Province Announces Protection Of Old Growth On Vancouver Island

I came across a couple of press releases today in which B.C. Forestry and Range Minister Pat Bell announced the protection of almost 39,000 hectares of old growth forest on Vancouver Island. Old growth forests were identified by trees older than 250 years. Is the government finally seeing the light?

Or is it some sort of green washing? I wonder about the quality of the areas identified. Is it protect a bit here, decimate everything else? Will there be a shift from sustainable yield to ecosystem management, and from old growth to second growth logging?

Ken Wu looked at the data concerning the island's old growth inventory in 2008, and reported it in Pacific Free Press:
"Analysis of satellite photos of Vancouver Island in 2004 revealed that of an original 2.3 million hectares of productive old-growth forests, only about 600,000 hectares remained - one-fourth of what was originally here. Of this, only about 140,000 hectares are protected in our parks, or about 6% of the original big trees. In addition, only one-tenth of the original, productive old-growth forests on the valley bottoms - the areas with the largest trees, richest soils, greatest biodiversity, and all of the fish-bearing streams - still remained."
It is hard to say anything bad about the further protection of old growth forests, unless they are too small to maintain ecological integrity. But saving the big trees is what it is all about.

The protected areas announced today are in the northern and north-central part of the island and include: Tsitika, Naka, Adam-Eve, Salmon and White (all north of Campbell River and Sayward) within the Campbell River forest district – and Nahwitti, Tsulquate and Marble (located west of Port Hardy and Port McNeill) within the North Island-Central Coast forest district.

What about the south island district where the old growth forest first began to be affected by industrial logging? The south coast where a whopping 80% of the land is privately owned.
The Wilderness Committee estimates only about 13 per cent of the original old-growth forest remains on southern Vancouver Island, and less – only about 10 per cent – is on valley bottoms where the biggest trees grow. Only one per cent of the original old-growth coastal Douglas-fir zone is protected.

The province also announced today the protection of bits of this Coastal Douglas-fir forest zone, which is obviously needed. 1598 hectares of coastal Douglas-fir ecosystem, mostly on private and municipal land, will go under a new land use order protecting the areas from resource extraction and logging.
The majority of new areas selected for protection are on the east coast of Vancouver Island, between Courtenay and Nanaimo.

Press Releases From Ministry of Forests and Range, July 30, 2010

VICTORIA – The Province has identified an additional 38,779 hectares on Vancouver Island to protect old-growth forests, Minister Responsible for the Integrated Land Management Bureau Pat Bell announced today.

“British Columbia’s old growth forests are known and admired by people from around the world,” said Bell. “Adding another 39,000 hectares nearly doubles the old-growth management areas on Vancouver Island and demonstrates B.C.’s leadership in sustainable forest management.”

On the Coast, old-growth trees are those 250 years or older. The 38,779 hectares of old-growth management areas identified in the coastal temperate rainforest of northern and north-central Vancouver Island will be managed to help sustain old-growth forests for the benefit of many plants and animals that need old growth forest conditions to survive. These include species-at-risk such as the marbled murrelet, a seabird that builds its nests on large branches of old-growth trees near the ocean.

Setting aside old-growth management areas also provides certainty for forest companies, who are required to identify such areas in their forest stewardship plans. By designating areas that cannot be logged, forest companies can plan their timber harvesting and other operations in the remaining forested areas. Many of the areas now set aside were identified jointly by government, company foresters and biologists, a collaborative effort that will benefit British Columbia for generations to come.

With today’s announcement, the amount of old-growth management areas established on Vancouver Island increases to 83,687 hectares. As well, there are about 438,000 hectares of parks and protected areas on Vancouver Island. Province wide, there are approximately 25 million hectares of old-growth forests with around 3.7 million hectares fully protected – an area larger than Vancouver Island.

The old growth management areas are within the following eight landscape units: Tsitika, Naka, Adam-Eve, Salmon and White (all north of Campbell River and Sayward) within the Campbell River forest district – and Nahwitti, Tsulquate and Marble (located west of Port Hardy and Port McNeill) within the North Island-Central Coast forest district.


VICTORIA – Under a new land use order, British Columbia will increase the protection of the Coastal Douglas-fir ecosystem on provincial Crown land to almost 40 per cent, Pat Bell, Minister Responsible for the Integrated Land Management Bureau announced today.

“Protecting an additional 1,598 hectares is an important step in our ongoing effort to preserve B.C.’s Coastal Douglas-fir ecosystem,” said Bell. “Most of the ecosystem lies on private and municipal land, so even with the Province's significant contribution to conservation, only six per cent of the Coastal Douglas-fir Zone is protected. We will continue to work with local governments and private landowners to ensure everyone is doing what they can to be part of the solution.”

The Coastal Douglas-fir ecosystem is ranked both globally and provincially as high-priority for preservation, and is home to 29 endangered plant communities. Eighty per cent of the global range of Coastal Douglas-fir ecosystem occurs in the southern Strait of Georgia area. Of the 256,800 hectares in British Columbia, only nine per cent, or 23,500 hectares, is provincially owned.

The additional 1,598 hectares will increase the amount of provincial Coastal Douglas-fir Crown land protected from logging and other resource development activities to 9,197 hectares.

The majority of new areas selected for protection are on the east coast of Vancouver Island, between Courtenay and Nanaimo. A copy of the land use order and map is available online at:


Ecologists considered a number of criteria when deciding which parcels to include for protection. These included land parcel size, adjacency to already protected areas, risk of being disturbed, landscape context and ecological diversity.

In addition, social and economic considerations, as well as existing commitments for First Nations treaty settlements, were also factors in parcel selection. During the public review and comment period that closed in February, more than 1,000 individual submissions were received.

Establishing the areas for protection under the Land Act is the first phase of government’s conservation strategy for Coastal Douglas-fir. The next phase involves informing local governments and private landowners on actions they can take.

Eleven per cent of Coastal Douglas-Fir ecosystem is owned by other levels of government and 80 per cent is in private ownership.


Exotic Big Trees: The Sequoias of Gorge Road

The Robin Hood Motel on Gorge Road in Victoria - reasonably priced, free WiFi, and a massive Giant sequoia in the parking lot. I have had my eyes on Giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum) since May of this year when I posted here about sequoias in Victoria's Beacon Hill Park.

Since then the sequoia post has been the most viewed on VIBT. I happened to be driving Gorge Road the other day on my way back to Sooke after a day in the city, and thought I would get pics of more of these beautiful exotic big trees.

Driving west on the Gorge you can see the sequoias before you drive by them - they are the tallest trees in the hood, and stick up over everything else, condos included. Also, the conical shape in their perfect form is hard to miss. It is classic conifer for this most ancient of trees - fossils of Dawn redwood, a relative of sequoias, are from trees that lived 250 million years ago.

The first big sequoia we stopped at was at the Robin Hood Motel at Gorge Road and Carroll Street. This tree dominates the entire lot. Most likely it came north from California as a sapling riding along with an American pioneer around 1900. Many of Victoria's Giant sequoias are over one hundred years old now, and have grown to vast heights and widths.

The tallest tree in Victoria may be one of the imported sequoias. Still, all of them are mere infants compared to their relatives growing on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada range in central California. These trees don't reach maximum cone/seed production until they are 150 - 200 years old, and can live up to 3500 years.

The next sequoias are at a residential address at Gorge Road and Gorge View Drive. There are twin sequoia at this address that make the surrounding cars and houses look like miniatures.

The wide trunks of these trees have a distinctly red coloured bark that looks similar to our native Western red-cedar. Large twisted red limbs can be seen throughout the large canopy of the trees. The frilly foliage droops almost to the ground.

Sequoias can grow to 300 ft tall and 32 ft wide at the base. As big and beautiful as Victoria's sequoias are, they have a long way to go. Forward thinking people have seen them through the past 100 years. I wonder how many more hundreds of years they can survive in a rapidly changing city.

Getting There

View Larger Map

The Gorge waterway would make an excellent paddle in a kayak or canoe, and would be a nice way to see the big sequoias as well as the numerous large native trees in the area. There are many parks along the waterway and a person could stroll or bike along winding trails while enjoying the view. Or if you are returning home drive along Gorge Road and enjoy the beauty.

(On the map above you can switch to satellite view, zoom in, and see the trees I am referring to. These giants cast long shadows. Check them out.)


Building A Bench In Big Tree Country

I am interested in the ways people have creatively used trees to meet our various needs, especially in the coastal forest where trees are plentiful. Wood is a versatile material and has been used to build everything from buildings to boardwalks, and roads to railroad bridges. When I came across this bench in Sooke I was immediately intrigued, and not just because I needed a rest. It is a beautiful, and functional, piece of wood.

The bench is made out of a large Western red-cedar log, and is about 5 - 7 meters long. It is about as rustic and robust as you can get - I appreciate its simple design. Considering the rot-resistance of cedar, this bench will outlast many of the people that will sit on it over the years.

The cedar log bench can be found on Kaltasin Road, and is part of an award-winning neighbourhood improvement project spearheaded by Edith Newman. Many volunteers worked to pull this beautiful project together, including the making of this log bench. Local go-to guy Maywell Wickheim donated the cedar log, and his son-in-law helped to make the bench and set it in place.

When in Sooke check out this community beautification project. Enjoy the paintings on the fence, and the plants and flowers. See how a bench is made in big tree country and have a little sit down.


Muir Creek: Potential Old Growth Parkland

Just past Sooke along West Coast Road you will find the magnificent Muir Creek watershed. The lower part of the watershed contains one of the most easily accessible chunks of old growth forest left on South Vancouver Island. Here you will find large diameter (up to 3m/9ft), soaring (up to 76m/250ft) Sitka spruce, Douglas-fir, Western red-cedar, and the B.C. Big Tree Registry-listed second largest Pacific yew. If you are in the south island area, Muir Creek is a big tree highlight not to be missed.

Several of the old trees along the creek are large and tall enough to be eligible for inclusion in the provinces registry. This is not surprising - historically some of the largest trees on Vancouver Island came from this valley. So big and tall were the trees of old that sailing ships in the 1800's would anchor off of Muir Creek in search of the best specimens to use as masts.

A monument in Victoria's Beacon Hill Park, touted as the world's tallest free-standing totem pole, began as a tree growing in the Muir Creek valley. It was carved from a 50m (164ft) Western red-cedar that was cut, then floated down the creek before being pulled by tugboat to Victoria. There it was carved by renowned Kwakwaka'wakw artist Mungo Martin and his team. The pole was raised in 1956, and is 38.8m (128ft) tall.

Although the area has been logged since the 1800's - evidence of this can be seen throughout the forest - many old growth trees have survived the decades of extraction. Especially notable for the oldest trees are the lower reaches of the creek and steep hillsides next to it. Modern industrial logging methods such as helicopter logging now make these trees economical to harvest. They are currently within logging territory.

Originally this was part of the T'Souke Nation traditional territory. They used the Muir Creek area for winter dancing and fish processing. The land was taken from them in the E&N Railway land grab of the 1880's. 2 million acres were given to the railway company as compensation for building a rail line.With one stroke of the pen much of the T'Souke's traditional territory became off limits to the very people that had lived there for generations. Politicians of the time said the land held no value to the native groups. Therefore, there was no compensation for this grievous loss.

Since then much of this land has fallen into the hands of industrial logging interests that have used it to generate billions of dollars in revenue. Successive governments have failed to acknowledge the theft of land originally, and continue to fail to ensure it is being cared for by profit-minded multi-national corporations.

The land here also provides access to the ocean, something that is increasingly difficult to find as the south island becomes more developed. There are fossil beds in the seaside cliffs, and at low tide one can walk for hours on the cobble and sand beach. There are occasional large trees to be seen up on the headland as you hike beside the surf.

Rather than being seen for the ecological gem that it is, the Muir Creek area is viewed by some as nothing more than potential profit. Now that Timber West has gone into the real estate business, residential development of these wild lands is possible. Logging activity of second growth in the watershed has increased dramatically and loaded logging trucks are once again rumbling through downtown Sooke. Will the old growth trees be next?

The Muir Creek Protection Society is working to preserve all that Muir Creek has to offer. A park would protect the area for the bears, cougars, jumping slugs, otters, mink, eagles and salmon that currently reside there. 95% of the west coast of Vancouver Island is private land. A park would protect the old growth trees and provide much needed recreational opportunities for local residents and tourists alike.

With the recent purchase of Sandcut Beach and Jordan River property we will be told there is not money available to secure Muir Creek for future generations and the maintenance of biodiversity. That is obviously not true as we easily came up with billions for that big party back in the winter of 2010. TimberWest, CRD, and other officials have discussed the need for parkland between Sooke and Port Renfrew, and Muir Creek has been identified as a prime location.

It would be an awful shame to loose this amazing area. Check it out for yourself - you know what I say, "See Them, Save Them". Stand beneath a 500 year old Sitka spruce and try to maintain perspective. These ancient tree's massive diameter soars skyward with very little taper until the trunks disappear into the canopy of the forest.

The forest here is of an increasingly rare variety, and this is a excellent opportunity to save it from the saw. Encourage the politicians that work for us, and TimberWest that makes a profit exploiting lands of global significance, to save Muir Creek.

Getting There

Muir Creek is 14 km past Sooke on West Coast Road/Highway 14. Once you pass the gravel pit on your left the road dips down to one of the only flat coastal areas along this stretch of the Juan de Fuca. This is the Muir Creek estuary.

Parking is available on the south-west side of the bridge, and access to the big trees is on the north-east side of the bridge. Follow the trail upstream on the east bank of the creek, keeping to your left. The trail will take you to the creek, then continues upstream. Either side of the bridge has trails down to the beach.


Witty's Lagoon Beach Douglas-fir Twin Giants

I made my first visit to Witty's Lagoon Beach last week and was not disappointed. This diverse park in Metchosin contains Douglas-fir forest, rocky head lands, and sandy drift-log strewn beaches with herons fishing in the surf. The park has three different access points. I used Witty Beach Road, and to my delight found two large old growth survivors at the end of the road.

I was exploring and looking to do some beach combing when I turned off Metchosin Road and idled slowly along Witty Beach Road. This narrow country path passes through meadows of grass interspersed with stands of tall forest. It ends at a parking lot and trail to a set of stairs (this, too, is an impressive structure made of wood) down to the sand. But before you go down, check out the two huge Douglas firs. They are hard to miss.

Forward thinking planners and road builders of the past decided to spare these amazing, centuries old trees. Now they look quite out of place, with roots covered by road. The two trees are out of proportion compared to the surrounding forest, or small, fast moving objects like people and cars.

It may not be worth making the 25 minute drive from Victoria to see the trees alone, but as a start to a day on the beach, or if you are in the area anyway, it is recommended.

Look upon the fat trunks and wrinkled bark. Gaze up at their great height. Put your back against these columns and feel the wisdom, patience, and slow motion pace of ancient trees. And watch out for fast moving objects.

How To Get There

View Larger Map

Drive west from Victoria on Highway 1 west. Take the Colwood exit (exit 10) and follow Sooke Road to Metchosin Road. Turn left. To reach Witty's Beach, go past the main park entrance, and continue on to Witty's Beach Road. Turn left and follow the road to the end where there is a small parking lot. You can also take the 54 Metchosin or 55 Happy Valley bus from Victoria.


The Oldest Tree On Record In Canada

Image from: Friends of Caren

The longest-living tree on record in Canada is a Yellow-cedar that lived in Canada's oldest forest in the Caren Range on the Sunshine Coast. It was felled in a large clear cut operation in 1980. The tree was 1835 years old. The Friends of Caren discovered the huge stump in 1993. Seen above is a cross section of the ancient tree that the group used to educate Canadians about the importance of the Caren Range ancient forest.

Yellow-cedar is common on Vancouver Island, being right in the prime of its growing range (which extends in a narrow strip along the coast from Prince William Sound in Alaska to the California-Oregon border). It is a high elevation species in most of its range, only growing down to sea level in the north.

A scientific paper written on tree ring analysis of Yellow-cedar on Vancouver Island (Laroque and Smith, 1999) gives these trees the record for the longest living conifers in Canada.

The 'Old List' on this site is a database of ancient trees from around the world. On it the big tree hunter will find a Vancouver Island Yellow-cedar that was dated at 1636 years old. It also includes a Douglas-fir on Vancouver Island that dated at 1350 years old. I would love to know where these trees are, but location data is not given.

On Vancouver Island the Yellow-cedars are at elevation. One location in the south island area that I have enjoyed visiting big, old Yellow-cedar is along logging roads that go up into the hills behind the Jordan River/China Beach area. The forest up here is very different from the forests closer to sea level. They are not as packed with a profusion of life like down below. Up here conditions are harsher and growth takes place at a slower pace. Yellow-cedar shares the slopes and mountain tops with Mountain hemlock and the true firs.

Grab your tree identification guide and get up into the hills to see this amazing senior of the coastal forest. Surely Canada's oldest living Yellow-cedar still stands somewhere on these forest-covered hills. Will you be the person to discover it? Let me know if you do.

If you are on the mainland and wish to visit the Caren Range remnant old growth forest, the directions below will get you there. It is said to be the oldest forest in Canada, or at least what is left of it.

Take Highway 101 for 11 kilometres north of Sechelt. At the bottom of the long downhill stretch just before Halfmoon Bay, turn right onto Trout Lake Road. Proceed up this logging road and fork left at the main junction at kilometre 12. The ancient stand of trees begins at about kilometre 15, with the road running through the stand for about 2 kilometres. The best place to access the forest is to walk downslope 200 metres before the next clearcut. There is no trail, and little walking is required.
Information from: http://www.vancouverisland.com/trails/?id=46