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West Coast and Mountains

Dunlin (photo: Peter Candido)
The West Coast and Mountains region includes the southern two-thirds of British Columbia, coast included, and a southwestern section of Alberta. The West Coast and Mountains region is ecologically diverse, with habitats ranging from temperate rainforest and oak savannah on the coast to mountain forests, alpine tundra and grasslands in the interior. In a region dominated by high mountains, valley bottoms are important living spaces for birds and people. This variety of ecosystem types is associated with an equally wide range of pressures, from natural resource extraction to urban development to shoreline development.

Bird's-Eye View

  • Characteristic species in this region have declined, especially in the Pacific Coast areas, where forestry, agriculture, and expanding urban and coastal development have reduced suitable habitats for many bird species.
  • Many forest birds have declined, especially species associated with mature forest. Forestry activities and the ongoing outbreak of Mountain Pine Beetles are expected to reduce the mature pine forest by more than 70% by 2015. The loss of these trees is altering habitat supply and structure for many declining species, especially birds that depend on cone crops.
  • Loss and degradation of grasslands and riparian (adjacent to water) habitats throughout the region are linked to declines in grassland and shrub birds.

Trends

Overall, characteristic species in the West Coast and Mountains have decreased by 10%. In the Pacific Coast portion of this region, where human settlement, industry and forestry are most intense, they have declined by 35%—a drastic decline for such a large group of species. Although this decline is troublesome, most of the monitoring data come from the valleys where human activity is concentrated; populations away from settled areas may have different trends.

Line graph depicting the percent change in population size of various bird guilds in the West Coast region since 1973 Bar chart showing the number of species in each guild with increasing or decreasing population size
Indicators of the average population status of characteristic species (click on graphic for a larger version and associated data tables)

Forest birds have declined by approximately 10%. Species associated with mature forest, such as Pine Siskin, Red Crossbill, Cassin’s Finch, Purple Finch and Pine Grosbeak, have decreased most steeply. They are vulnerable to loss of mature forest due to logging and, more recently, to the outbreak of Mountain Pine Beetle.

Photograph of two pairs of Barrow's Goldeneyes on the water
Most Barrow’s Goldeneye in Canada breed in this
region; their populations have fluctuated without a
strong trend. (photo: Ralph Hocken)
Grasslands and other open habitats, such as the Garry Oak ecosystem, are under development pressures from agriculture and human settlement. Grassland birds, such as Western Meadowlark and Vesper Sparrow, are declining as their habitat is lost and degraded.

Aerial insectivores have decreased in this region, although not as steeply as in eastern Canada.

Waterfowl populations overall have increased in the region. Canada Goose, Hooded Merganser and Ring-necked Duck populations have more than doubled. Other water birds appear to have increased slightly, but the trend is uncertain and the group includes both strongly increasing species, such as Sandhill Crane, and strongly decreasing species, such as Great Blue Heron.

Threats

Aerial photo showing the impact of a Mountain Pine Beetle infestation The Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic is expected to kill more than 70% of pine forests in the interior of the region. The outbreak has been exacerbated by forest management and fire suppression that created large, low-diversity pine forests which were highly susceptible to attack by these beetles. Climate change has resulted in warmer winters that allow unusually high overwinter survival of the beetle, speeding the growth and spread of the outbreak. (photo: Province of British Columbia)
Forestry continues to reduce the area of mature forests. Coastal old growth forests take hundreds of years to re-grow after logging and are still being logged much faster than they can be replaced. Some of the remaining forest habitat is fragmented into small, isolated patches and degraded by management for forests with uniform age trees of a few species.

Photograph of a Red Crossbill with a cone
Red Crossbills, which feed mainly on cones,
have declined as a result of the loss of mature
pine trees. (photo: Elaine R. Wilson)
Urbanization and industrial agriculture are reducing grassland and riparian habitats in the valleys and degrading what remains through invasive plants, heavy recreational use and poorly managed cattle grazing.

Projected droughts in the interior, due to climate change, will severely reduce habitat for breeding waterfowl and other water birds and alter forest bird habitat through changes to water tables.

Solutions

Photograph of two White-tailed Ptarmigans
The White-tailed Ptarmigan is one of few species
that nest in rocky areas above the treeline.
Climate change may affect their habitat, but
little is known of their population trends.
(photo: Richard J. Cannings)
Preserving remaining old growth forests, particularly in intact watersheds, will benefit birds and other wildlife that depend on this ecosystem.

Forest management can support healthy bird populations by promoting structural diversity, such as large snags, understory shrubs and successional openings. Forest birds also benefit from management that promotes age and species diversity of trees, such as retaining forest patches within clear-cuts, leaving non-pine trees during salvage logging of beetle-killed trees and replanting the original diversity of tree species.

Photograph of a Flammulated Owl
Flammulated Owls depend on retention of
healthy montane coniferous forests. (photo:
Richard J. Cannings)
Conserving and restoring grassland and riparian habitat patches in the working landscape—agricultural and urban environments—will benefit bird conservation and the people who live there. Preventing further fragmentation and degradation of the remaining grassland habitats is vital for maintaining populations of grassland birds in the interior.

Photograph of a Yellow-breasted Chat singing
Yellow-breasted Chat (photo: Rene McKibbin)

Widening riparian zones and fencing them off to exclude cattle grazing benefits endangered species such as the Yellow-breasted Chat. Removal of cattle from riparian habitat in the Okanagan Valley has allowed wild rose thickets to regenerate, providing nesting habitat and allowing the population to increase from 4 to 45 breeding pairs.