Beautiful path in a forest during a vibrant summer day. Taken in Raft Cove Provincial Park, Northern Vancouver Island, BC, Canada.

7. BEC Subzones of the SCNRD

Now that we have explored BEC zones, we can delve deeper into the subzones within.

Biogeoclimatic Ecosystem Classification (BEC) subzones differentiate between regional climates. Proximity to the Pacific Ocean and elevation are the main drivers of climate.

If we are going to adequately maintain the biodiversity of coastal forests, we will need to protect an ecologically functioning portion of each Biogeoclimatic subzone (BEC Unit).


Now this is where it gets tricky - Forestry has a language of abbreviations and acronyms to describe the weather attributed to these subzones.

In the Coastal Western Hemlock (CWH) Zone, the dominant zone cover in the SCNRD, the zone can be further broken up into subzones based on relative continentality (i.e., the measure of climate based on the range of temperatures between ocean and land): 

Hyper-maritime (h) means that you are exposed to weather from the open Pacific: high winds drive rain horizontally, right down your neck! On the Sunshine Coast, we are protected from the open Pacific Ocean by Vancouver Islands. To find CWH hyper-maritime subzones you would have to travel to the West Coast of Vancouver Island, or further north to Haida Gwaii. 

Maritime (m) means that you are adjacent to protected salt water, such as right here on the Sunshine Coast. The coast is protected by Vancouver Island, making us a maritime subzone in relative continentality. High winds and heavy rains can come from any direction but end up going right down your neck, as usual!

Sub-maritime (s) means that you are near the head of a long inlet exposed to strong outflow winds driving rain right down your neck! For example, for sub-maritime subzones you could travel to the end of Jervis Inlet, situated on the leeward side of coastal mountains.

Terms and codes used when naming BEC subzones

Relative Precipitation Relative Temperature Relative Continentality*
very dry x hot h hypermaritime h
dry d warm w maritime m
moist m mild m submaritime s
wet w cool k *used instead of temperature for CWH and MH subzone
very wet v cold c

Now that we have the weather zones, we can dive into the wetness indicators. These include:very dry, dry, moist or very wet, and precede the maritime descriptor. In general, the higher the elevation, the wetter it gets!

Here are some examples:

CWHxm: This means the Zone is Coastal Western Hemlock (CWH) and the subzone is very-dry (x) maritime (m). 

CHWvm: This zone is Coastal Western Hemlock (CWH) very-wet (v) maritime (m).

On the next page we have some pictures to help you get a “feel” for BEC Zones and Subzones.

Click the blue box above to view a list of pages in this section of the website.

Glossary of Terms

Biomass: refers to the total amount of organic matter (i.e., anything that comes from plants and animals). 

Biogeoclimatic (BEC) Zone: the classification system used to identify an area based on the dominant type of vegetation, climate, and soil characteristics at its climax 

Climax Old-Growth: the final stage of a forest stand when left undisturbed by humans 

Biogeoclimatic Zone Abbreviations

  • AT: Alpine Tundra
  • BG: Bunchgrass
  • BWBS: Boreal White and Black Spruce
  • CDF: Coastal Douglas-Fir
  • CWH: Coastal Western Hemlock
  • ESSF: Engelmann Spruce - Subalpine Fir
  • ICH: Interior Cedar - Hemlock
  • IDF: Interior Douglas-Fir
  • MH: Mountain Hemlock
  • MS: Montane Spruce
  • PP: Ponderosa Pine
  • SBPS: Sub-Boreal Pine - Spruce
  • SBS: Sub-Boreal Spruce
  • SWB: Spruce - Willow - Birch

Landscape Units of the SCNRD

  • Bishop
  • Brem
  • Brittain
  • Bunster
  • Bute East
  • Bute West
  • Chapman
  • Cortes
  • Haslam
  • Homathko
  • Homfray
  • Howe
  • Jervis
  • Lois
  • Narrows
  • Quatam

Biogeoclimatic Subzone Codes

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