Sooke's Ancient Douglas-firs Almost Gone

This 1925 view shows Ed and Jack Phillips with double bitted axes
undercutting a small Douglas-fir.

There used to be big Douglas-fir trees in the Sooke area. Really, really big. Trees 10 feet wide, and 300 feet tall were common. But the big trees have been almost completely removed from the region.

Some ancients still exist in these parts, but they are usually individual lonely trees rather than groves or forests of them. Phillips Road, which runs up the west side of the Sooke River, is one such place that some of the last holdouts remain, so it is an area in which I am interested.

Sooke historian, Elida Peers, recently published an article in the local newspaper about one particularly large Phillips Rd. Douglas-fir that lived just up the bank of the river for hundreds of years. Until about 10 years ago. Peers writes:

"Almost a decade ago, I was one of a group standing watching the falling of the seven-foot diameter Douglas-fir that stood as a sentinel at the entrance into the beginnings of the Sun River development on the old Phillips farm.   
Years ago, a team of fallers would have used a two-man crosscut saw to fell a tree of such a size, but with the use of power saws in recent times, this stately Douglas-fir presented a different sort of challenge. 
Troy Lovbakke was one of the fallers given the task, and he worked in tandem with Lance Lajeunesse and Bud Beam. The men started with 33” bars on their Husqvarna saws, moving on finally to saws with 52” bars. 
The belts of the high riggers could not encircle the bulk of the tree but they managed to get a steadying anchor cable in place to secure it from falling across Phillips Road.   
A pneumatic jack was used as well but could not withstand the weight. Finally two 40-ton screw jacks were required for the tree to be laid down safely in an area so near to a public road and houses. 
It was near nightfall by the time the gigantic tree came down with a resounding crash."

Oh, how many times that "resounding crash" has been heard on the south island. And despite having lived through the European occupation thus far, ancient trees like these continue to fall in Sooke, a town without a big tree policy (unlike some neighbouring communities).

A large Douglas-fir that still stands
up the Sooke River... for now.

Although I arrived in Sooke after the tree in Peers' article was brought down, two other huge, old Douglas-fir trees remained just past the 'new' intersection of Phillips Rd. and Sunriver Way. They stood on either side of the road directly across from each other.

So narrow was the passageway created by these wrinkly-barked woody columns that both trees had large scrapes and gouges in the thick bark, evidence of tussles with passing vehicles. I realized at the time that such beautiful specimens were not compatible with plans for a more modern (but less interesting) roadway through the trees and beyond.

Sure enough, within a few years these two Phillips Rd. holdouts were also removed in the ongoing development of the controversial Sunriver neighbourhood, and newer projects farther up the road.

Areas along the Sooke River on both sides still contain some of the biggest, tallest Douglas-fir trees in town. Most of them grow on private property and are inaccessible to the public. If you currently own some of these big Sooke River trees, I would love to hear about them.

Even the Sooke town centre twin Douglas fir trees, which were over a hundred years old, couldn't escape the fallers chainsaw. The trees were unceremoniously removed and replaced with two Norway spruce, a non-native species.

Considering the considerable contribution that the ancient Douglas-firs have made to the development of Sooke, you would think that we would show them some respect and save a few. Perhaps the time has come for a perspective shift, and the introduction of a tree protection bylaw for this growing community.

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