2/11/2011

The Trees And Surf Of French Beach Provincial Park

Big Sitka spruce on the edge of French Beach

Earlier this week the south island had winds gusting up to 90 km/hr. The morning after I headed out to French Beach Provincial Park to feel the spray coming off the thundering surf. As usual, along the way I would keep my eyes peeled for interesting trees.

It didn't take long to find evidence of the storm as just outside of Sooke a couple of  trees had come down on the highway overnight. They had just been cleaned up off the road, and power restored, before we drove through the sawdust.

French Beach is 20 km west of Sooke along West Coast Road, and encompasses 59 acres. It consists of a campground and day use area, both of which have a nice, coastal forest feel. From most areas of the park you can hear the pounding of the waves on the beach. Although it doesn't rain as much as farther up the coast, it is wetter here than in Victoria.

Sitka spruce bark chips and cones litter the ground
This park is located in a second growth forest of Douglas-fir, Sitka spruce, Western hemlock, and Western red-cedar. Close to the beach on the front line of the forest are the salt-tolerant Sitka spruce.

In some areas with this exposure the trees are blasted by wind-driven salt spray and sand into a wedge shape. This bizarre formation is known as a Spruce fringe. These leading edge trees protect the taller forest behind from the powerful gales off the ocean.

In December of 2006 the most powerful storm since the 1960s hit the coast of Vancouver Island. Many thousands of trees were blown down all along the coast. You can still see evidence of this storm in the forest behind the grassy picnic area just off the beach. Many nice, medium size Sitka spruce are laying down. Over the decades they will nourish the forest floor and eventually disappear among the moss and ferns.

A couple of Sitka spruce trees blown down during severe winds in the winter of 2006
The waves were huge on this visit, and the ocean spray was blowing through the forest in a fine, salty mist. Although it was not as windy as the night before, a steady breeze was continuing to pile up waves and knock spruce cones out of trees. An eagle called repeatedly, then hovered on the wind right overhead.

At lower tides you can get past the cobbles and on to the sand to beachcomb
for new driftwood brought in by winter storms.
Although not ancient forest, French Beach Provincial Park is an nice example of an older second growth forest. There are some nice medium size trees here, and the overall setting is classic coastal. I would love to see it in 200 years when it will achieve old growth status once again.

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