B.C. Forest Service No Longer Geared Toward The Public Interest

Things are not going well in B.C.'s Forest Service, or in B.C.'s forests. 3/4 of the logging in the coastal forest is of old growth, and over 3/4 of that is by clear cutting. Whole log exports ship trees and jobs overseas. Mismanagement by successive governments has meant that our public forest lands are in grave danger.

Grave danger of being turned into biocide-sprayed rows of non-native tree crops. Danger of being taken over by a ‘professional reliance’ management model in which there is essentially no government oversight. Danger of of being privatized, sold off, and rendered off-limits to the people that collectively own it.

The B.C. Forest Service took its modern form in April of 1945. At the time it was the steward of the timber, range and recreation resources of B.C.'s Crown forest land, which covers 2/3 of the province. The Forest Service mandate was to manage the land for multiple uses including recreation, forage, timber, heritage, and wilderness. Those days are officially over.

The Forest Service has seen such extensive budget cuts in recent years that it is no longer able to protect Crown forests for the public good. The brave new world of forestry has as its objectives the maintenance and enhancements of an economically valuable supply of commercial 'fibre' (they're not even TREES anymore), as well as to protect investor value. Therefore, the Forest Service is being systematically disbanded, paving the way for the fibre managers.
Since coming to office, the B.C. Liberals have slashed almost 1,100 forestry workers’ jobs in eight years — the very people who ensure our public forests are sustainably managed and harvested. From 2002-2004, the Campbell government eliminated 800 jobs in the Ministry of Forests and Range — 304 positions in compliance and enforcement alone. This year, 204 more forestry jobs are being axed — 62 per cent from compliance  and enforcement and field operations. Then on May 27, deputy forests minister Dana Hayden confirmed that an additional 42 positions would be eliminated, as the ministry moves forward budget cuts planned for next year.  May 27, 2010, BCGEU
If the people who have been looking out for our forests are no longer able to protect the public interest, who will? Throughout the massive changes to our forests and forest service, the government has ignored recommendations by government forestry specialists - the people that have been in our forests for the past 65 years, and know it best. Not only that, the Liberals have also restricted the opportunity for public input.

The Wilderness Committee has repeatedly reminded us that "75% of the original productive old-growth forests have been logged on Vancouver Island, including 90% of the valley bottoms where the largest trees grow. Only about 6% of the Island's original, productive old-growth forests are protected in parks."

A poll conducted in March, 2008 found that 88 percent of British Columbians polled agreed that protecting habitat for endangered species is important. But when the public indicates a desire for increased forest protection the government refuses to listen.

Maybe they will listen to artist/activist Briony Penn, who wrote "The Big Burn" (2010) after extensive research and investigation, and after interviewing those most knowledgeable about the state of our forests:
Since 1978, the Forest Service’s mission statement has stressed integrated management of the many values we ascribe to our forests, with a commitment “to manage, conserve and protect the province’s forest, range and outdoor recreation resources to ensure their sustainable use for the economic, cultural, physical and spiritual well-being of British Columbians, who hold those same resources in trust for future generations. In respecting and caring for public forest and range lands, the ministry is guided by the ethics of stewardship and public service".

Apparently, that’s now all history.

A recent internal Ministry of Forests and Range document titled “Response to the Changing Business Environment” lays out the new mission for the ministry as “To provide a superior service to resource stakeholders by supporting competitive business conditions” and gives priority to “Enhancing industry competitiveness” and “Identifying clear outcomes for investors.” An earlier internal memo dated June 9, 2009 from Jim Gowriluk, regional executive director, to his district managers, titled “Re: Advocating for the Forest Industry in the Coast Forest Region,” clearly articulates the new single-function mandate of the Forest Service of “fulfilling our role as advocates for the forest industry.”

Protecting the public interest has disappeared.
Penn's frightening article goes on to uncover a plan to privatize large sections of our public forest lands at the request of private industry. They are seeking a new forest tenure classification that would allow them long term leases to grow Frankentrees (fast growing poplar hybrids) to eventually convert into pellets as a fuel source. Because of a Kyoto Accord loophole, these companies will not have to account for the carbon production of the entire process, including the burning of the carbon-intensive pellets.

It is easy to privatize what rightfully belongs to the people. All the politicians have to do is give away public property to their friends, then wait for the kickbacks to flow in. It is much more difficult to reverse such decisions.

Will our old growth forests and big trees end up being liquidated entirely to make way for non-native GMO tree plantations? Will our Crown forests end up benefiting only private companies for the next 999 years, similar to the BC Rail deal? Already a small army of government 'fibre officers' are combing our province looking for sites suitable for conversion to hybrid poplar plantations in long term leases with biofuel companies.

It is up to us, now. We must all be Green Rangers and fight for our trees and forests. Future generations, and hundreds of at-risk species, will be grateful.


Bald Eagles and Big Trees

You need big trees for birds this large

Bald eagles are forest creatures requiring large territories that contain big trees close to water for nesting and perching. Only large, old trees have the strength, height, and branching structure that eagles require. The loss of such trees has been partly responsible for their drastic drop in numbers. Eagles need big trees.

The nest of a bald eagle is known as an Eyrie. It is one of the largest bird nests in the world, and can weigh as much as 2 tons. The nest consists of sticks and branches wedged together to make a large mass of material. Only sturdy, old trees can support these heavy structures.

Bald eagles use the same nests every breeding season. They keep adding new materials year after year. They line their Eyries with twigs, moss, feathers, and grass. A new nest is typically 2 feet deep and 5 feet wide but can grow enormously over the years. If a nest is destroyed for any reason, then the bald eagles usually remake their nest in close by areas. Eagle pairs will often use the same nest site for their entire breeding life.

Eagles also use large trees that emerge from the surrounding canopy to perch on. From these emergent trees the eagle can survey their territory for prey and other eagles.

Bald eagle nesting territory

Some of the trees surrounding Sooke Harbour are large enough to support massive eagle nests. A couple of years ago the largest, tallest tree in a forested area in my neighbourhood was toppled in a storm. For many years this tree provided the scaffolding for a giant nest that a pair of eagles had used faithfully season after season. I watched several baby eagles fledge at that site, and was sad to see the tree laying on the ground when I went over to investigate. The ton of material forming the nest may have been responsible for the tree toppling over.

One year I watched a baby eagle from this nest learning to fly along the edge of the forest. It flew to a tree and landed on a branch. All of a sudden the young, inexperienced eagle lost its grip and swung upside down on the branch with its wings spread wide. It stayed hanging like this for almost a minute, not seeming to know what to do next. Then it released its grip, took flight again, and landed in a more upright position. Kids do the funniest things.

Local eagles love this big tree
After the neighbourhood nest was lost the eagle pair relocated to another large tree within their territory. Close to the new nest site is a very tall tree that was used this year by a fledgling eagle learning to fly. The eaglet, perching on a sturdy branch would spread its wings, catch the wind and hop up and down in brief mini-flights.

Most eagle nest trees on the east coast of Vancouver Island (81%+) are veteran Douglas-firs over 150 years of age, usually found within a kilometre of the shoreline.

99% of old growth Douglas-fir forests on southeast Vancouver Island have been logged, and a great deal has been developed. Until recently, enough small stands of old growth, or lone veteran trees amongst smaller second growth, have remained to support a sizable nesting eagle population. However, continued development and logging of lands have caused the loss of nest trees, threatening the long-term maintenance of their numbers. Eagles need big trees.

In British Columbia landowners having eagle nests on their property are required by law to develop a management plan showing how the nest tree is to be preserved.


The San Juan Spruce: Canada's Largest Sitka Spruce

Looking down into San Juan Bridge campground and Canada's largest Sitka spruce

There is nothing like a big tree road trip. VIBT hit the road recently on a perfect fall day, and headed for the big trees of Port Renfrew, B.C. Destination? The San Juan Spruce, Canada's largest Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis).

There are many giant trees lurking around the Port Renfrew area, some well known, and others yet to be discovered. One of the more well known trees resides next to a bridge about 20 km up the San Juan River east from Renfrew. There are few known trees of its proportions anywhere, and if it were in some other country, it would undoubtedly be more celebrated than it is here.

This massive building-sized tree is Canada's largest spruce tree when measured by wood volume (333 cubic meters). You can see the 62.5 meter top of it from the bridge as you cross the river. It is in an area where other large Sitka spruce can be seen poking up like islands in the sea of second growth around them.

As you turn left at the end of the bridge and descend down to the San Juan River Bridge Forestry Recreation Site, the full 3.71 meter diameter of the champion spruce comes into view. 

The San Juan Spruce is all out of proportion compared to what one normally thinks of as a typical tree. It would take several adults holding hands to circle the 11.6 metre circumference base. This is the second largest Sitka spruce in the world after the Queets Spruce in Olympic National Park, Washington. 
At first the visitor will be struck by the sheer size of the giant, but after a while may also come to appreciate its interesting architecture. It has a complicated canopy, including a side trunk that is a large tree in its own right.

Hanging gardens of moss and fern living on a Bigleaf maple in the campground        

The San Juan Spruce is much more than just a tree - it is an entire vertical community of rain forest life. A large bracket fungus graces its lower trunk, and ferns grow in splashes of fluorescent green everywhere on the trunk and in the canopy. A Red-backed vole could live its entire life in this one tree. Forest debris builds up thickly on branches supporting a variety of spongy mosses, and even other trees.

A pilgrimage to this living monument is a tribute to the logging survivors that remind us of our connection to the ancient forest. A visit to the San Juan Spruce can also be seen as a tribute to Randy Stoltmann. He discovered, then worked to protect, this amazing tree. Stoltmann was compiling the beginnings of British Columbia's Big Tree Registry when he died in a back country accident in 1994.

Bonus: See the Red Creek Fir (biggest Douglas-fir in the world) while you are back here, if you are driving a 4X4 or other high clearance vehicle. Watch for signs along the way once you leave Harris Creek Main. It should be possible to loop back to Port Renfrew via Red Creek Main (edit: Red Creek Main is no longer passable).

Getting There 

Take Highway 14 from Sooke to Port Renfrew, a distance of about 88 km. From Port Renfrew take Deering Road to Harris Creek Main. Turn right toward Cowichan Lake until the Y intersection shown on the map. Watch for signs that will lead you to San Juan Bridge Recreation Site, a small, rustic 6 unit campground next to the San Juan River. Drive carefully and always be prepared with supplies and an emergency kit while driving logging roads in the back country.

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Getting High For Big Trees - Climbing Mt. Quimper

 When you look down from the top of Mt. Quimper you look over an area that has been logged since the mid-1800s when Walter Grant set up the first water-driven saw mill in the Sooke area. When Grant returned overseas his holdings went to the Muir family who built a more powerful steam powered saw mill in 1855. It was the beginning of the end for Vancouver Island's big trees.

Barely a century and a half later, over 96% of south Vancouver Island's most productive forests have been affected by logging. These forests were in valley bottoms where conditions are optimal, and trees grow the largest. These areas are also the most accessible so the largest trees were the first to be cut down.

Considering that history, I decided to start looking at steep slopes and mountain tops in the Sooke Hills Wilderness (Sea to Sea Green Blue Belt) to see if I could find some original trees that escaped the fate of forests down below.

Looking southeast from Mt. Quimper

I started with the 4.3 km (one way) hike up Mount Quimper, which is a rocky knob on the front line of the Sooke Hills. This 546 meter hill gives the hiker a spectacular panoramic view over the southern tip of Vancouver Island.  Even if I didn't find old growth I would at least be able to enjoy a great view.

Several sizable trees on the way to the summit provide cool shade and a place for lunch
Steep hillsides and mountain tops are the most difficult to log, and this fact has protected a few remnants of the once-mighty Douglas-fir forest (although previously inaccessible trees are increasingly being heli-logged in some parts of Van. Isl.). Individual survivors, and small clumps of old growth persist in places throughout the Sooke Hills. I hoped I might find some going up Mt. Quimper.

Big Douglas-fir near the top
 The hike starts at the parking lot at the end of Harbourview Road in Sooke. Presently the CRD is doing upgrades to the Mount Quimper area so I imagine signage and trails will be upgraded. I hiked before the construction began. There was no signage at all, but I still found my way to the top of the mountain using nothing more than my GPS (Gregg Positioning System).

I hiked past the gate on Harbourview Rd. and watched for any obvious trails off to my right.  I found one a couple of kilometers up the trail, and followed it. After a few minutes on this trail I found a side trail on my left that climbed more or less straight up a steep slope.

The trail I was on, an old logging road continued ahead. I chose the steeper path, looking for a more direct route to the top. The trail was a direct route to the top, and soon I found myself on the summit enjoying fantastic views of both trees and the south island landscape.

Tall forest near top with one large, gnarly-branched ancient
Most of the hike is through second growth forest. There are occasional large trees on the bottom portion of the hike, but the mid-section is through dense bush and small closely spaced forest. For the most part the view is obstructed until higher on the mountain.

When the side trail leaves the logging road and starts to climb Quimper proper, the real tree treats begin.  Along the trail to the summit there are some interesting, twisted and stunted Douglas-fir that are most likely very old.

The trail passes through rocky outcrops and grassy areas. These are interspersed with patches of forest, which I was grateful for on the hot, sunny day that I was hiking. The cool shade of the forest was in stark contrast to the open spots where the relentless sun was beating down and the temperature soared.

Wind-snapped giant Douglas fir - this tree could take hundreds of years to decompose

In the patches of forest on Mt. Quimper there are a few impressively large trees. Growing conditions become harsher as the altitude increases, and the old trees are smaller up here. Still, there are several large, old trees that draw ones attention.

There is also an amazing forest of dwarfish, almost bonsai, Arbutus kept small by their location in an open patch near the top. Also taking advantage of the more open hot, dry exposures are Pine trees, which are also of a stunted stature.

The biggest trees on Mt. Quimper are the Douglas-fir, including one tree that was toppled by the wind. The huge wind-snapped trunk lays on the ground, a testament to the harsh winds experienced up here during winter storms coming off the Pacific.

It makes one thankful for our homes, mostly made out of trees, to protect us from these same storms. I hiked down the mountain in half the time it took to ascend, rode my bike back home, and started to look at other peaks to explore. Now that a large patch of forest and hills in this area is protected, one can feel good about this being old growth forest of the future.

Getting There

Harbourview Road is in Sooke, a short drive east from the middle of town. It is about 40 km from Victoria. Drive to the end of the road where you will find a parking lot. The trail to the top of Mount Quimper starts here. Enjoy the trees and the stunning view.

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Juan de Fuca Provincial Park: Hiking To China Beach Through Old Growth Forest

The Coastal Western Hemlock Forest

Thirty-seven kms west of Sooke on Highway 14 is the beautiful Juan de Fuca Provincial Park. This park stretches in a narrow strip along the coast from China Beach all the way to Botanical Beach near Port Renfrew. It was made to commemorate the 1994 Victoria Commonwealth Games.
China Beach is at the east end of the park, closest to Sooke. A short hike to China Beach takes the big tree hunter through a mature Coastal Western Hemlock forest, and down to an expansive, sandy beach (at lower tides).

The further west along the coast you drive the wetter it gets, and the more Douglas-fir gives way to abundant Western hemlock, and Sitka spruce. The forest beginning around China Beach is different from the drier Coastal Douglas Fir ecosystem to the east.

More precipitation falls here than in Sooke, only 37 km away, but not as much as in Port Renfrew. Sooke receives about 660 mm of precipitation a year, compared to Port Renfrew's rainforest-like 3600 mm.

Hiking To China Beach

The 1 km trail to China beach starts at the parking lot for the day use area. The upper trail area has been logged and the forest that has grown in is densely packed and dark. The wet climate here encourages the spongy green mosses and dripping lichens that hang from branches. This is the beginning of the coastal rain forest.

A few steps and the hiker will pass through a small clearing in the forest. There is some evidence of logging here, but the area was also affected by a major storm in the winter of 2006. Many trees were blown down, and the trail was inaccessible for a long time. The clearing gives good views of the tall trees still standing there, and the surrounding forest canopy.

A little farther and the trail enters the area of mature forest. It is hard to miss as it feels like you are going 'into' something. The trunks of thick trees are all around, and looking toward their tops gets tiring on the neck. It is special here. Hushed, muted songs of forest birds, the faint sound of the wind in the upper canopy. Waves breaking on the beach below can be heard while mist passes through the trees.

This is the domain of keystone species such as black bear, cougar, wolf, and the endangered spotted owl. These species play a critical role in maintaining the structure of this special forest. The Sitka spruce are a keystone species in this ecologically rich environment, too.

"Vancouver Island has one of the highest concentrations of black bear and cougar in the world."

Sitka Spruce

Sitka spruce,  the largest species of spruce, commonly grow to 70 meters and a diameter of 300 cm in mature forests. The largest Sitka spruce are over 90 m and 500 cm in diameter. These giants are among the fastest growing trees in the world. The cool, moist maritime climate over much of Vancouver Island grows some of the largest examples anywhere.

The second-largest known Sitka spruce, the San Juan spruce, is just a few kilometers up Highway 14 from China Beach. This tree grows at a campsite beside the San Juan River outside of Port Renfrew. The San Juan spruce boasts a diameter of 371 cm, a height of 62.5 m, and a wood volume of 333 m3 .

A little farther up the coast in Carmanah/Walbran Provincial Park big tree lovers will find the Carmanah Giant, Canada's tallest tree. This sky scraping Sitka spruce is 95m in height and 9.4 m in diameter.

A Sitka spruce on the Brooks Peninsula has a greater girth than either of the above trees. This massive spruce is 13.94 meters in diameter.

The dark trunks of the Sitka spruce can be seen along the rest of the China Beach trail. The spruce trees have grey to dark brown bark that forms large chips. There are many Western hemlock, a few Douglas-fir, and some very large Western red-cedar that make up this diverse forest. But the coast-hugging Sitka spruce is the premier tree here.

The spruce are at the front line of the battle between the sea and the forest, due to their salt tolerance and ability to withstand abrasive wind-driven sand. These tough trees brave the elements and cushion the blow for those standing behind them. The spruce trees at the waters edge are blasted into a low wedge called spruce fringe, or krummholz forest. Without it, the trees behind would be blown down.

Sitka spruce are not the longest lived trees here, attaining an age of 'only' four or five hundred years. However, what they lack in age they make up in size, height, and girth. The trunks of these columns of wood have very little taper as they disappear into the canopy. The lower parts of the trunks are free of branches so the great trunks are in plain view. One would need binoculars to see the trees' needles as they are so far off the ground.

China Beach Provincial Park contains a special mature forest. We should be saving more like it. Get a taste of what we are at risk of losing on the easily accessible China Beach trail.

At the end of the trail - China Beach

 Getting There

Drive 37 km past the town of Sooke along West Coast Road (Highway 14). When you drive through the small surfing village of Jordan River you only have about 4 km further to drive. Watch for the entrance to China Beach day use area on your left hand side, and turn in.

Drive past the parking lot for the Juan de Fuca Trail head (on the right), and to the lower day use parking lot. The China Beach trail takes you past a set of outhouses, through the old growth and on to the beach below. Watch for bear, cougar and rogue waves.

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