Geography of British Columbia
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|Area||Ranked 3rd among provinces|
|• Total||944,735 km2 (364,764 sq mi)|
|Coastline||27,000 km (17,000 mi)|
|Borders||Total land borders: U.S. states Alaska, Washington, Idaho, Montana; Canadian provinces Alberta, Yukon and Northwest Territories|
|Highest point||Mount Fairweather|
4,663 m (15,299 ft)
|Lowest point||Pacific Ocean|
|Longest river||Fraser River|
1,368 km (850 mi)
|Largest lake||Williston Lake|
1,761 km2 (680 sq mi)
British Columbia is the westernmost province of Canada, bordered by the Pacific Ocean. With an area of 944,735 square kilometres (364,764 sq mi) it is Canada's third-largest province. The province is almost four times the size of United Kingdom, two and one-half times larger than Japan and larger than every U.S. state except Alaska. It is bounded on the northwest by the U.S. state of Alaska, directly north by Yukon and the Northwest Territories, on the east by Alberta, and on the south by the U.S. states of Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Formerly part of the British Empire, the southern border of British Columbia was established by the 1846 Oregon Treaty. The province is dominated by mountain ranges, among them the Canadian Rockies but dominantly the Coast Mountains, Cassiar Mountains, and the Columbia Mountains. Most of the population is concentrated on the Pacific coast, notably in the area of Vancouver, located on the southwestern tip of the mainland, which is known as the Lower Mainland. It is the most mountainous province of Canada.
- 1 Statistics
- 2 Physical geography
- 3 Ecoregions
- 4 Political geography
- 5 See also
- 6 External links
- 7 References
- Total area: 944,735 km²
- Land area: 925,186 km²
- Water area: 19,549 km² (2.1%)
British Columbia is customarily divided into three main regions, the Interior, the Coast and the Lower Mainland (though the last-named is technically part of the Coast). These are broken up by a loose and often overlapping system of cultural-geographic regions, often based on river basins but sometimes spanning them. Examples of the former would be the Kootenays, the Okanagan, and the Chilcotin, while of the latter would be the Lillooet Country and Cariboo. Important subareas of these include the Fraser Valley, part of the Lower Mainland, the Fraser Canyon (which overlaps with various regions) and the Robson Valley, which is the uppermost basin of the Fraser River southeast of Prince George. Vancouver Island is seen as its own region within the Coast, as are the Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) and the Gulf Islands.
The Canadian Rockies, Coast Mountains and Inside Passage provide some of British Columbia's renowned and spectacular scenery. These landforms provide the backdrop and context for a growing outdoor adventure and ecotourism industry. In the southwestern corner of B.C., the Lower Fraser Valley forms a flat, fertile triangle of intensively used land. The city of Penticton and the small towns Oliver, and Osoyoos have some of the warmest summer climates in Canada, although the hottest spots are the towns of Lillooet and Lytton in the Fraser Canyon. Nearly all of the Coast including much of Vancouver Island is covered by a temperate rain forest. One-third of the province consists of barren alpine tundra, icefields, and glaciers.
Mountains and mountain ranges
The landforms of British Columbia include two major continental landforms, the Interior Plains in the province's northeast, the British Columbia portion of which is part of the Alberta Plateau. The rest of the province is part of the Western Cordillera of North America, often referred to in Canada as the Pacific Cordillera or Canadian Cordillera. The Cordillera is subdivided into four main "systems" (which are distinct from the corresponding region's geologic provinces):
B.C.'s Eastern Mountain System comprises the dominant Canadian Rockies, with the Cariboo, Selkirk, Monashee, and Purcell ranges of the Columbia Mountains system in the south. The Canadian Rockies incorporate the Canadian segment of the North American Rocky Mountains range. The southern end in Alberta and British Columbia borders Idaho and Montana of the United States. The northern end is at the Liard Plain in British Columbia.
The Interior System comprises the Interior Plateau and Interior Mountains (aka the Northern Interior Mountains) and the southern part of the Yukon Plateau. The major subdivisions of the Interior Mountains are the Cassiar Mountains, Omineca Mountains, Stikine Plateau, Skeena Mountains and Hazelton Mountains. Each has a variety of subranges and some definitions include the Tahltan Highland and Tagish Highland which may also be assigned to the Boundary Ranges of the Coast Mountains (see next). The major subdivisions of the Interior Plateau are the Nechako Plateau, the McGregor Plateau, the Fraser Plateau (which includes the Chilcotin Plateau and Cariboo Plateau and a number of small mountain ranges) and the Thompson Plateau. The Quesnel, Shuswap and Okanagan Highlands which flank the plateau to the east are sometimes seen as part of it, but are officially part of the Columbia Mountains range-system and are seen as subranges of the adjoining ranges, namely the Cariboo Mountains and Monashee Mountains.
The Western System comprises the Coast Mountains, the Canadian portion of the Cascade Mountains (known in the US as the Cascade Range), the southeastern most Saint Elias Mountains and the Coastal Trough, which includes the Georgia Depression and its subunit the Fraser Lowland and other low-lying coastal areas.
The Western Mountain System's Coast Mountains are the westernmost range of the Pacific Cordillera, running along the western shore of the North American continent, extending south from the Alaska Panhandle and covering most of coastal British Columbia. The range is covered in dense temperate rainforest on its western exposures, the range rises to heavily glaciated peaks, including the largest temperate-latitude icefields in the world, and then tapers to the dry Interior Plateau on its eastern flanks, or to the subarctic boreal forest of the Skeena Mountains and Stikine Plateau.
Mount Waddington (4016 m) is the highest mountain within B.C. and Fairweather Mountain in the Fairweather Range of the Saint Elias Mountains on the B.C. and Alaska border has the highest point. Much of the B.C. coast has a fjord scenery, due to the many islands along the Pacific coast being the highest points of a partly submerged mountain range.
Geology and orogeny
|Mountain||Height (m)||Mountain||Height (m)|
|Saint Elias Mountains||Rocky Mountains (cont.)|
|Fairweather Mountain (highest point on Alaska–B.C. boundary)||4,663||Mount Assiniboine (on Alberta–B.C. boundary)||3,618|
|Mount Quincy Adams (on Alaska–B.C. boundary)||4,133||Mount Goodsir: North Tower||3,581|
|Mount Root (on Alaska–B.C. boundary)||3,901||Mount Goodsir: South Tower||3,520|
|Coast Mountains||Snow Dome (on Alberta–B.C. boundary)||3,520|
|Mount Waddington||4,016||Mount Bryce||3,507|
|Mount Tiedemann||3,848||Selkirk Mountains|
|Combatant Mountain||3,756||Mount Sir Sandford||3,522|
|Asperity Mountain||3,716||Cariboo Mountains|
|Serra Peaks||3,642||Mount Sir Wilfrid Laurier||3,520|
|Monarch Mountain||3,459||Purcell Mountains|
|Rocky Mountains||Mount Farnham||3,481|
|Mount Robson||3,954||Monashee Mountains|
|Mount Columbia (on Alberta–B.C. boundary)||3,747||Mount Monashee||3,274|
|Mount Clemenceau||3,642||Hallam Peak||3,205|
Source Statistics Canada
Although little-known to the general public, British Columbia is home to a huge area of volcanoes and volcanic activity in the Pacific Ring of Fire. Several mountains that many British Columbians look at every day are dormant volcanoes. Most of them have erupted during the Pleistocene and Holocene. Although none of Canada's volcanoes are currently erupting, several volcanoes, volcanic fields, and volcanic centers are considered potentially active, 49 of which have erupted in the past 10,000 years and many of which have been active in the past two million years. There are hot springs at some volcanoes while 10 volcanoes in British Columbia appear related to seismic activity since 1975, including: Mount Silverthrone, Mount Meager massif, Wells Gray-Clearwater volcanic field, Mount Garibaldi, Mount Cayley massif, Castle Rock, The Volcano, Mount Edziza, Hoodoo Mountain and Crow Lagoon. Numerous shield volcanoes developed during the Tertiary period in north-central British Columbia and some were active intermittently to recent times. Mount Edziza and Level Mountain are most spectacular examples. Mount Edziza is a stratovolcano consisting of a basal shield of basaltic flows surmounted by a central vent and flanked by numerous satellite cones, ash beds and blocky lavas. The complex has a long history of volcanic eruption that began about 10 million years ago and ended about 1300 years ago. The volcanoes are grouped into four volcanic belts with different tectonic settings.
The Garibaldi Volcanic Belt is a north-south range of volcanoes in southwestern British Columbia. It is the northern extension of the Cascade Volcanic Arc in the United States and contains the most explosive young volcanoes in Canada. It was formed by subduction of the Juan de Fuca Plate at the Cascadia subduction zone. Eruption styles within the belt range from effusive to explosive, with compositions from basalt to rhyolite. The most recent major catastrophic eruption was the 2350 BP eruption of the Mount Meager massif. It produced an ash column at least 20 km high into the stratosphere and dammed the Lillooet River with breccia.
The Anahim Volcanic Belt is an east-west line of volcanoes. These volcanoes probably formed when the North American Plate moved over the Anahim hotspot. The hotspot is considered similar to the one feeding the Hawaiian Islands. The last volcanic eruption within the belt was about 7000 years ago at a small cinder cone called Nazko Cone.
The Northern Cordilleran Volcanic Province (sometimes called the Stikine Volcanic Belt) is the most active volcanic region in Canada, containing more than 100 volcanoes. Several eruptions are known to have occurred within this region in the past 400 years and contains Canada's largest volcanoes. It formed as a result of faulting, cracking, rifting and the interaction between the Pacific and the North American plates.
The Wells Gray-Clearwater volcanic field in southeastern British Columbia consists of numerous small, basaltic volcanoes and extensive lava flows. Many individual volcanoes in the field have been active for the last 3 million years during which time the region was covered by thick glacial ice at least twice, prior to the well known Fraser Glaciation (also known as the Wisconsin Glaciation). The origin of the volcanism is yet unknown but is probably related to crustal thinning. The last eruption in the field was at Kostal Cone in 1500. Volcanism within the field has also created the 465-foot (142 m)-high Helmcken Falls, which is the fourth highest waterfall in Canada. It owes its foundation to the deposits of volcanic rock that were placed down in the wide valley of the Murtle River. Layer upon layer of fresh lava created flat areas, over which enormous floods flowed during the last ice age. These floods shaped the upright cliff in the lava flows over which the river now flows. The protection of Helmcken Falls was one of the major causes for the development of Wells Gray Provincial Park. As a result, if it had not been for the volcanic eruptions, it is not likely that such a large wilderness region would have been made.
The Fraser River forms an important transportation corridor when it drains much of central and southern British Columbia flowing to the Pacific Ocean. Other major rivers include the upper Columbia River and the Kootenay River. In northern B.C. the Stikine, Nass and Skeena Rivers flow toward the Pacific Ocean, and Peace River flows northeast toward the Arctic Ocean. Hydroelectric resources in B.C. are highly developed, and pulp and paper and lumber mills are common throughout the province. The Fraser, Nass, and Skeena Rivers have not been dammed in order to protect the salmon runs on them. Rivers and their valleys have for a long time provided routes through the mountains for people in B.C.
Long, narrow lakes are found throughout the valleys of the Southern and Central Interior. Among these are Atlin, Kootenay, Okanagan, Quesnel, and Shuswap Lakes. Several high dams have impounded large reservoir lakes like Kinbasket Lake, particularly on the Columbia (see Hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River) and Peace Rivers. Williston Lake, on the Peace River, is the province's largest body of freshwater.
|River||Drainage area (km²)||Length (km)||Discharge (m^3/s)|
|Columbia (mouth to head of Columbia Lake)||668,000||2,000||7,500|
|(International boundary to head of Columbia Lake)||102,800||801||2,800|
|Kettle (to head of Holmes Lake)||4,700||336||82.2|
|Okanagan (to head of Okanagan Lake)||21,600||314||18.3|
|Thompson (to head of North Thompson)||55,400||489||772|
|South Thompson (to head of Shuswap)||17,800||332||292|
|Nechako (to head of Eutsuk Lake)||47,100||462||277|
|Stuart (to head of Driftwood)||16,200||415||131|
|Peace (to head of Finlay)||302,500||1,923||1,540|
|Atlin (including Yukon portion)||775||668||283||54.0|
British Columbia's climate is best described as varied. The mountainous terrain causes huge changes in climatic conditions over short distances. All winter long the coast is pounded with storm after storm off the Pacific Ocean. The Coast Mountains, Cascades and also the Skeena and Hazelton Mountains block most of the precipitation which forces the majority of the precipitation to fall on the West side of the mountains. In contrast, the leeward side is much drier with some areas classified as semi-arid. The Coast of British Columbia is by far the wettest area in Canada, while areas located 150–200 km inland are some of the driest places in Canada outside of the High Arctic. Most of Northern BC as well as many mountain highways have a subarctic or subalpine climate.
Coastal British Columbia experiences the mildest winters in Canada where freezing temperatures are infrequent. Victoria, generally considered the mildest major city in Canada, has gone an entire winter without freezing. Along with the moderating effect of the Pacific Ocean, the mountains impede the flow of the cold arctic air during the winter. The only exception is the northeastern portion of the province situated on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains. Without the protection of the mountains, the climate is similar to that found in the neighboring parts of Alberta. The winters are very cold and the summers are warmer than areas west of the Rockies.
Summer daytime temperatures in the Southwestern Interior are the hottest in Canada. During July and August, the average daily maximum temperature around Osoyoos and Spences Bridge is over 29 °C (84.2 °F), though Lillooet and Lytton erroneously claim to be hotter and vie for the title of "Canada's Hot Spot". This is because their summertime temperature extremes tend to be hotter than Osoyoos and Spences Bridge (despite a slightly cooler average temperature). This heat combined with little precipitation means that arid animals and vegetation thrive. Although winter temperatures are much colder than Coastal British Columbia, many interior areas have warmer winters than most of the other provinces in Canada. Southern Interior valleys, including the Okanagan Valley, are spared the incessant precipitation found on the coast, but they receive some of the lowest amounts of bright sunshine in Canada
during the winter months. This is a result of winter temperature inversions that leave the valleys in a layer of thick cloud while the rest of the province basks in sunshine.
On the other hand, a few small southern interior towns, for example Princeton and Grand Forks, have a humid continental climate (Dfb) with average winter temperatures and cold snaps comparable to other parts of the country, due to their higher elevation. While these are still considered mild by Canadian standards, there are even smaller villages with even higher elevation, such as Allenby and Beaverdell, with even colder average temperatures.
Some Mountain passes in southern BC can have dangerous heavy snowfall and freezing rain, and drivers may be unaware of wintry road conditions when they come from nearby areas like Vancouver and Kamloops that are much warmer. Some passes on major highways, including Roger's Pass (Highway 1) and Coquihalla Summit (Highway 5) get more annual snowfall than the snowiest cities in Canada.
|Zone||Average annual temperature||Average July daily high||Record Max||Average January daily low||Record Min||Average snowfall||Average rainfall|
|North East (Fort Nelson)||-0.4 °C||23.2 °C||36.7 °C||-24.6 °C||-51.7 °C||190.8 cm||312.6 mm|
|North West (Dease Lake)||-0.5 °C||19.5 °C||35.3 °C||-20.4 °C||-51.2 °C||212.8 cm||280.0 mm|
|Peace (Dawson Creek)||1.9 °C||22.2 °C||35.0 °C||-19.0 °C||-49.2 °C||172.7 cm||307.2 mm|
|Central Interior (Prince George)||4.3 °C||22.4 °C||36.0 °C||-11.7 °C||-50.0 °C||205.1 cm||423.6 mm|
|North Coast (Prince Rupert)||7.5 °C||16.2 °C||31.1 °C||-0.8 °C||-24.4 °C||92.4 cm||2530.4 mm|
|Southwestern Interior (Kamloops)||9.3 °C||28.9 °C||40.7 °C||-5.9 °C||-37.2 °C||63.5 cm||224.3 mm|
|Southeastern Interior (Cranbrook)||6.0 °C||26.2 °C||36.7 °C||-10.2 °C||-40.0 °C||125.3 cm||279.5 mm|
|South Coast (Vancouver)||10.4 °C||22.2 °C||34.4 °C||1.4 °C||-17.8 °C||38.1 cm||1152.8 mm|
|Warmest Annual Temperature||Coldest Annual Temperature||Sunniest||Cloudiest||Driest||Wettest|
|City||Chiliwack - 10.5 °C||Fort St. John - 2.0 °C||Cranbrook - 2205 hours||Prince Rupert - 1229 hours||Kamloops - 279 mm||Prince Rupert - 2594 mm|
|Maximum Temperature||44.4 °C (112 °F)||Lillooet, Lytton, and Chinook Cove (near Barriere)||July 1941|
|Minimum Temperature||−58.9 °C (−74 °F)||Smith River||February 1947|
|Least Precipitation in One Year||71.2 mm (2.80 in)||Ashcroft||1938|
|Most Precipitation in One Year *||9,307 mm (366.4 in)||Henderson Lake||1997|
|Most Snow in One Year *||2,420 cm (950 in)||Mount Copeland||1971|
|Most Snow in One Season (July 1 to June 30) *||2,446.5 cm (963.2 in)||Mount Copeland||1971/72|
|Warmest Winter (Mean Temperature)||8.6 °C (47.5 °F)||Howe Sound||1991/92|
|Coldest Winter||−30.5 °C (−22.9 °F)||Lower Post||1968/69|
|Hottest Spring||13.6 °C (56.5 °F)||Lytton||1947|
|Coldest Spring||−7.3 °C (18.9 °F)||Old Glory Mountain||1955|
|Hottest Summer||23.8 °C (74.8 °F)||Lillooet||1958|
|Coldest Summer||4.3 °C (39.7 °F)||Kemano Pass||1955|
|Hottest Fall||13.9 °C (57.0 °F)||Clayoquot||1944|
|Coldest Fall||−6.9 °C (19.6 °F)||Cassiar||1955|
|Hottest Year||12.7 °C (54.9 °F)||Howe Sound||2015|
|Coldest Year||−4.9 °C (23.2 °F)||Smith River||1950|
|Wettest Winter||4,644.3 mm (182.85 in)||Henderson Lake||1923/24|
|Driest Winter||1.9 mm (0.075 in)||Alexis Creek||1962/63|
|Wettest Spring||2,714.1 mm (106.85 in)||Henderson Lake||1997|
|Driest Spring||4.3 mm (0.17 in)||Atlin||1943|
|Wettest Summer||1,187.6 mm (46.76 in)||Henderson Lake||1997|
|Driest Summer||3.0 mm (0.12 in)||Cameron Lake||1951|
|Wettest Fall||3,243.9 mm (127.71 in)||Henderson Lake||1927|
|Driest Fall||4.9 mm (0.19 in)||Greenwood||1929|
|Wettest Year||9,307.3 mm (366.43 in)||Henderson Lake||1997|
|Driest Year||71.2 mm (2.80 in)||Ashcroft||1938|
|Sunniest Month||432.8 hours||Victoria||July 2013|
|Highest Humidex *||53.4||Castlegar||July 14, 1961|
* indicates a Canadian record.
Parks and Protected Areas
There are 14 designations of parks and protected areas in the province that reflect the different administration and creation of these areas in a modern context. There are 141 Ecological Reserves, 35 Provincial Marine Parks, 7 Provincial Heritage Sites, 6 National Historic Sites, 4 National Parks and 3 National Park Reserves. 12.5% (114,000 km²) of BC is currently considered 'protected' under one of the 14 different designations that includes over 800 distinct areas.
British Columbia contains seven of Canada's national parks:
- Glacier National Park
- Gulf Islands National Park Reserve
- Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site
- Kootenay National Park
- Mount Revelstoke National Park
- Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
- Yoho National Park
BC also contains a large network of provincial parks, run by BC Parks of the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy.
In addition to parks, British Columbia also protects approximately 47,000 square kilometers of agricultural land via the Agricultural Land Reserve.
Environment Canada system
Environment Canada subdivides British Columbia into a system of ecozones, each containing smaller ecoregions. The ecozones within British Columbia include the Pacific Marine, Pacific Maritime, Boreal Cordillera, Montane Cordillera, Taiga Plains, and Boreal Plains Ecozones. The system used was established by the trilateral Commission for Environmental Cooperation and as such is parallel to that used by the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States, though their system uses different names for the same ecozones and ecoregions, and to a similar ecoregional subdivision of Mexico.
World Wildlife Fund system
In an ecoregion system advanced by the World Wildlife Fund, British Columbia's ecosystems are divided on five different levels, each classifying the area on a progressively more detailed basis. At the top level, ecodomains delineate areas of broad climatic uniformity across the world. The ecodomains are then divided into ecodivisions which delineate areas of broad climatic and physiographic uniformity. Next, the ecodivisions are divided into ecoprovinces which consider climate, oceanography, relief and regional landforms. The ecoprovinces are then divided into ecoregions which consider major physiographic and minor macroclimatic or oceanographic variations. Finally, the ecoregions are divided into ecosections for minor physiographic and macroclimatic or oceanographic variations. Overall, B.C. is divided into 4 large ecodomain areas which are progressively divided down into 114 small ecosections.
Biogeoclimatic Zones of British Columbia
- Coastal Western Hemlock Zone: Wet, mossy, dense temperate rain forests of Western Hemlock, Western Redcedar, Pacific Silver (Amabilis) Fir, Yellow Cedar, Coast Douglas-fir, Grand Fir, Sitka Spruce, and Western White Pine, Bigleaf Maple, Red Alder, sword fern, devil's club, and red huckleberry predominate on the west coast of Vancouver Island, the west coast of the mainland north of the Fraser River delta to north of Prince Rupert, farther inland along the Fraser and Skeena River Valleys, and on Haida Gwaii. This zone was the original locus of British Columbia's forest industry; and most of the trees have been harvested at least once. There has been much effort (some successful) to protect the remaining old growth forest from logging.
- Coast Douglas-fir Zone: A drier region of temperate forest, this is the smallest and most heavily populated biome of the province. It encompasses the southern and most of the eastern coastal fringe of Vancouver Island, the Fraser River delta, the Gulf Islands, and parts of the Sunshine Coast. Trees unique to this area include the Arbutus, Garry oak, and manzanita.
- Interior Douglas-fir–Montane–Ponderosa Pine–Bunchgrass Zones: The dry valleys and plateaus of BC's southern interior, stretching from the lower reaches of the Chilcotin Plateau, across the southern Cariboo, and south through the Okanagan. A separate, isolated region exists in the East Kootenay. This region encompasses the Fraser Canyon, the lower Thompson River, and the Nicola and Similkameen watersheds. It is characterised by treeless bunchgrass steppes, sagebrush scrub, and open forests of Ponderosa Pine, Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir, trembling aspen, Lodgepole Pine, and Western Larch. Much of the area is used for timber harvesting, ranching, and orchard-growing. The winters are cold and dry, and the summers are hot and drier.
- Interior Redcedar-Western Hemlock Zone: An interior wetbelt, similar to the Coastal Western Hemlock Zone, is found in the low to middle elevations of the Columbia Mountains in southeastern British Columbia, west of the Rockies, as well as north in the Nass and Skeena River drainages. The cool, wet winters and warm, moist summers produce the greatest plant diversity of any zone in the province. Western Hemlock and Western Redcedar predominate, but Grand Fir, Western Larch, White Spruce, Engelmann Spruce, black cottonwood, trembling aspen, Western White Pine, and Subalpine Fir are also common, depending on the elevation. The dense and diverse forests make this zone the second most productive forest zone in British Columbia and Canada.
- Sub-Boreal (Hemiboreal) Spruce and Pine-Spruce Zones: The central interior of the province, consisting of the rolling lake-studded terrain of the Cariboo — the Fraser and Nechako Plateaus — is characterised by severe, snowy winters and warm, short summers. This is a transitional zone between southern and northern biomes. Seral species include Lodgepole Pine, Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir, and trembling aspen; mature species include White and Engelmann Spruce, and Subalpine Fir. The moderately dense forests are interrupted in places by ponds and muskeg. The generally flat plateaus make this an active area for logging.
- Boreal Zones: The northern third of the province is dominated by long, cold winters, and short, warm summers. This is a vast, largely unpopulated region, with isolated logging and mining activity. White Spruce, Black Spruce, Lodgepole Pine, trembling aspen, Tamarack Larch, and Paper Birch predominate among the meadows and muskeg of the Peace and Liard Plains. At higher elevations, the winters are harsher, the summers briefer, and White Spruce and Subalpine Fir give way to scrub willow and birch.
- Mountain Zones: At higher elevations (above about 850 m on the southwest coast, less as one goes farther inland and north), the summers are shorter and the winters are colder. Along the coast, the lush, diverse forests give way to more uniform stands of Mountain Hemlock, Pacific Silver (Amabilis) Fir, and Yellow Cedar. These are interrupted by subalpine heaths, meadows, and fens. In the drier, interior regions, the higher elevations are marked by Engelmann Spruce, Subalpine Fir, Subalpine Larch, and Lodgepole Pine, the trees clumped among meadows and grassland.
Founded as several colonies as part of the British Empire, the political geography is complicated by the fact that during colonization no treaties or conquests of First Nations (the indigenous people) occurred outside of a few small areas of the province. The resulting legal and political system is based upon the British, and later Canadian state that evolved from it. At present much of the province is subject to contested title and political rights with First Nations. The issue used to be called the Indian Land Question, though the term is no longer used. On-going disputes have included protest, political activity and legal challenges, including the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision recognizing title to one group (Tsilhqot'in Nation v British Columbia).
British Columbia is divided into defined regions for various political purposes. One is for the purpose of providing local government services in various ways. Among the most important subdivisions of the province are forest regions and forest districts, which have jurisdiction over forests and their management, and also range and grazing leases, and also manage Ministry of Forests recreation sites and campgrounds. Other important subdivisions are Ministry of Environment regions (which controls water rights and management, environmental oversight, pesticide and herbicide permits, the British Columbia Conservation Officer Service and Fish and Wildlife Branch; the provincial parks are managed by a sub-department of the Ministry of Environment, BC Parks), health regions (which administer health funding, hospitals and ambulance services), school districts (whose taxation authority is distinct from that of regional districts and organized by tax assessment areas), and mining districts (whose authority under the Mines Act supersedes nearly all other jurisdictions). The Ministry of Tourism also has a system of tourism regions, and the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Small Business Development divides the province into development regions, with BC Stats using a different regionalization system than that of Statistics Canada, which uses regional district boundaries to organize its data. Also very important is a system of Regional Management Planning Boards, which are "roundtable"-type planning authorities on which local stakeholders ranging from taxpayer and industry groups, municipalities and chambers of commerce, Ministry of Forests and Ministry of Environment/BC Parks and in some cases First Nations hammer out long-range plans for regional land-use management.
The provincial judicial system also subdivides the province into counties, though this is mostly only procedural and does not impact directly on daily life.
All such regions and underlying title and survey descriptions are organized by land districts, which are the cadastral survey system underlying all legal descriptions in the province and date from the original Lands Act in the days of the Colony of British Columbia and Colony of Vancouver Island.
In the case of municipal-type services, there are municipalities, which are incorporated areas, and regional districts, which are groups of member municipalities and rural areas. Another purpose is for the provision of provincial services. The provincial government has dividing certain services into regional services, such as health authorities and agricultural commissions, which administer specified regions according to their own policies. The province is also divided to provide electoral districts by Elections BC for provincial elections and Elections Canada for federal elections. In addition to these, Indian Reserves have been established throughout the province but are administered by the federal government.
In order to fund community-wide services, such as a sewer system, urban areas incorporate to form municipalities. The vast majority of British Columbians live in these municipalities but there are also large areas of unincorporated rural areas around the municipalities. In 1964 the provincial government created regional districts, through amendments to the Municipal Act, to better coordinate regional issues and provide community services to unincorporated areas. Only one area, the sparsely populated Stikine Region in northwest B.C., is not covered by a regional district and municipal-type powers are administered directly by the provincial government. The Stikine Region has a permanent population of only 1,352 people, most of them aboriginal, and covers an area of 135,391 square kilometers with no municipalities within its borders. its only major towns being Atlin and Telegraph Creek. Most planning in that region is governed by the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources (forestry is only a small player in the region's economy as yet). All the regional districts and municipalities are members of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities. The former Sechelt Indian Band is now a municipal-type government, the Sechelt Indian Government District, and former Indian Reserves are now fee-simple lands within that effective municipality.
Since 1966-67, British Columbia has been segmented into 27 regional districts as a way of extending municipal powers outside of municipalities. These regional districts are governed by boards composed of representatives of member municipalities and electoral areas. The unincorporated area of the regional district is segmented into electoral areas. Each electoral area elects one director who sits on the Regional Board and the Electoral Area Directors Committee. The Islands Trust  acts similar to a regional district for most of the unincorporated islands in the Gulf of Georgia between the Mainland and Vancouver Island, which are part of various regional districts though the Islands Trust supersedes them in planning and zoning authority.
The regional districts are used to provide local government services (mostly zoning, building inspection, etc.) to unincorporated areas, sub-regional services (e.g. street bridge over a border) between two or more members, regional parks, and regional services (e.g. funding the regional hospital district) required for the entire area. Also, as a collection of municipalities they are able to borrow funds for capital projects at lower interest rates.
There are over 150 municipalities in British Columbia. They are divided into cities, districts, towns and villages, according to their population at the time of their incorporation. There are also three other municipalities that were incorporated for special purposes. These are the Resort Municipality of Whistler, Sechelt Indian Government District, and Bowen Island Municipality. With the exception of the City of Vancouver all municipalities attain their legislative powers from the Local Government Act (formerly the Municipal Act), which is being replaced, in phases, by the Community Charter. The City of Vancouver obtains its legislative authority from the Vancouver Charter.
Indian reserves & band governments
British Columbia has a large number of Indian Reserves which are outside the municipal and regional district systems and are self-governing by numerous band governments, most of which belong to tribal councils, which is an association of bands with common interests and not governments as such. Many bands claim sovereignty, having signed no treaties to surrender title.
Provincial electoral districts
For representation in the Legislative Assembly B.C. is segmented into 87 electoral districts. Each one of these ridings elects one candidate to become its Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) in a first past the post race contained within the electoral district. Patterns of voting established by the right-wing predecessors of the BC Liberal Party, the BC Social Credit Party and the wartime Liberal-Conservative Coalition dominated provincial politics for much of the latter part of the twentieth century and enjoyed power bases on Vancouver's West Side, Victoria's richer suburbs, on the south bank of the Fraser Valley and in the Okanagan and the province's Central Interior and Northeast. The New Democratic Party has traditionally drawn its support from more urbanized areas such as Vancouver and Victoria, as well as the North Coast and northwest Interior, plus the mining towns of the Kootenays and key areas of Vancouver Island. Swing areas include the BC Interior, certain urban areas within the Lower Mainland (like Surrey) and certain rural areas (like in southeastern BC).
Federal electoral districts
The province of British Columbia currently has 36 electoral districts represented in the House of Commons of Canada. Regional voting patterns are similar to those for provincial ridings, except that many voters vote differently federally than they do provincially, particularly on the right.
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