The Man Who Saved Big Lonely Doug

Dennis Cronin standing in front of the giant tree he saved.
Photo credit: Lorraine Cronin

In 2014, just as I was moving from Vancouver Island, BC to Nova Scotia, the tree which has become to be known as Big Lonely Doug was discovered by big tree protectors in a former stand of old growth not far from Port Renfrew. 

The giant Douglas fir tree was not hard to find - it was the only tree left in a clear cut block that used to be an ancient grove, and it was hard to miss.

As it turns out, the tree still stands due to the efforts of Mr. Cronin, an industry engineer, that may have been the first person to ever see it. 

To read the fascinating story of how this amazing specimen, the second largest fir in Canada, was saved, click here.

The only Douglas fir tree larger is the Red Creek Fir. This is another significant tree that was also destined for destruction, but was preserved by a logging crew that could not bring themselves to cut such a gigantic tree down.

There goes the neighbourhood.
This is why Big Lonely Doug is so lonely. 
But, better lonely than dead.
Photo credit: TJ Watt

I have never seen the tree that Dennis Cronin, who after decades in the woods and marking untold numbers of giant Pacific Forest trees for removal, decided to save. But the next time I am in Canada's big tree country again, I will.

And when I do, I will think about the man who chose to save Big Lonely Doug, one of the tallest trees (70.2 metres, 230 ft - the height of an 21 story building) he had ever seen, and I will give thanks for his decision.

On a final note, Mr. Cronin died shortly after retiring from his forestry job. By that time he could see that the end of the big trees had come. 

Perhaps his signature tree was one small (or big, depending on how you look at it) way of making amends.

Click here to see the Ancient Forest Alliance Big Trees Map "created with driving directions to Avatar Grove (home to Canada’s “Gnarliest Tree”), Big Lonely Doug (Canada’s 2nd largest Douglas-fir), the Red Creek Fir (the world’s largest Douglas-fir tree), San Juan Spruce (one of Canada’s largest spruce trees), Harris Creek Spruce (another giant sitka spruce), and more!"


Big Trees + Big Wind = Power Outages and Crushed Cars

After a fierce winter storm I toured Sooke, BC to assess the damage. It was extensive.

The west coast has had its share of gnarly weather this winter, with vast and prolonged power outages. And probably more than a few crushed vehicles.

It reminds me of when I was living on Billing Spit in Sooke, BC. It was there, on the top floor of an older 3 floor waterfront apartment building, that I experienced one of the scariest weather events of my life.

A December wind storm hit just before Christmas. With gusts over 100km, the storm initially woke me up as my bed, and the whole building, was shaking. 

The air pressure had blown all the water out of the sink drain traps in our apartment, and the air rushing through the pipes was making a wailing sound like I have never heard before, or since.

My wife and I retrieved our Bug Out Bags, and set them by the front door. We were ready to evacuate and seek shelter somewhere safer. Preferably, somewhere where there weren't waves crashing over the sea wall and spraying on to our front balcony.

We looked out our back window to see our building caretaker fighting off a large piece of vinyl siding wrapped around him, threatening to launch him into the dark night sky.

In the end, we rode out the storm in our shaking and vibrating unit. Escape was impossible, unless we left on foot, since there were large trees down everywhere, including in our parking lot. 

The next morning, when the wind subsided, I went out to see that the roof of the twin building next door ripped completely off, and landed in the parking lot behind the building. Our neighbours were homeless for weeks until repairs were completed.

We were all without power for almost a week.

Our roof stayed put, perhaps due to the fact that our building, unlike the one next door, had large trees protecting it. 

The big trees giveth, the big trees taketh away. 

But I love them all the same.


Big Coastal Christmas Trees

One of the big conifers in the distance is decorated with two bald eagles at the top
Note: originally posted December 18, 2011.

I went for a walk today to look for Christmas and it was nowhere to be seen. There was no snow or hanging icicles, and it was sunny and a balmy +9 degrees Celsius. However, we do have some of the largest Christmas trees in the world growing here, and I discovered some nice ones.

Conifers are the traditional Christmas trees of choice, and the Pacific coastal forest is dominated by conifers. Douglas-fir is the second most popular Christmas tree sold in North America. Young trees have a nice conical shape, and the needles are sweet smelling when crushed. But if you like your trees big, and alive, this is the place to see them. We are at the edge of coastal Douglas-fir territory in Sooke.

The biggest Douglas-fir in the world grows near here in the woods close to Port Renfrew. You would need a lot of tinsel for that behemoth, which is 73.8m (242') in height, 13.3m (43.7') in circumference, and 4.2m (14') in diameter. But I wasn't looking in Port Renfrew for big trees as I wanted to stick closer to home.

Big Sitka spruce overlooking beach
The place I went exploring for giant conifers was in the Wiffen Spit neighbourhood. There I found a right of way leading to a set of stairs down to the beach. It is a great place to see big trees on the top of the high banks, as well as those that have fallen below or washed in off the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

We celebrate trees and their importance this time of year when we hack one out of the forest and bring it into our homes to dry up and die. Then they are unceremoniously dumped at the curbside. Here in clear cut territory, it seems like an extravagant waste.

If you go without the traditional indoor dead tree this year, and you are in the Sooke region, Wiffin Spit is the place to go to see a live tree that is anonymously decorated every year.

The Wiffin Spit tree is a short hike from the parking lot, and is now the most notable live decorated tree in town since town council grinches gave the green light about a year ago to remove two beautiful, completely healthy heritage Douglas-fir trees right in the center of town. Read about their sad demise here.

Biggest Christmas tree on Vancouver Island until being
unceremoniously cut down by The Grinch
The 150 year old Douglas-fir trees were replaced by two 2m tall exotic Norway spruce. I noticed the other day that one was decorated, but it just doesn't measure up to the giant it replaced.

Happy holidays.


Moving On

This is my new forest - the Acadian Forest of Nova Scotia.

The Vancouver Island Big Trees blog began as a way to share my experiences visiting some of the biggest trees around Victoria, Sooke and up West Coast Road to Port Renfrew and beyond. I wanted it to be both a celebration of the west coast's primal forests and trees, and a warning that if we don't start fighting for what is left, it will be gone forever.

Even before moving to the Pacific temperate rain forest for a decade, I visited from the prairies annually from the time I was old enough to drive. It was then that I fell in love with walking the beaches and forest trails of Vancouver Island. I found the trees to be huge and magical.

When I started this blog I lived in the midst of big tree country in the former logging town of Sooke, BC. Even after 20 years of exploring the big trees, I was still mystified how a human that would be lucky to get 100 years, could destroy a tree 1000s of years old.

Over this time I have been rewarded by ancient tree encounters that were life changing, as well as encounters with the ugly side of industrial liquidation and government neglect, that were equally as moving.

I have since moved to my new forest, and one that is perhaps not as tall, but every bit as magical - the Acadian forest of Nova Scotia. They are smaller, but there are big trees here, too. And the diversity of trees in this forest is an amazing thing that will keep me busy learning for years to come.

Nova Scotian forests are also under relentless assault from industrial, profit-minded businesses that don't care if they are destroying an entity that has been living and thriving since the last ice age. It is too bad, because in Canada this forest is every bit as unique as the great Western Rainforest of Vancouver Island.

This is not boreal forest (the largest intact forest left on our planet... for now). It is not the great deciduous forest of the southern USA. This forest is a unique blend of both, and I intend on exploring it every bit as much as I did the forest out west.

Having said that, I do like to keep up on what is happening in the west coast forest, and plan on doing the occasional post on this blog as well. In the meantime, I hike and photograph the Acadian Forest looking for the biggest of the big trees out here.

You can visit my new blog, "Acadian Forest Big Trees" here. I hope to add to it and develop the same following this blog has had since 2009. Thank you to everyone that has made keeping this blog so satisfying. Your interest, and visits, are appreciated.

Long live the big trees, wherever they may be.


Tree of Life Gets Little Respect

Wolf head canoe in Sooke River estuary approaching T'souke Nation
Tribal Journey, 2009 - photo by Trickster Art

In the coastal forest the Western red-cedar is known as the "tree of life". It is a good name for a tree that can maintain its own life for thousands of years. Although it is British Columbia's official tree, it currently gets little respect.

The cedar's downfall? Too useful, too profitable, and too vulnerable.

Unfinished cedar canoe on Haida Gwaii

Red-cedar has helped maintain human life on the coast for thousands of years. It has provided coastal First Nations with planks for homes, and large trunks for canoes and totem poles, the tall poles carved with family histories.

The tree of life also provides material for boxes, rope, clothes, and carvings. But for how long?

Cedar provides durable wood for canoes, long houses, totem poles, and more.

Increasingly, large red-cedar trees are becoming rare as logging companies vie for the last of the big ones. Finding large trees is becoming a global problem as native forests continue to disappear at an alarming rate.

In 1998, when Hawaiian canoe makers combed the islands for a native tree large enough to suit their purposes, they spent 9 months looking, and eventually gave up. They concluded that trees big enough for large canoe building were extinct.

Canoe makers on Haida Gwaii have also encountered difficulty in sourcing large Western red-cedar suitable for canoes and totem poles.

Haida totem pole made from cedar

The largest known Western red-cedar canoe in the world was carved in Sooke, BC by canoe makers from the T'Sou-ke First Nation in the early 1990's. The canoe, named KWA Q YUK, is 52 feet long.

Will there still be cedars big enough for a grand vessel of this size seven generations from now? Or even one generation?

The BC government must manage our public forests far better in order to ensure a sustainable yield of large Western red-cedar for cultural, and other uses. It is a job we have entrusted to them, and for decades they have failed.

Ending clearcut old growth logging as we know it today will help.

It is time to humble ourselves before the tree of life, not to mention before the peoples, and our hosts, that require this amazing tree to maintain their traditional ways of life.

You can do your part by refusing to purchase any old growth cedar for any reason. Even better, we can refuse to buy any products that originate in our disappearing primal forests.


Mystery Tree

There are many fantastical things in an old forest. As evidence of this, a Vancouver Island Big Trees blog reader sent two photographs showing trees in the Victoria area. 

Their branching pattern looks more like calligraphy than anything. They dance and swing in a celebration of the temperate rainforest, one of the most productive ecosystems on the planet. But who are the dancers? 

"What kind of trees are these?" the reader asked. 


I have a species in mind, but am wondering what readers think. What kind of tree in the coastal forest has such a bold branching pattern? Can you solve this mystery?

You can record your educated guess in the comment section below. Or just enjoy these beautiful photos of the magical calligraphy of old, undisturbed forests. What a joy to see their dance, and hear their story.

Note: If I remember correctly, these trees were photographed in Francis King Regional Park.


Killing Ancient Trees Until They Are All Gone

You have to work hard to bring down an ancient red cedar that has been standing
in the primal forest for a thousand years, or more.

I found the photo above on a friend's Facebook account. It reportedly depicted a logging incident sometime recently on Vancouver Island. 

Like so much on social media, one can not be sure of what one is seeing. Is it one tree, or two? Even if it two, these represent large, old trees, the likes of which are disappearing in our coastal temperate forests.

Upon doing a bit of research, I found information that lent some credibility to this photo and the time in which is was taken. I hoped that it was a photo from decades ago when we were less enlightened. Maybe it is.

But the fact of the matter is that B.C.'s old growth trees, most of which are massive and ancient, continue to be cut down. When these trees go, so goes the health of the forest ecosystem.

When do we stop? Is the plan to cut all old growth down, for the profit of Wall Street hedge funds? What will the logging industry do then? 

Whatever they plan on doing when the old growth is driven to extinction, should be done now. BEFORE all the big, old trees are gone.

At this point, all remaining old growth forests on Vancouver Island and the B.C. mainland are worth much more left standing than they are by cutting them down. People want to see these magical forests. There is no such thing as a magical clearcut.

If we allow corporate logging interests to kill the ancient trees until they are all gone, B.C., and the world, will be at a great loss. Our ancestors will wonder what was wrong with us, and why we allowed such beautiful living things to be liquidated.


Help To Protect Endangered Coastal Douglas-Fir On Vancouver Island

Big beautiful Coastal Douglas Fir Trees need protection. Photo credit: AFA

The following is from Ancient Forest Alliance. It is not too late to submit your concern and support for Vancouver Island's big trees. Thank you.

Please take a moment to WRITE to the BC government, telling them you support their proposal to expand protections in the endangered Coastal Douglas-Fir ecosystem on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands!
The BC government is seeking the public’s input on their proposal to increase the amount of Coastal Douglas-Fir ecosystem protected on public (Crown) lands on Vancouver Island’s southeast coast and in the southern Gulf Islands. The province is proposing to protect 21 parcels of public land totalling 1,125 hectares (see maps and more info here).
The Coastal Douglas-Fir (CDF) ecosystem is home to the highest number of species at risk in BC, including Garry oak trees, sharp-tailed snakes, alligator lizards, and more. With less than four percent of the region’s ecosystems currently protected by the province, the proposed protection measures are greatly needed and are a significant step forward, but by themselves, they're not sufficient to halt the loss of biodiversity from the region.
Please write to the BC government by MONDAY, January 15th, 2018, to express your support for this proposal and to call for greater protection of the Coastal Douglas-Fir ecosystem. 
Email your written comments to CDFOrderAmendment2017@gov.bc.ca and Cc Forest Minister Doug Donaldson at FLNR.Minister@gov.bc.ca and Environment Minister George Heyman at env.minister@gov.bc.ca.
Tell them:
  1. You support the BC government’s proposal to increase the amount of Coastal Douglas-Fir (CDF) ecosystem protected on Crown lands through their proposed land use order.
  2. You also support the creation of a provincial land acquisition fund, which would allow the BC government to purchase and protect private lands of high conservation or recreational values to establish new protect areas in the CDF ecosystem and across BC. Because private lands constitute the vast majority of the region, this fund is needed to ensure the sufficient protection of the CDF ecosystem.
  3. You recommend they read the report Finding the Money to Buy and Protect Natural Lands by the University of Victoria's Environmental Law Centre, which details over a dozen mechanisms used in jurisdictions across North America to raise funds for protecting land (found online here: http://www.elc.uvic.ca/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/FindingMoneyForParks-2015-02-08-web.pdf).
  4. You would like the province to consider a third phase of similar land use order protections on additional Crown lands in the Coastal Douglas-fir ecosystem.
* Include your full name and address so that they know you're a real person.


Ahousaht First Nation Saving Their Big Trees on Vancouver Island

"Environmentalists are applauding a move by the Ahousaht First Nation to ban mining and clear cutting in favour of sustainable development and conservation.

Under the first phase of the plan, announced Thursday, there will be no mining or industrial logging in Ahousaht traditional territory and about 80 per cent of almost 171,000 hectares will be set aside as cultural and natural areas “to conserve biological diversity, natural landscapes and wilderness and to provide to Ahousaht continued spiritual, cultural and sustenance use.”

The remote Ahousaht First Nation, near Tofino, has more old growth forests in its traditional territory than any other First Nation on the B.C. South Coast.

Ahousaht Band leaders have decided it needs to be protected and they took steps to do just that this week to preserve those forests for the future.

Under the first phase of the plan, there will no mining or industrial logging allowed in Ahoushat traditional territory.

About 80 per cent of the territory , that’s more than 170,000 hectares, will be set aside as cultural and natural areas.

The goal is to conserve natural landscapes and biological diversity. The Ancient Forest Alliance says it’s the largest leap in old-growth conservation in the last two decades on Vancouver Island.

The Nature Conservancy is calling it a blueprint for a sustainable future. Environmentalists say only about 20 per cent of old-growth forests are still standing on Vancouver Island."

- source


Sooke River Bridge Candelabra Tree Now Gone

When some trees lose their tops they will grow multiple stems in a candelabra effect.

A reader of Vancouver Island Big Trees sent me an email recently. It reminded me of all the big trees that have been (and will be) sentenced to death for the crime of being in the way of progress.

Unless you live on the prairies, any kind of new development means trees and forests need to be cleared out of the way.

Ever since Europeans arrived in this part of the world "progress" has the ring of axes, chainsaws, and big trees hitting the dirt.

One such example was when the Sooke River Bridge was replaced in 1967. An interesting tree, it looks like it had been pruned or lost its top. The candelabra that results can be seen in a variety of tree species.

The email I received contained the short message that follows, and the photo shown above.

"Your pencil sketch of the Sooke River Bridge on your Vancouver Island Big Trees blog reminded me of a unique tree that was removed to make way for the building of that bridge. 
The bridge was built around 1965 to replace a wooden one that was a few feet downstream. The tree was on the east bank of the river, right in the way of  the project, and had to go. 
I don't know who owned the house in the photo but I suspect the tree artist lived there. Or maybe BC Hydro was responsible! 
Not sure what species of tree it was, maybe a true fir (Abies) of some kind. Photo taken by me in December, 1964."

Thank you, Art, for sharing your historical big tree photo with us.

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