West Coast Wood Architecture

A whimsical wood creation on the beach, Sooke, BC
Coastal beaches are excellent places to walk, or play, or do nothing but sit and listen to the waves breaking on the cobbles. Riches abound, with seaweed, driftwood and sand on one side, and the magnificent forest on the other. A better playground has never been built.

As I walked on the beach near Sooke I rounded a corner to see the wispy beachfront creation pictured above. As I stopped to look at it I considered whether it was a structure, or a sculpture.

I decided it was both, although the builders might have informed me that it was indeed a 'fort', or 'hut'. Regardless, we would all agree that the woodwork here is a thing of west coast beauty.

The Lookout provides a view of the beach below, and the Juan de Fuca beyond
As I climbed the steep bank behind the wood sculpture I delightfully discovered more woodworking wonders. Stick ladders, boardwalks, and platforms perched precariously in trees dotted the trail. The simplicity of how the natural materials were used appealed to my spartan ways, and reminded me of boyhood discoveries and creations.

However, since I was raised on the short-grass prairie, as a boy I dug more holes than I built tree houses. But I am making up for lost time now, and am enjoying the coastal beaches and trees as often as possible. This is where I like to play.

Trail leads to old growth wonders at the top of the bank


Going, Going, Gone

"Going" - I photographed the Douglas fir in the distance one year ago
and wondered how long it would last
Change is constant in the coastal forest, and where the forest meets the sea exists a zone where nothing stands still for long. Wind-driven salt spray, rain, and the ceaseless eroding action of tides and waves make this zone a challenging place for a tree to eke out an existence.

A year ago I did a post after a hike along the beach on the coast of the Strait of Juan de Fuca in Sooke, BC. Along the stretch of beach there are several big Sitka spruce and Douglas-fir that are being eroded by the action of the pounding surf, and are tottering on the edge.

"Going" - Close up of the root ball, showing its precarious, eroding perch
This tree in particular caught my attention due to its gravity-defying location hanging off a steep bluff. The Douglas-fir was a fair size (over 30m/100ft.), and it has been growing here since before WWI. It was obvious that it was only a matter of time before nature took its course on this tree.

"Gone" - The big tree gives in and hits the beach
Sure enough, the tree did not make it through 2011 intact, and now lies on the beach pointing out to sea. Maybe in 2012 it will change into a drift log, showing up on a beach near you.


The Gifts Of Trees

Happy Holidays from everyone at VIBT

What would a Christmas celebration be without a tree?

The UN International Year Of Forests is drawing to a close. Now is as good a time as any to give thanks for the many, many gifts given to us by our trees and forests. In their generosity and bounty, trees have paved the way for much of civilization as we know it.

We would not have come as far, or as fast, without the ample gifts of trees. Perhaps this coming year we can consider everything trees have done for us, and then consider what we can do for them in return.

Forests everywhere desperately need us.

Seasons Greetings to all tree lovers and forest defenders.


Bark Beetles: Beauty And The Beast

Sitka spruce on the beach showing evidence of bark beetles
Bark beetles are an important part of the life cycle of forests. These small, cylindrical insects are about the size of a rice kernel, but when they work together they can wipe out billions of trees. They breed in downed wood and stressed trees, but can also attack and kill healthy mature trees. And they are on the rise along with global temperatures.

These tiny insects survive by boring through the bark of host trees, and excavating tunnels through the phloem - the layer between the bark and wood of a tree. This layer consists of living cells that transport sap which is rich in sugars made by the needles of the tree. Eventually the flow of food and water between the roots and needles is disrupted, and the tree dies.

Bark beetles have been big news in British Columbia over the past few years, as pine beetle attacks in the interior of the province have completely devastated forests. Over 5.7 million hectares have been affected, involving 108 million cubic meters of timber. Resulting clear cuts exceed 250,000 acres in size, representing a second environmental catastrophe, this time human-caused.

South-central Alaskan Sitka spruce forests have been under attack by spruce beetles since a major infestation started there several decades ago. In the current outbreak, spruce beetle activity in Alaska was mapped on over 1.3 million acres in 1997. Cumulative beetle activity now totals over 3 million acres statewide since 1989.

Tracks show where bark beetles have eaten
the phloem layer under bark

BC's coastal forest is also affected by the activities of bark beetles, and although they leave beautiful patterns on the wood they feed off of, their activities are decidedly deadly.

Warming temperatures due to climate change are making it easier for bark beetles to overwinter and mature, which is causing numbers to explode.
Bark Beetles in British Columbia
The main species in B.C. are the mountain pine beetle, spruce beetle and the Douglas-fir beetle.
  • Spruce beetles attack Englemann spruce, White spruce and Sitka spruce trees from late April to early May. These insects have a two-year life cycle.
  • Douglas-fir beetles attack trees from late April through May and have a one-year life cycle.
  • Mountain pine beetles attack Lodgepole pine, Ponderosa pine and White pine trees from mid July to mid August. Mountain pine beetles have a one-year life cycle.
These insects inhabit forests throughout British Columbia. Like forest fires, bark beetles have always played an important role in our forests.

Amazing patterns under the bark of this Sitka spruce

10 Facts about Bark Beetles and North America’s Infestation

1. Other than human beings, no creature on the planet can change a landscape as fast as the bark beetle.

2. Bark beetles are not pests. They collapse and renew forests on time frames inconvenient for humans. For tens of millions of years they have been pruning or collapsing ailing, aging or drought stricken forests. A bark beetle can probably hear the distressed song of a drought stricken tree.
Spruce beetle

3. Climate change triggered the epidemics and allowed the mountain pine beetle, in particular, to expand its empire into a larger geography: mountains, northern latitudes and the boreal forest.

4. The beetles also took advantage of human engineered landscapes where decades of fire suppression has created a seemingly stable base of scenery that is really volatile.

5. Bark beetles prey on large trees in packs and behave much like wolves and killer whales attack when hunting. These highly social creatures also communicate by sound and chemical perfumes.

6. The great bark beetle epidemics of the last decade killed more than 30 billion conifers from Alaska to New Mexico.

7. Beetle epidemics are like hurricanes. Spending billions of dollars to control them is like putting up fans along the coast of Louisiana to stop another Katrina.

8. Novel sound experiments with bark beetles in Arizona have turned the creature in cannibals and may revolutionize insect control.

9. Canada used to have one of the world’s best insect monitoring programs on the planet. The federal government killed the program in 1996 to save money just as the pine beetle emerged in British Columbia and did $50-billion worth of damage.

10. The bark beetle, says Canada’s greatest living ecologist Buzz Holling, are really harbingers of things to come: collapse and renewal. He reckons that the extreme, the small and the improbable will decide our future.


Ravens - Rainforest Roosters

Ravens are rain forest roosters

Here in the northern hemisphere we are just about through the darkest days of the year. In less than 2 weeks we will celebrate winter solstice, the darkest day of them all. These are magical times, and humans are not the only ones to notice.

I live in a semi-rural part of a small south Vancouver Island coastal village of 10,000. Here, among the fog-cloaked tall trees, people have not yet taken over. Our town is shared with harbour seals, orcas, black bears, cougars, bald eagles, and big, black ravens.

Out here, on the far western edge of the continent, you can experience the folly of feeling like an all-powerful, highly evolved ape. In comparison to the vastness of the stormy sea on one side, and the impenetrable, deeply green, mossy forest on the other, the affairs of humans are mere scurryings of ants, and the watchful ravens reside over it all.

Over the past few long nights the ravens have been orchestrating the elements from their lofty laboratories in the tree tops within earshot of my bedroom window. Dressed in their black cloaks, these early risers are the mysterious roosters of the rain forest.

Each morning for the past couple of weeks I have been woken by the raven's guttural and commanding call. I hear it as an invitation to stand up and face the magic of the rising sun, and new day.

A day that will soon be a little more magical, and a little more sunny than the one before.


Big Tree Art: Taralee Guild

Cathedral Grove 3, 2009
I tend not to get out into the forest as much during this time of year. With cooler temperatures and only a few hours of daylight, I am left without my regular forest fix. A rainy, dark day is a good time to stay by the fire and check out tree-related sites on the web.

In the breaks between outings, art is one thing that can fill my need for the beauty of nature. I found the paintings featured in this post on the website DeviantArt, and they immediately drew my forest-deficient gaze. To see a gallery of more of this inspirational big tree art at this site, check out here.

The artist also has a website of more stunning Vancouver Island west coast rain forest art. Check it out here, and get a winter day forest fix - you will not be disappointed.

About The Artist
Taralee Guild (1984-present) lives and works in Vancouver, BC and is originally from Thunder Bay, Ontario. She is inspired by the Canadian tradition of nature painting and the artwork of Tom Thompson, Gordon Smith, and Peter Doig. Taralee Guild will be completing her BFA in Visual Arts at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, graduating in 2010 .
- from DeviantArt
About The Art

Cathedral Grove 3 (above)
This painting is part of a small group of work that materialized from a late winter photo shoot of Cathedral Grove on Vancouver Island. The area features a combination of old growth Red Cedar and Douglas Fir natural to West Coast BC. This painting looks almost straight up at these very tall trees. The sun was setting, which gave a particular kind of light which illuminated the tops of the tree canopies. Throughout the composition, broken light hits different spots of trunks and bristles.
- DeviantArt

Arbutus Trees, 2009

Arbutus Trees, 2009

Arbutus trees are quintessentially West Coast Canada, being particularly prominent on Vancouver Island. The twisting path of the branches and the peculiar bark are their main features. This painting acquired a nice sky blue for the background, whereas the warm brown bark and Hooker’s Green leaves compliment each other. The thick detail oriented trunk base becoming smoother as it goes up makes a convincing visual perspective. It is meant to feel like looking up at tall Arbutus trees on a nice spring day.
- DeviantArt


Nanoose Bay Forest Old Growth Logging

Big Douglas-firs of Nanoose Bay Forest, photo: TJ Watt, TimesColonist
The Nanoose Bay Forest, also known as District Lot 33 by the BC government, is a mixed stand of giant old-growth and smaller second-growth trees in an area that was partially logged about a hundred years ago. Today this publicly owned, endangered Coastal Douglas-fir forest on central Vancouver Island is being decimated by logging that is in no one's interest.

The provincial government says that this forest is not of a high enough quality to qualify for protection. However, in an endangered ecosystem where only 1% is left in its natural state, you would think that any undeveloped forest would be a likely candidate for protection. 

By the governments own admission, the Coastal Douglas Fir ecosystem is among the top four most endangered ecosystems in Canada, the others being Manitoba’s Tallgrass Prairie, southern Ontario’s Carolinian Forest, and BC’s “Pocket Desert” near Osoyoos.  

Work done in DL 33 before protesters
halted logging

The province has had ample opportunity to protect the Nanoose Bay Forest because it (meaning 'we') already own the land. The importance of this threatened ecosystem has been voiced by a passionate and motivated public that has been pushing for protection for years. 

Still, the province refuses to do the right thing, which would be to arrange funding for First Nations to develop sustainable industries, and save the 200 - 300 year old Douglas-firs.

When logging equipment rolled into the forest and big trees started to fall, protesters did what the province refused to do - halt the logging operation. But the forest occupation was short-lived as the band received a court injunction and enforcement order last Monday, so work recommenced.

The First Nations logging company cutting in the Nanoose Bay Forest says they will receive about $750,000 dollars from the proceeds of harvesting 15,000 cubic metres from a 64-hectare patch of the endangered old-growth coastal Douglas fir forest.

Economic development is important, but not when it is destructive and unsustainable. Surely there are better solutions than pushing an entire ecosystem, and its untold riches, closer to extinction.

Enjoying nature in the Nanoose Bay Forest, photo: Wilderness Committee

Timberwest has signed a contract to purchase the logs from DL 33. The company is certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) which "helps customers source responsibly managed forest products".

 The following is from the Timberwest website:
We demonstrate our commitment to the environment by:
  • ensuring our forestry practices meet or exceed environmental standards, laws and regulations
  • obtaining and maintaining sustainable forest practices certification from national and international agencies that are the recognized monitors of such practices
  • acknowledging that environmental protection is a condition of our social license to operate

Contact Information

TimberWest Forest Corp.
Third Floor,
856 Homer Street
Vancouver, BC 
Canada V6B 2W5
Phone: (604) 654-4600
Fax: (604) 654-4571 

Elected Officials

Members of the Legislative Assembly of B.C.
to find your local MLA's contact addresses

Hon. Christy Clark, Premier
PO Box 9041 Stn.Prov.Gov.
Victoria, BC
V8W 9E1

Phone: 250-387-1715
Fax: 250-387-0087
Hon. Dr.Terry Lake
Minister of Environment
Room 112
Parliament Buildings
Victoria, BC
V8V 1X4

Phone: 250-387-1187
Fax: 250-387-1356

Hon. Steve Thomson
Minister of Forests, Lands & Natural Resource Operations
Room 248
Parliament Buildings
Victoria, BC
V8V 1X4

Phone: 250-387-6240
Fax: 250-387-1040
Hon. Mary Polak
Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation
Room 325
Parliament Buildings
Victoria, BC
V8V 1X4


Dr. James Lunney, MP
#6 - 6894 Island Hwy. North, Nanaimo, BC
V9V 1P6

Phone: 250-390-7550
Toll Free: 866-390-7550
Fax: 250-390-7551
Mr. Ron Cantelon, MLA
501 Turner Road
Nanaimo, BC
V9T 6J4

Phone: 250-951-6018
Fax: 250-951-6020


Surfing The Drift Wood

Bufflehead riding the driftwood during recent high spring tide

Nice platform for preening and relaxing

Even after trees fall and enter local waterways they continue to provide habitat for local wildlife.

I caught this Bufflehead (Bucephala albeolata) taking advantage of a piece of driftwood in the Sooke Harbor recently.

Wintering Buffleheads prefer the shallow water shelter of the coves, estuaries, beaches and harbors along the coast of southern Vancouver Island.

These tiny birds are the smallest diving ducks in North America, and also one of the fastest in flight.

Drift wood in the estuary and harbour is a magnet for Buffleheads and other creatures such as: eagles, vultures, ducks, river otters, kingfishers, cormorants, and gulls.

Multiple seagull captains surfed this big log away


High Tides And River Levels Moving Drift Logs

This large drift log was flushed out of the Sooke River two years ago

Fall and winter are the seasons that put the rain in coastal rainforest. The calm summer is a distant memory that dropped with the leaves of the maples and oaks. Now is the time for gales, tropical punch drenching rains, and the highest tides of the year.

The drift log was lifted by recent high tides and swept away like a big canoe
With the summer drought over, the life-giving rains that define the forest begin to fall. Conifers that have been growing so slow that they are near dormant now have the rainfall that they have been missing for the past several months.

Rain-swollen rivers rise to heights that enable thousands of pacific salmon to return to their birthplace and continue a cycle that has been taking place for millions of years. The forest, and almost 200 species of animals, will benefit from the salmon's nutrient bounty. This includes Bald eagles which gather in large numbers to feast on the dead salmon which dot the low tide sand bars.

This huge stump has been on Billings Spit beach for many years -
it is unmoved by even the highest of tides.

After several big storms the ground nears saturation, and water begins to flow in low lying areas. Previously dry rock faces now sport gushing waterfalls, and the moss is puffed with moisture and at its brightest green.

The water rushes over the land and down to the ocean. River water levels reach several times the meager summer flow, washing accumulated woody debris, including whole, large trees, into the estuary in the harbour.

This cedar drift log lasted a few weeks on the beach before
being cut, floated, and hauled away

When high river flows combine with perigean spring tides (20% higher than normal), flooding is possible in coastal regions, especially if there are strong winds. On south Vancouver Island the highest tides of the year take place right now, then the end of December 2011, and mid-January 2012.

Another large cedar stump washed out of the Sooke River into the estuary.
It was only a few days before a boat tied up, cut the roots off, and hauled the log away.
The highest water levels of the year flush drift wood from beaches to float on the currents until they find a new resting place. The tide flats of the Sooke River estuary are often cleaned of old drift wood, before new trees and wood are washed out of the hills and end up taking their place.

Some drift logs stay for years, others will be gone by spring. Valuable large drift logs are hauled away by enterprising coastal residents to become shingles and shakes, posts, beams, and firewood. Their winter work is rarely witnessed by fair weather visitors.

Although not traditionally a part of the tourism season, late fall and winter offer exciting opportunities to see the coastal forest during its most tumultuous, powerful, and ever-changing moments as it interacts with the wind, water, and waves.  


Loggers For Old Growth Protection

Sometimes we cut 'em, and sometimes we don't
I was reading an article in the Globe and Mail on saving old growth forests - Avatar Grove, I think. The most interesting part, though, was not the article, but the comments after the piece.

Comments came from a wide spectrum of readers, including many from loggers, retired and otherwise. It made me think about the wealth of knowledge these people have, and how that could be useful in our efforts to protect old growth forests.

Take, for instance, the following comment:

"The biggest red cedar I ever saw was 27 feet in diameter and about 200 feet tall (cedar don't get very tall ) with dozens of candelabras. The faller came and told us,"You better go have a look 'cause I'm cuttin' it down tomorrow." He seemed kind of sad about it. We took a photo of the crew sitting in the undercut. It was in the Nit Nat Lake area.

Maybe the trees in the article aren't actually the biggest of their kind. One story I heard was that when representatives of the Champion Tree Society went to verify the size of a candidate for biggest Sitka spruce (somewhere in Washington, I think), there was initial disappointment that the specimen was somewhat smaller than the biggest spruce known. Then they just happened to find a vine maple nearby: four feet in diameter! Lucky or what?

I worked in the woods in BC for many years and saw lots of places that probably should have been protected from logging. Once, up to Soatwoon Lake (near Fair Harbour), we were cruising a big bowl of pretty run-of-the-mill giant red cedars. The exceptional thing was that the stand included thousands of Pacific yew two to three feet, occasionally more, in diameter. Never saw anything like that before or since. They are all gone now.

Just to quell the idea that all loggers are rapacious, let me tell you about a stand we discovered near the White River. What looked at first like an ordinary stand of giant red cedars, on closer inspection turned out to be an almost pure stand of yellow cedar. They were so big that, at first glance, they looked like red cedar (yellow cedar don't normally get as big) and, except for this area, don't normally form pure stands at lower elevations.

A few years later there was an article in the local newspaper that the IWA fallers refused to fall this stand because of its uniqueness. The company (I think it was M&B) subsequently preserved the area.

" - BCahoutec

We can thank conservation-minded loggers over history that take a stand and refuse to destroy what they know are special trees.

The Red Creek Fir, found near Port Renfrew, is one such tree. Rumour has it that when the first loggers approached the tree through the wet, tangled, green forest, they thought they were at the base of a cliff. They had lunch, then continued on their way.

A second group of loggers found the giant tree and marveled at its size. It was the end of the day so they left for camp. In camp the second group asked the first about the huge tree they came across. As they talked about it, the lunch group realized they had eaten not at the base of a cliff, but at the base of a wall of wood, the 4.23 meter wide Red Creek Fir. 

The men did not cut the monumental tree. Today it stands as the largest Douglas-fir in the world, with a volume of 349 cubic meters (12, 318 cu ft).


Hiking In Cougar Country

If you encounter a cougar, face it, look into its eyes, and
make yourself look big. Illustration: Backwoods Home

The forests of Vancouver Island are home to Puma concolor, more commonly known as puma, mountain lion, or cougar, as they are called here. This amazing relative of domestic cats has the greatest range of any large wild terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere. The island has one of the highest concentrations of cougars in the world.

If you are planning a trip to visit the big trees of the island, an encounter with a cougar is possible. Hiking in wilderness areas increases the likelihood of having an encounter. You can help yourself (and the cougars) by learning a bit about these elusive creatures before you go into their forest home.

While doing research on these stalk and ambush predators I found some potential ways to protect myself while out hiking. One of my favourites was a recommendation to wear a hat or hoodie with large eyes painted on the back. Another was to frequently look up, around, and behind you as you hike to show a cougar that you are being alert. Ambushes happen when the prey is not paying attention.

The BC government website has some good, comprehensive information in their Safety Guide To Cougars. I have included some of their tips below.

When in Cougar Country:

We have little understanding about what might trigger an attack, but following these general guidelines will reduce the risk of cougar conflict and prepare you in the unlikely event of an attack.

 Hiking or working in cougar country:
  • Hike in groups of two or more. Make enough noise to prevent surprising a cougar.
  • Carry a sturdy walking stick to be used as a weapon if necessary.
  • Keep children close-at-hand and under control.
  • Watch for cougar tracks and signs. Cougars cover unconsumed portions of their kills with soil and leaf litter. Avoid these food caches.
  • Cougar kittens are usually well-hidden. However, if you do stumble upon cougar kittens, do not approach or attempt to pick them up. Leave the area immediately, as a female will defend her young.
If you meet a cougar:
  • Never approach a cougar. Although cougars will normally avoid a confrontation, all cougars are unpredictable. Cougars feeding on a kill may be dangerous.
  • Always give a cougar an avenue of escape. A cougar that feels trapped is unpredictable.
  • Stay calm. Talk to the cougar in a confident voice.
  • Pick all children up off the ground immediately. Children frighten easily and their rapid movements may provoke an attack.
  • Do not run. Try to back away from the cougar slowly. Sudden movement or flight may trigger an instinctive attack.
  • Do not turn your back on the cougar. Face the cougar and remain upright.
  • Do all you can to enlarge your image. Don't crouch down or try to hide. Pick up sticks or branches and wave them about. Hold your back pack above your head.
If a cougar behaves aggressively:
  • Arm yourself with a large stick, throw rocks, speak loudly and firmly, or growl. Convince the cougar that you are a threat not prey.
  • If a cougar attacks, fight back! Many people have survived cougar attacks by fighting back with anything, including rocks, sticks, bare fists, and fishing poles.
Cougars are a vital part of our diverse wildlife. Seeing a cougar should be an exciting and rewarding experience, with both you and the cougar coming away unharmed. However, if you do experience a confrontation with a cougar or feel threatened by one, immediately inform the nearest office of the Conservation Officer service.


More Coastal Colour

Brilliant fall display beside Todd Creek and the timber trestle, Galloping Goose Trail

The winter weather has swept in with gale force winds up to 34 knots knocking down trees and cutting power to thousands of hydro customers. Power lines are not the only things coming down though, as whatever colour was left on the deciduous trees gets blown off. Good thing I got a few photos before the gales blew through.

Leaf litter is rich in nutrients providing a natural soil enhancer for the forest
Soon the deciduous trees will show their beautiful skeletal structures as their bare branches are silhouetted against the winter sky. Their amazing patterns remind us of many similar ones we see in nature, such as those formed by flowing water, our vascular system, or our lungs.

Trees amaze, regardless of the season.


Coastal Fall Colours

Bigleaf maple provide a splash of yellow on Lower Thetis Lake trail
Unlike the great deciduous forests of eastern North America, the coastal temperate rainforest is not a place people come to see fall colours. We have our share of colourful broad-leaf trees, it is just that they are a minor part of the forest. But what they lack in fall attire, they make up for in their importance to the forest ecosystem.

Here the giant centuries old conifers rule the land while deciduous trees are relegated to the fringes and clearings of the forest.

Arbutus is a broad-leaf tree that keeps its leaves,
but continuously sheds its bark- deciduous and evergreen.

Dense stands of mature conifer forest contain few colourful fall trees, but where the continuous canopy is broken, broad leaf trees fill in. Rocky outcrops form clearings in the forest, providing space for Garry oak and Arbutus to move in.

Arbutus is Canada's only broad-leaved conifer - it does not shed its leaves in the fall, and they are green year round. However, this beautiful, sun-loving tree does shed its orange-brown bark to reveal the fresh green bark underneath.

Large Bigleaf maple, Sooke River Road

Barrow's Goldeneye

Local lakes and rivers often have large Black cottonwoods growing along the freshwater waterfront. These massive moisture-loving trees provide perches and nesting sites for eagles and other large birds of prey.

More than 60% of the world's Barrow's goldeneyes nest in Black cottonwood trees. Right now cottonwoods heart-shaped leaves are turning yellow and carpeting the forest floor.

Black cottonwood form the
upper canopy along the Goldstream River

Deciduous trees are a small yet important part of the coastal forest ecosystem. They are the pioneer trees that reclaim disturbed areas for the future conifer forest. Red alder, usually the first tree to colonize areas like clear cuts, can fix nitrogen into a form plants can use. Deciduous leaves are less acidic than conifer needles, and are a rich source of nutrients for building the soil.

Broad-leaved trees also provide important wildlife habitat. Woodpeckers excavate new cavity nests each year, and these are frequently made in deciduous trees. Deciduous don't live as long, and decay faster than the resinous, long-lived conifers, making them perfect for cavity nesting.

Downy and Hairy woodpeckers
need deciduous trees for nests

Over 20 species in British Columbia are secondary cavity nesters, animals that can not excavate their own nests. These creatures move in to the year old abandoned holes, and include saw-whet owls, black-capped chickadees, flying squirrels, and martin.

Although the deciduous contingent of the coastal forest may be hard to see throughout the summer, their fall colours make it difficult for them to go unnoticed, giving them their moment of much-deserved glory.


BC Government Seeking Public Input For OGMA Protection For Avatar Grove

An ancient Western red-cedar in Avatar Grove near Port Renfrew, Vancouver Island

A deadline is looming on the call for public input to the BC government's proposed Avatar Grove protection plan within the framework for Old Growth Management Areas (OGMA). Responses are accepted until Wednesday, November 9, 2011.

About OGMA In BC
Most areas of BC have had Old Growth Management Areas (OGMAs) established. These are mostly old growth stands on crown forest land (although some are in parks). You can ask any forest company or BC Timber Sales to view a map of the OGMAs in their area.

Generally around 10% of the forested land has been set aside (the exact amount varies). That is often only a portion of the old growth in any area. In some areas where there is hardly any old growth left, younger stands have to be selected; over time and with protection, they will grow into Old Growth. For now they're called "recruitment" OGMAs.

OGMAs have some legal protection, through a government land use objective, but in reality it's only the forest industry that has to honour the protection. The forest industry can harvest in OGMAs, under specific conditions, but the harvested area must be replaced by another stand that has "equal or better" old growth characteristics. - source

The forest floor, Lower Avatar Grove

Ancient Forest Alliance is reporting the following information concerning the inclusion of Port Renfrew's Avatar Grove into a OGMA in The Renfrew Ammendments 2011.

 From the AFA website:

Please WRITE a QUICK EMAIL to PROTECT the AVATAR GROVE and ALL of BC’s Endangered Old-Growth Forests.

After almost two years of intense public pressure led by the Ancient Forest Alliance and the Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce, the BC government is looking to officially declare Avatar Grove off-limits to logging. They are proposing to include the Avatar Grove within 59 hectares of new Old-Growth Management Areas (OGMA’s), pending the completion of public input that closes this Wednesdsay, November 9.

This is a great step forward for the most spectacular, easily accessible stand of unprotected old-growth cedars and Douglas-firs on southern Vancouver Island. The Avatar Grove is extremely rare, valley-bottom ancient forest, about 95% of which has been logged on the South Island.

However, the logging company will be compensated with 57 hectares of forest (27 hectares of old-growth, 30 hectares of second-growth), while thousands of hectares of old-growth forests are logged each year across Vancouver Island, tens of thousands of hectares across BC, and millions of hectares of BC's old-growth forests remain in jeopardy. Already 75% of the original, productive old-growth forests have been logged on Vancouver Island.

PLEASE TAKE 3 minutes to WRITE a quick EMAIL by this Wednesday, November 9 to the BC government at:

Ministry of Forests: RenfrewOGMA@gov.bc.ca
BC Forest Minister Steve Thomson: steve.thomson.mla@leg.bc.ca
Premier Christy Clark: premier@gov.bc.ca

BE SURE to include your FULL NAME and ADDRESS so they know you are a real person!

Please reference: Renfrew Amendments 2011

TELL THEM that you:

- Support the protection of Avatar Grove as an Old-Growth Management Area (OGMA) in the Renfrew 2011 Amendment and ultimately as a conservancy or park.

- Want ALL of BC’s endangered old-growth forests protected through a Provincial Old-Growth Strategy.

- Want the BC government to ensure the sustainable logging of second-growth forests and to ban the export of raw logs to foreign mills.


Old Growth Forests

This coastal Douglas-fir achieved old growth status 500 years ago.
Many will agree that the old growth forests of Vancouver Island, and the world, are vital landscapes that need to be protected. However, there may be some disagreement over what compromises late-successional, or old growth forests.

The whole concept of old growth, and old growth management was born not far from here in the 1970s. A grass-roots movement was forming in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. due to the continued loss of original forests, and fears of a diminishing biodiversity. Organizers were seeking a clear definition of old growth in order to be able to save it.

There are a few key factors and commonalities that can be used to identify old growth. More difficult may be convincing the powers that be that these forests are worth saving.

The following information is adapted from the Royal BC Museum Living Landscapes web site:

Old growth forests are a major issue for the forestry industry throughout Canada and particularly in British Columbia. These forests are the source of potential economic wealth, but destroying them could have a greater impact than losing a few old trees.

There has not been one exact definition for old growth forests, as they can differ depending on climate, site characteristics, forest type and history of disturbances. On Vancouver Island it takes approximately 250 years for the forest to take on the structure seen in old growth settings. A stand of Douglas-fir can grow undisturbed for centuries.

Characteristics of Old Growth Forests
  • Very Large Trees. This is highly dependent on climate, site characteristics etc., so is not a sole way of evaluating old growth forests.
  • Very Old Trees. This factor also depends on many factors especially the area in which trees grow. The temperate rainforests of the coast commonly reach ages exceeding 250 years, which is generally when a forest begins to take on old growth characteristics.
  • Complex Ecosystem Structure. A multilayered canopy is one characteristic that is said to be true of old growth forests.
  • High Species Diversity. Many old-growth forests are have great species diversity, more so than a newer or second growth forest.
  • Deep Litter Layer/LDWD. Old growth forests generally have a lot of accumulation of dead organic matter on the forest floor when they have remained undisturbed by fire for centuries. One component in the structure of the litter layer is the presence of large diameter woody debris (LDWD), or large, downed trees. These trees may take many decades to decay, provide rich habitat, and return nutrients to the soil.

In British Columbia, there have been ongoing calls to protect the remaining old growth forests, particularly the coastal temperate rainforests that occur on Vancouver Island. Each year almost 200,000 hectares of old growth forest are clear cut.

Concerned citizens have staged some of the largest mass civil disobedience movements in Canadian history in order to protect increasingly threatened public forest lands. These actions have impelled provincial governments to take their responsibilities to protect the public interest seriously.

There have been changes, although it remains to be seen how far the government is willing to go in ending old growth logging completely. The BC government established an Old Growth Strategy in 1992, and has been increasing the number of Old Growth Management Areas (OGMA) that seek to protect more old growth forests and their ecological and cultural assets.

Progress has been made since the 1970s, and after a major campaign, the government divided the Carmanah Valley in half. Rather than clear cut the entire valley, the bottom was set aside for a park in 1990, while allowing the upper areas to be logged (which may have impacts on the bottom part of the valley). Had the original logging request been allowed, the tallest Sitka spruce trees in Canada would have been destroyed.

Clayoquot Sound on Vancouver Island, has been a focal point since the 1980s, in BC and globally, over forest value and issues of environmental and economic sustainability. In 1984, the first logging blockades in Canadian History occurred on Meares Island, resulting in the protection of its ancient forests.

Clayoquot represents 262,000 hectares of which 244,000 are forested. Over 30,000 hectares have been logged to date, and only 39,100 hectares are in protected areas, and the remaining 90,400 hectares of commercially productive land is mainly old growth forests.

We know, roughly, what an old growth forest is. We know that they are vitally important in providing crucial environmental services such as water purification, soil retention, and carbon storage. And we know that given current policies all original old growth forests will be degraded, depleted, and destroyed over the next few decades.

It is time to stop harvesting old growth forests in BC, and around the world.


Occupy The Forest

Occupy the forests before they are gone
The Occupy Movement has gained global momentum as people continue to rally against corrupted politicians, and the greedy corporatists that have bought them out. Although all of the protests I have seen have been in cities, the forests of the world would be an appropriate setting for future occupations.

The planet's forests are depleted from centuries of exploitation, and extraction has ratcheted up in recent years, primarily for the enrichment of powerful corporate entities. Deforestation has already removed 50% of the world's forests, and what is left is certain to vanish in the coming decades if we do not take drastic action.

Deforestation has many causes. Population pressures, profits, and internal social and political forces can all push up the rate of forest loss.  Globalization is an additional force putting increased pressure on our forests. Jurisdictions with inequitable distribution of wealth and power, and corrupt governments, are especially vulnerable. Unfortunately, this describes most regions of the world.

Some countries, though, have decided to re-occupy their original forests by banning logging. For example, a number of countries in the Asia-Pacific region have experimented with partial or total logging bans (or similar restrictions on timber harvesting) in response to rapid deforestation and degradation of natural forests. 

Several other countries in the region are also considering harvesting restrictions, along with other strategies, to promote forest conservation. Some of the countries involved are: New Zealand (1987), People's Republic of China (1998), Philippines (1991), Sri Lanka (1990), Thailand (1989), and Viet Nam (1997).

Sadly, although British Columbia's forests have also been decimated by industrial logging, our government steadfastly sticks to a 'log it all' old growth forest policy.  

Any change in BC's forests, and the forests of the world, will be made by concerned, motivated citizens forcing our governments to do the right thing.

It is time to ban the logging of old growth forests before they, and the species that depend on them, are extinct.

It is time to Occupy The Forest.

Motivation for restricting timber harvesting
There are a number of reasons for countries to restrict timber harvesting that are complementary or subsidiary to an overall objective of controlling deforestation. These include:
  • efforts to conserve biodiversity, critical habitats and representative forest ecosystems;
  • a means of preventing deterioration of watersheds and water quality;
  • prevention of soil erosion, sedimentation and flooding;
  • stopping forest damage from inappropriate logging and abuse of contractual obligations;
  • inability to effectively monitor and regulate logging operations, including inability to detect and prevent illegal logging;
  • inadequate reforestation and afforestation;
  • lack of management of cut-over forestlands;
  • uncontrolled human migration and habitation of forested areas through logging access and opening of forest stands;
  • inappropriate land clearing and conversion to agriculture;
  • conflicts with rights and cultural traditions of indigenous peoples and local communities;
  • loss of scenic, cultural and aesthetic resources;
  • climate change and carbon storage; and
  • conflicts with management of important non-timber forest products, including medicinal plants and forest genetic resources.
    - from "Forests Out Of Bounds"


Todd Creek CNR/Galloping Goose Timber Trestle

The cross-braced timber framework of Todd Creek Trestle
The Vancouver Island section of the Canadian National Railway opened in 1911, and it was all about the big trees. Trees had to be cleared for the right of way, ties were cut from the forest, as were the massive beams required to build the many bridges along the route. The Todd Creek Trestle was one such timber bridge that made it possible to navigate through a near-impenetrable, rocky, hilly, forested landscape.

Bridge deck of Todd Creek Trestle

For years the railway allowed people and cargo to travel through the forest between Victoria and Sooke, and to points north toward Lake Cowichan. Lumber trains carrying gargantuan logs, 1-3 per car, rumbled back down from the richly forested hills. There are old-timers in Sooke today that can still remember the lonesome whistle of the timber trains echoing through the hills.

Two major trestles were required to span valleys as the railway travels along the east bank of the Sooke River. Today a steel bridge crosses Charters Creek. Todd Creek trestle, though, is an excellent example of the strength and versatility of wood. Its timbers had to endure the weight of long trains loaded with many tons of huge logs.

When coastal bridge engineers looked for the structural timber for trestles, their first choice was often Douglas fir. Not only was it plentiful, but it also has an excellent strength-to-weight ratio, and performs well when stressed by heavy loads, wind, storms, or earthquakes. The west coast trestles had to endure all of these challenges.

Bear Creek Trestle
One of the most impressive wooden bridges was built in the late 1930s not far from Port Renfrew, in the Bear Creek Valley. Standing a dizzying 74 metres (242 ft) high and spanning 158 metres (517 ft) across, the Bear Creek bridge was at the time the highest wooden trestle in the world.

The Douglas-fir timbers used for bridge building are known for their tough fibre, dense grain structure and strength. Douglas-fir has excellent working properties, and it's wood is moderately durable and rot resistant. An untreated bridge could last 20 years plus, and when treated, much longer. All these advantages combine to explain why Douglas-fir was, and continues to be, the wood of choice for heavy structures.

The trestle carries hikers and cyclists past some remnant old growth trees

 Another important consideration is that Douglas fir is one of the few species available in the large sizes required for the timbers needed for large buildings, or trestles like the one over Todd Creek.

Although trestle fires happen, including two deliberately set (unsuccessful) fires on the Todd Trestle in recent memory, Douglas-fir has an excellent fire rating.

The biggest timbers at the bottom

A walk or bike ride on the Galloping Goose (as the abandoned CNR line is now called) over the Todd Creek trestle gives an excellent view of the valley far below, as well as the forest in the surrounding area.

There are several isolated old growth Douglas-fir along this route, just off the trail. If you look closely you will find them trying to hide among the younger trees surrounding them.

There is a small trail along the Todd Creek trestle to access the creek below. Here you can get a good look at the trestle's amazing structure. Marvel at a form of timber bridge building that has largely faded into the past, along with the big trees that made it all possible.

Todd Creek in the summer


British Columbia's War On Old Growth Forests

"TIMBER" - Say good-bye to BC's ancient forests

BC's coastal forest is part of a globally rare ecosystem - the temperate rain forest at its height only covered under one percent of the Earth's land surface. Over 1/2 of this unique rain forest has been logged globally in a deforestation unparalleled in human history.

BC has some of the largest tracts of original temperate rainforest left, a distinction it shares with Alaska and Chile. But, for a variety of insufficient reasons, every day that dawns in beautiful BC sees giant, old growth temperate rain forest trees cut to the ground. Massive specimens, up to a thousand years old or more, are felled to build decks and make toilet paper. 

Increasingly, BC citizens are calling for an end to the War On Old Growth Forests, and it couldn't come too soon. In the past 150 years up to 89% of the productive ancient forests of Vancouver Island have been decimated.

In the 1980s, concerned citizens blockaded logging on Clayoquot Sound's largest island. Because of their forward thinking, Meares Island still retains its near-intact original forest today. Although there is precious little remaining old growth, Clayoquot  holds the distinction of having the largest intact ancient forest left on Vancouver Island.

Clayoquot Sound old growth trees, Mark Hobson photo

In 1993 one of the largest civil disobedience events in Canadian history took place in Clayoquot Sound. 12,000 forest defenders joined together on a logging access road and proclaimed the area off limits. Nearly 1000 people, including senior citizens, were arrested protecting this natural area of global significance. They proved that the people are the only ones that can safe our forests.

However, today it remains under the threat of rapacious multi-national logging corporations, and governments that have no regard for the future or the public interest.

The logging of old growth continues, and forest defenders fight to end it before the ancient forest is extinct, along with many of the species that depend on it for survival.

On south Vancouver Island a few logging hot spots in the news recently are:
  • the Old Arrowsmith trail (close to world famous Cathedral Grove)
  • areas bordering world famous Pacific Rim National Park
  • steep hillsides in the Cowichan Lake area and,
  • Clayoquot Sound

Standing on the stump of an ancient cedar tree in 2000, a member of Hesquiat First Nation gazes over the clearcut wasteland of his ancestral territory on Clayoquot Sound, Vancouver Island. The deep scars of logging roads and erosion are clearly visible on the mountain in the distance, evidence of the brutal clearcutting by Interfor. Adrian Dorst photo, source
The Old Arrowsmith Trail was first built in 1912, and is the oldest trail still in use on Vancouver Island. It is located at the south end of Cameron Lake, a few kilometers east of world famous Cathedral Grove. Logging company Island Timberlands has given notice that they will be logging the area, putting in jeopardy the last foot accesses to Mount Arrowsmith Regional Park. Sections of the Lower Ralph Rousseau trail that leads from the back of Cathedral Grove are unusable since recent clear cutting there.

Pacific Rim National Park encompasses some of Vancouver Island's most spectacular scenery. Over a million people visit this ecologically significant destination every year. Unfortunately, Pacific Rim was not designed with a buffer zone, and logging has been encroaching ever since the park's inception in the 1970s. Clear cuts extend right up to the boundary lines, and often chain saws, logging trucks, and large log-lifting helicopters can be heard from your campground.

Cowichan Lake area (including Carmanah/Walbran) has been under constant and continuous logging pressure for a hundred years. The easy trees are long gone, and now increasingly desperate corporations are going after the more marginal old growth areas, like steep hillsides. This type of logging often causes massive erosion, soil loss, and sedimentation/degradation of salmon streams.

Clayoquot Sound, with the largest area of old growth forest and the only cluster of unlogged valleys remaining on Vancouver Island, is in constant threat from those who look at these valleys and see only dollar signs. Agreements and promises resulting from the '93 citizen occupation are under threat because there is big money to be made plundering this global treasure.

Former MP Keith Martin atop a recently cut, 1000 year+ redcedar stump
near Port Renfrew, TJ Watt photo

BC Forest Facts
  • BC has about 1/4 of the world's remaining coastal temperate rainforest.
  • Just over 1/2 of BC's coastal temperate rainforest has been cut already.
  • 3/4 of the productive ancient forest on Vancouver Island has been logged already.
  • 13% of the island's area is protected in parks, but this contains only 6% of the island's productive forest.
  • Of 89 large primary valleys on Vancouver Island (valleys that are 5,000 hectares or larger that empty directly into the ocean), only 6 remain undeveloped (completely unlogged or less than 2% logged).
Contact your elected officials and let them know how you feel about the planned extinction of our ancient forests. It is up to us to save them. Let's end the BC government's War On Old Growth Forests.

Honourable Christy Clark, Premier
Victoria BC

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