Major Moss In B.C.'s Coastal Forests

This giant Douglas-fir snag makes a perfect scaffold for the moss

Fluorescent green flashes catch my eye whenever I am out in the forest. It is not surprising as anything that doesn't move in the coastal forest gets covered in deep, luxurious moss. Actually, I can say that even things that roll grow moss in the rain forest - my vehicle is slowly turning green. If left long enough it would disappear entirely, as would I if I ever fell on a hike and couldn't get up.

Detail of tree above showing a Western hemlock seedling growing out of the moss

British Columbia possesses the richest diversity of mosses, or bryophytes, in Canada. The amazing diversity of this large group of special non-flowering green plants is due to the varied terrain  of the province, as well as historical developments that led to holdovers surviving from before the last ice age. B.C.'s huge collection of mosses is greater than the combined mosses of all of the U.S. west of the Rocky Mountains. That's major moss.

The moss on big trees can be several centimetres thick, and cover the bark completely

This time of year the mosses are hydrated and at their colourful best. Moss can hold a whopping 25 times its own weight in moisture. They are efficient sponges which can add tons of weight to the limbs of an old tree, making them more susceptible to wind damage.

Old Bigleaf maple branches grow a covering of moss and ferns

Mosses are a special kind of green plant because they are non-vascular, meaning they do not have xylem or phloem (tissues that transport water and nutrients) like trees and other vascular plants. The Bryophytes are sometimes referred to as "lower" plants because they evolved earlier in the history of green stuff on the planet.

Winter, when trees don't have leaves, is a good time to see the full extent of the moss

The mosses shown here are all epiphytes, meaning that they do not harm the trees they are growing on. The base of trees provide a scaffold for the moss, but the moss derives all its nutrients from the air and rain, not from the tree. Mosses do not have true roots, only root-like threads called rhizoids. In the summer, mosses can dry right out. They survive by lowering their metabolism until the rains come again to fluff up the green cushions.

Could it be Amblystegium serpens, or Creeping feather moss?

Sometimes moss seems like it is from a different planet. Mosses are a varied, wonderful, and ubiquitous part of the coastal forest. So many different types of moss growing in so many different shades of fluorescent green. Just remember to keep moving out here or you may find yourself turning green.


For a good introduction to B.C. mosses see:

Schofield, W. B. 1992. Some Common Mosses of British Columbia. Royal BC Museum Handbook. Queen's Printer, Victoria, BC. 394 pages. Illustrated.


Forest Primeval: The natural history of an ancient forest

What is the next best thing to hanging out in the trees? Reading about trees, of course. In between excursions to the forest I like to absorb as much information about trees as I can. And there is a lot of great information out there.

I just finished reading Chris Maser's fantastic book Forest Primeval: The Natural History of an Ancient Forest. In it he describes a small patch of forest in the Pacific Northwest as it grows from its birth (after a lightning strike fire) in 988 to the beautiful old growth forest that he has known and loved since childhood.

Over the thousand years of this small grove, Maser describes many of the creatures and processes that work together to create one of the most diverse and majestic ecosystems in the world.

The author knows the forest in intricate detail, and we are introduced to a long list of characters, each one of them performing a small, but necessary task in the web of life.

Threatened Avatar Grove big trees
From fungus in the soil that grows on the roots of Douglas-fir, to voles, cougar, wildflowers and massive 900 year old trees, the author makes the small grove he is describing leap off the page with a green fecundity. But catastrophic changes are coming to the ancient grove.

Along with describing the characters and changes in the forest, the book also describes the characters and changes in the human world. In the 17th century, as the small grove grows into old age, one thing is certain - invaders are coming, and they view the earth and its resources quite differently than the native people that lived with the forest for about as long as it existed.

Of his own people, Chief Seattle said, "Every part of all this soil is sacred to my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove has been hollowed by some sad or happy event in days long vanished." He warned that what we do to the earth, we do to ourselves.

The prescient Chief had the newcomers pegged, and was saddened by what he saw. "We know that the white man does not understand our ways. One portion of the land is the same to him as the next, for he is a stranger who comes in the night and takes from the land whatever he needs. The earth is not his brother, but his enemy - and when he has conquered it, he moves on. He leaves his fathers' graves, and his children's birthright is forgotten."

Forest Primeval is written equally as much from the viewpoints of a poet, an artist, a philosopher, and a scientist. Maser knows the ancient forest and its denizens well, and he has a deep respect and love for each and every one of them.

He invites us to consider, and says, "As we journey through the forest of a thousand years, keep in mind that as the forest is growing and changing, so is humanity, and they will ultimately converge at a time and in a way that will forever change them both."

Maser concludes by asking whether we can overcome our inherited myth of human superiority over Nature in time to halt the destruction, and begin the healing.

We haven't been able to so far, and time is running out. The primeval forest is almost gone.


Save Mary Lake Campaign Nears Deadline

Riparian habitat in the Mary Lake forest, photo: Savemarylake
Bob McMinn, one time mayor of the Highlands District outside of Victoria, BC, knew he was taking on a huge challenge when he launched the Save Mary Lake Campaign back in October of 2010. At stake - 107 acres of a globally significant, endangered wild forest slated to be sold for upscale housing estates. But Bob is a determined, tech savy elder that is willing to go the extra mile to save a special place he knows and loves.

$4.5 million dollars needs to be raised, including $1 million of it by a February 1, 2011 deadline. As of January 19th $199,000 had been raised with the deadline looming. Please consider helping Bob save the Highland's Mary Lake forest... soon!

Donate here.

Only 6% of the tiny Coastal Douglas-fir Eco-zone is protected.
Even the BC government should agree that Bob's quest is a good one. A brochure they published states that:
"though it is one of the smallest of British Columbia’s 14 ecological zones, the Coastal Douglas-fir Zone is home to some of the province’s most interesting and diverse ecosystems. A mild climate has also given this area some of the province’s rarest vegetation, which is seriously threatened by growing human settlement".
Although the government should step in and provide funding for preserving what it says is endangered forest, we can not count on them. It is up to the people.

Of course, contacting Pat Bell, Minister of Forest, Mines, and Lands can't hurt either. Find his contact information here. Tell him you would like Mary Lake and other old growth remnants in the devastated CDF eco-zone protected before they are all converted into mansionettes on mini-estates.


Vancouver Island's Cougars At Risk As Forest Habitat Continues To Disappear

Cougars are amazing, secretive creatures of Vancouver Island's forests, photo: Wikipedia

Raincoast releases comprehensive report on BC’s cougars

 For Immediate Release: January 19, 2011

Contact: Raincoast Science Director Dr Chris Darimont (250-589-7873), Raincoast Senior Scientist Dr Paul Paquet (306-376-2015)

Sidney, BC – Today, in anticipation of the first provincial management plan for cougars, Raincoast Conservation Foundation released the report, “British Columbia’s Neglected Carnivore: a conservation assessment and conservation planning guide for Cougars.”

The report, authored by Raincoast scientists Corinna Wainwright, Chris Darimont and Paul Paquet, builds a foundation for longer-term, larger- scale research, informed advocacy, and educational outreach throughout cougar distribution in BC, and on Vancouver Island in particular.

“At present, provincial laws, regulations, and practices for conserving and managing cougars, fail to address the very real and growing threats to survival cougars now face. In our assessment, we concluded that the government cannot make thoughtful decisions about the future of cougars in BC until three critical gaps are closed: the gap in the scientific understanding of cougar ecology, the gap in the BC governments ability to conserve cougars without knowing how many there are, and the lack of an ethical framework to inform decisions. Only when these gaps are closed can the province begin to determine if cougars can be managed safely and prudently,” said Paul Paquet.

Beautiful and mysterious, cougars have persisted against countless and unrelenting threats to retain a substantial foothold in BC. Blessed with abundant wilderness and established cougar populations, BC provides an unparalleled opportunity for the conservation of these big cats.

Based on a comprehensive review of cougar ecology, research, and management, our report provides an assessment and framework for a science and ethics based conservation plan.
“Conservation and management of BC cougars ought to consider commonly held  ethical values of British Columbians regarding biodiversity conservation and  the welfare of individual cougars,” said Corinna Wainwright.

“While our review of cougar management argues for increased caution, a deeper question emerged. That is, why should this magnificent animal be hunted at all? The recreational hunting of cougars does not feed families; they are killed for sport and trophy,“ said Chris Darimont.

Download the report here BC’s Neglected Carnivore
Download the report summary here Raincoast cougar report at-a-glance


Unparalleled Urban Forest: The Royal Colwood Golf Course

Towering trees line the Royal Colwood Golf Course, photo from RCGCC website
(Click on photos to see larger version)

The Royal Colwood Golf Course was designed and cut out of the old growth forest in 1913. Today, according to the Victoria Horticultural Society, it has "the most magnificent natural stands of Douglas-fir and Garry oaks of all ages in an urban area". The golf course is a designated Heritage Tree Area which signifies its importance to the surrounding community, as well as to the deer, herons and bald eagles that live there.

Here the giant Douglas-fir and twisted Garry oak may be barely noticed by folks letting their game detract attention from the walk through the outstanding ancient forest. I have been wondering for a while now, "How does the tree enthusiast get to see the wonders of this semi-private club without chasing a little white ball around?"

Historical photo of golfers dwarfed by the big trees that are even bigger today
From: RCGCC website

I started with the wonders of the Internet. It provided an interesting start in my quest to get "on the course" (without getting hit on the head by a fast moving ball, or chased by some angry guy in a golf cart). I searched for 'Royal Colwood Golf Club' which came up with interesting links that gave me a sneak peek at this amazing, exclusive forest.

450 year old Douglas-fir at 'Cathedral Hole' (16th hole)
Photo credit: Matt

First there was Matt from St. Catharines, Ontario who is an avid golfer and blogger. When he was on Vancouver Island in the summer of 2009 he visited the Royal Colwood, and was one golfer that did notice the forest. His blog can be found here and features many excellent photos of the course and the trees, including the photo above. He summed up his experience on the course by saying, "The trees out here are just incredible! They are the strongest feature at the club..."

Matt also points out that the 16th hole was named 'Cathedral Hole' after the old Prince of Wales played at the course back in the day. The prince, who knew quality when he saw it, felt that the light filtering through the surrounding Douglas-firs at the 16th was like that coming into a cathedral. This moving forest experience would later lead to the golf course getting its 'Royal' designation from King George V in 1931. The next notable historical event at the golf club 68 years later was not as tree-friendly.

Huge branches of ancient Douglas-fir on 16th hole, from RCGCC website

In 1999 Len Barrie, failed Bear Mountain developer, had a run-in with the Royal Colwood over an infamous illegal tree removal incident. The ex NHL player lived in a house that backed onto the golf course. He hired a contractor to cut down 28 trees—Douglas firs, an arbutus and a few wild cherries—that ran between his property and the green. He was trying to 'improve' his view.

Some of the trees were as much as 16 metres beyond Barrie's property line. The Royal Colwood sued Barrie for $18,500 and, after several appeals, he settled for $14,700. The golf club revoked Barrie's membership, which caused him to throw a tantrum and cut more trees over on Bear Mountain in order to build his very own golf course. This misguided development was placed under court protection from creditors in March of 2010 after running into financial troubles.

Another online resource for good tree shots was the Royal Colwood Golf Club website. It has many beautiful pictures of the trees in this park-like setting. The golf course keeps very close tabs on the impressive collection of ancient sentinels, with lists documenting all significant trees. And there are many significant trees.

Big Garry oak, from: RCGCC website

Some of the oldest Douglas-firs are 61m high with up to 221cm diameter trunks. The oldest trees are up to 500 years old. Other native trees to be found here are Black cottonwood, Quaking aspen, and Grand fir. There are also many introduced species represented on the grounds, such as non-native oaks.

To complete my research I had my big tree assistant give the Royal Colwood a phone call on the off chance that they gave tree tours to the ordinary non-golfing public. The call went through to the pro shop, and the person contacted was very friendly and accommodating. He was also noticeably proud of the trees on the course. So much so, that he offered a personal tour of the place. Success!

What began online I am looking forward to completing in person with an eagerly anticipated field trip. Afterwards I will be posting pictures here. It will be interesting to see where the call of "Fore!" has prevented the yell of "Timber!", resulting in this unparalleled urban forest.


Urban Exotics: Monkey Puzzle Tree

A fine specimen of Monkey-puzzle tree in Sooke, B.C.

The mild climate of Vancouver Island allows gardeners to grow exotic trees that would struggle elsewhere in Canada. The Monkey-puzzle (Araucaria araucana) is one such non-native tree. To see one is to understand how a monkey, or anything else, would be puzzled trying to climb its branches. Although beautiful, this is one spiky, prehistoric tree that you might want to view from a couple steps away.

Detail of branches and spiked leaves

The monkey-puzzle is native to South America. It colonizes disturbed areas after they have burned. In its natural environment at lower elevations of the Andes, the monkey-puzzle is well suited to grow on the slopes of dormant volcanoes.

Monkey-puzzle are either male or female and seeds are not produced until the trees are 30 - 40 years old. The cones are large spiky spheres that take two years to mature. Mike Dirr, author of Trees and Shrubs for Warm Climates, says that monkey-puzzle cones are "about twice the size of a hand-grenade and hurt even worse".

New cone emerging next to a mature cone
Monkey-puzzle leaves cover the branches entirely, as well as parts of the trunk, and are plate-like and rigid with spined tips. Trees have long spidery branches, densely and symmetrically arrayed on a straight trunk. The BBC Plant Finder says that "the all too rare perfect mature specimen, with branches intact right down to ground level, is one of the most handsome, graceful and noble of all trees." On the other hand, some people intensely dislike this prickly tree. Still, like all trees, it is very useful to humans.

Seeds are edible
 Monkey-puzzle cones produce 3-4 cm long edible nuts when mature. They are best roasted, and are harvested for food in Chile. The tree's long, straight bole makes them valuable as lumber, but these trees are now at risk in their native habitat. They have been fully protected from logging since 1971. Araucaria araucana grow to 40 meters, and can live for up to one thousand years.

Since this unique conifer was discovered by Europeans in the 1800s, it has been introduced to warm, wet climates across the globe. They can be found in gardens across England, the Mediterranean, and up the west coast of North America all the way to Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands). Some excellent examples can be found right here in the Victoria region, including the one in Sooke pictured above.


BC Coastal Forests a Big Source of Uncounted Carbon Emissions — Sierra Club of BC

Big trees near the San Juan Bridge, Port Renfrew

Sierra Club BC report urges immediate changes to make forests carbon sinks, protect species

Media Release

Victoria, Jan 13, 2011

Logging in B.C.’s coastal rainforests is a significant and hidden source of provincial greenhouse gas emissions and must be included in B.C.’s official carbon emissions inventory, Sierra Club BC said today in a report. The report reveals that B.C.’s official carbon emissions would be 24 percent higher if emissons from coastal rainforests were included.

“These emissions are not caused by the mountain pine beetle or large fires, as in other parts of B.C.” said Jens Wieting, Sierra Club BC coastal forests campaigner and report author. “They are mainly produced by inadequate logging practices and insufficient management, and it’s time for that to change.”

The report, entitled “Restoring the Balance for Climate and Species," found that:

•    B.C. carbon emissions would increase by almost 50 percent if the B.C. government included emissions from coastal and other forests in its annual greenhouse gas emissions inventory.
•    Forty-five percent of the Old-Growth Management Areas for Vancouver Island, designated by the B.C. government in 2010, cover poor productivity forests with small, stunted trees. Only six percent cover forest types with the highest carbon storage per hectare and the highest risk of species extinction due to scant remaining old growth.
•    Fast-disappearing old-growth forests on Vancouver Island and B.C.’s south coast mean there is a high risk of species extinction in an area covering two million hectares.

The report, released at the start of the International Year of the Forest and just as Environment Canada confirmed 2010 the hottest year on Canadian record books, recommends that B.C. make coastal rainforests a carbon sink rather than a carbon source, by prioritizing conservation and improving forest management.

“Logging and carbon loss don’t have to go hand in hand. We can set aside rare old forests and reduce the carbon footprint of logging through longer rotations, selective logging and waste reduction.  At the same time, we can protect at-risk species and jobs,” said Wieting.

Among other recommendations, the report asks the B.C. government to include forest emissions in the province’s greenhouse gas emissions tally, to identify conservation priorities for coastal forests based on the same science-based approach used in the Great Bear Rainforest, and to allocate appropriate resources for improved forest stewardship and management.

“Global warming and impending species extinction mean that we must reduce carbon emissions from all sources very quickly, and take a new approach to forest management, with immediate action for high-risk zones along B.C.’s coast,” said Wieting.


2011: U.N. International Year Of Forests

Tree and forest protection is going global this year. Tree loving people everywhere are celebrating as the United Nations has declared 2011 the International Year of Forests.

A calender of activities throughout the year, as well as a website, aim to provide "a global platform to celebrate people’s action to sustainably manage the world’s forests".  

People's action. That's us - you and me - and action is the key word.

The United Nations General Assembly took this step "to raise awareness on sustainable management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests".

Deforestation is a global problem, including here in British Columbia's beautiful forest lands, public and private.
Deforestation occurs for many reasons: trees or derived charcoal are used as, or sold, for fuel or as lumber, while cleared land is used as pasture for livestock, plantations of commodities, and settlements. The removal of trees without sufficient reforestation has resulted in damage to habitat, biodiversity loss and aridity. It has adverse impacts on biosequestration of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Deforested regions typically incur significant adverse soil erosion and frequently degrade into wasteland.
Disregard or ignorance of intrinsic value, lack of ascribed value, lax forest management and deficient environmental laws are some of the factors that allow deforestation to occur on a large scale. In many countries, deforestation, both naturally occurring and human induced, is an ongoing issue. Deforestation causes extinction, changes to climatic conditions, desertification, and displacement of populations as observed by current conditions and in the past through the fossil record. - from Wikipedia

We can stop the greed and destruction. We can stop corporations and governments that seemingly have no regard for the environment, our communities, future generations or species extinctions. There is no time like now to make a difference. Take advantage of 2011 and the International Year of Forests to take action.

How will you protect and celebrate our forests during the coming year? Let VIBT know and we will share your ideas in posts throughout the year. Let's show them what the power of the people looks like. The trees need us.

 About The Logo
The International Year of Forests 2011 logo is designed to convey the theme of “Forests for People” celebrating the central role of people in the sustainable management, conservation and sustainable development of our world’s forests.
The iconographic elements in the design depict some of the multiple values of forests and the need for a 360‐degree perspective: forests provide shelter to people and habitat to biodiversity; are a source of food, medicine and clean water; and play a vital role in maintaining a stable global climate and environment.
All of these elements taken together reinforce the message that forests are vital to the survival and well being of people everywhere, all 7 billion of us. From: http://www.un.org/en/events/iyof2011/index.shtml


Top 10 Most Read VIBT Posts Of 2010

Ancient cedar in the coastal forest
Last year the VIBT blog hosted 7 700 visits from 92 countries. Visits have been growing steadily all year as more and more big tree lovers have found their way to our growing site.

The interest shown in the content here is greatly appreciated, and helps us meet our goals of raising awareness of, appreciation for, and protection of our life-giving trees.

These were the top 10 most read VIBT posts in 2010:
(click on the title to read more)

    1.    The Giant Sequoias Of Beacon Hill Park
    2.    Multi-century Cedars: Canada's Largest, Oldest Trees
    3.    The Tallest Spruce Trees In The World: Carmanah/Walbran Provincial Park
    4.    Forest Creatures: Snakes and Slugs
    5.    World's Largest Known Douglas-fir In Danger?
    6.    Historical Logging Books Reveal The Ancient Forest
    7.    Vancouver Island Home To Some Of B.C.'s Tallest, Largest, Oldest Trees
    8.    Sooke Potholes Parks: Remnant Old Growth Forest
    9.    Oldest Tree On Record In Canada
    10.  B.C. Government Puts Moratorium On Logging Old Growth (April 1 post)

Thanks for visiting and celebrating the big trees with us.


Happy New Big Tree Year

Driving through the old growth of Royal Roads, Colwood, B.C.

Consider the life of trees.
Aside from the axe, what trees acquire from man is inconsiderable.
What man may acquire from trees is immeasurable.
From their mute forms there flows a poise, in silence;
a lovely sound and motion in response to wind.
What peace comes to those aware of the voice and bearing of trees?

- Cedric Wright

Happy New Year from Vancouver Island Big Trees. May you join us in enjoying, appreciating, and protecting the trees in all their magnificence throughout 2011.