park and nominated as a World Heritage Site.

British Columbia’s laws and policies protect land and forest values; its conservation strategies help protect habitat for vulnerable species such as grizzly bears, spotted owls and mountain caribou. It continually reviews and adjusts forest management rules so they reflect the latest scientific knowledge and offer the best protection for all forest and land values.

In 2006, the British Columbia government created a new conservancy designation to protect special areas in the central and north Pacific Coast planning regions. Like Class A parks, the conservancies provide a high level of protection and allow no commercial resource development. However, they explicitly preserve and maintain Aboriginal uses and allow low-impact, compatible economic activities such as shellfish aquaculture.

Although a healthy forest includes a range of ages, older forests provide specialized habitats that play a significant role in maintaining biological diversity. They also hold unique cultural and spiritual values for First Nations. Conserving old growth is an important component of long-term resource management planning in British Columbia.

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