San Diego's Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Definitely not a rain forest

Torrey pine trees (Pinus torreyana) are the rarest pines in the U.S., and one of the rarest pines in the world. So when my tree hunting partner and I found ourselves in San Diego on a late winter business trip we decided to visit the 2000 acre Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve and see these rare trees for ourselves.

Beautiful branching pattern

These pines are not known for their massive size (about 40 feet tall in the wild, but 80+ in cultivated landscapes) or age ('only' about 200 years), but their beauty rivals that of any tree. Torrey pines now only grow in the wild in a small area of coastal San Diego, and in a separate genetically distinct offshore population 175 miles away near Santa Barbara.

Long Torrey pine needles

The needles of the Torrey pine are very long, and can be used to make very beautiful, sturdy baskets. There are classes available in San Diego where one can learn to make these attractive functional vessels. I knew I should have taken basket weaving in university.

The San Diego natural reserve has areas of cliffs, canyons, mesas, and beach. The trees are found on the tops of the mesas, or hills, as well as in the gullies and canyons that cut through the park. The wilderness area is surrounded by the development and urban sprawl of the city, and it too would have succumbed to the bulldozer had it not been for forward thinking conservationists at the turn of the century.

This is the largest Torrey pine we saw in the reserve

These remaining wild trees are a remnant of a once vast coastal forest. Now they are restricted to this relatively tiny bit of wilderness in the middle of the city. What a gift, a treasure it is to have saved this precious resource for all to enjoy.

Torrey pine needle baskets


10 Ways Trees Are Better Than People

Society knows the price of trees, but very little of their value. Indeed, it is hard to overestimate the value of trees.

There are some that believe that the end of trees and forests means the end of civilization. But still some people insist on continuing the deforestation of our planet for short term gain. I often wonder what is wrong with them.

This leads me to believe that in some ways trees are better than people. There is a lot to be learned from the wisdom of trees if only we took the time to observe and learn.

10 Ways Trees Are Better Than People
  1. Trees stay put in one place and do no harm.
  2. Trees support each other in cooperative communities (forests).
  3. Trees withstand centuries of harsh conditions without complaining.
  4. Trees don't take more than they need to survive.
  5. Trees are patient. Very, very patient.
  6. Trees improve the environment in which they live.
  7. Trees don't do crazy things to impress other trees.
  8. Trees don't get messed up and kill others of their kind.
  9. Trees give, and give with no expectation of reciprocity. 
  10. Trees are frequently harmed by humans, but rarely are humans harmed by trees.
We would be wise to emulate trees. If we did the world would be a better place for trees and people alike. Visit a tree near you and spend some quiet time with it. It will, over time, pass on what lies deep in its heart(wood). You will be a better person for it.
"Because they are primeval, because they outlive us, because they are fixed, trees seem to emanate a sense of permanence.  And though rooted in earth, they seem to touch the sky.  For these reasons it is natural to feel we might learn wisdom from them, to haunt about them with the idea that if we could only read their silent riddle rightly we should learn some secret vital to our own lives." - Kim Taplin


More Big Tree Art

Drawing of California Redwood

"Except during the nine months before he draws his first breath, no man manages his affairs as well as a tree does." - George Bernard Shaw


Remind Forest Minister Pat Bell That He Works For You

Old growth trees such as this ancient cedar deserve full protection

The minister of Forests, Mines, and Lands, Pat Bell, usually looks out for the interests of big logging companies. Lately, though, he is sounding like he is getting ready to work for his real employers - the people of British Columbia.

All those letters, phone calls and emails must be having there intended effect, and it sounds like Bell is beginning to listen.

The Times Colonist reported today that Minister Bell said that the province is looking for new ways to protect ancient trees and groves containing forest giants.

The positive news caught Ancient Forest Alliance co-founder Ken Wu off guard.  “I have to admit this was an unexpected surprise considering the rocky relationship the B.C. government has had with our campaign for so long,” he said.

Does this signal big changes in the way BC exploits its old growth forests that are disappearing at an alarming rate in places like Vancouver Island and the lower mainland? Probably not. Bell says that there are no plans to end logging of old growth forests. Huge trees up to, and over, 1000 years old will continue to be killed for short term commercial gain.

Indeed, Bell was quoted as saying that, "There is more old growth today than we have ever had," and that "We are not running out of old growth on Vancouver Island or in BC". Considering how much old growth has been decimated already, and how poorly re-planting has been conducted, I find these statements extremely hard to believe.

"Hi, I work for you"
Photo by: Darren Stone
The government is fudging statistics to pacify the public, and justify the continued desecration of ancient forests.

The fact is that over 90% of the original old growth forest in valley bottoms on Vancouver Island has already been logged. These areas are the biologically richest, and are where the biggest trees grow. It takes 250 years for a forest to reach old growth status. The harvest cycle in BC is about 40 - 80 years, so how is it possible that we have more old growth now than when we started destroying the mighty Pacific coastal forest?

But the minister has said that his recent announcement of new protection measures is the result of public pressure. That means that if we keep the pressure up, we can push for a ban on old growth logging in BC, and especially on Vancouver Island.

The big tree/old growth advocacy IS working. It should be working because, after all, Pat Bell works for us, and we overwhelmingly state that we want old growth to be protected.

Other things that can be mentioned in an email or letter are:

- We need legislated timelines to quickly end old-growth logging on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland (ie. the south coast) where old-growth forests are now scarce.
- We must promote the sustainable logging of second-growth forests which now constitute 75% of the productive forests on BC’s south coast.

- Banning the export of raw, unprocessed logs to foreign countries to ensure a steady supply of logs for BC’s saw mills and pulp mills.

- The government must assist in the retooling and development of second-growth mills and value-added wood processing facilities.

Email Minister Bell here.

Keep up the pressure, tree lovers! Let's save the old trees, and create a sustainable forest industry in BC. Remind Mr. Bell that he works for you.


BC Government Considers Protecting Avatar Grove's Ancient Trees

Avatar Grove is just past the bridge, both sides of the road

I can't think of any group currently doing more for old growth protection in BC than the Ancient Forest Alliance. For over a year now the AFA has been fighting the good fight for Port Renfrew's Avatar Grove. It is time to join them, and help protect the amazing Avatar Grove.

The people of the Middle East are currently showing us the power of the people. They are showing us that we can do this thing. Governments must respect the will of the people. But they have to know what our will is. We have to write letters, send emails, make phone calls, and talk to friends and neighbours.

AFA recently posted the following urgent (and optimistic) information on their website:

"Yesterday BC’s Forests Minister Pat Bell announced that he is considering protecting the endangered Avatar Grove near Port Renfrew, and is also looking at developing new legal tools to increase protection of exceptional ancient trees and old-growth stands in BC. This would be an important step forward!

Click here for the Vancouver Sun article
The Avatar Grove is a truly exceptional and easy to access stand of ancient trees which the Ancient Forest Alliance has been campaigning hard to protect for over a year – and we may get there soon if you SPEAK UP NOW!
See our new Youtube clip (1 minute) on the Avatar Grove at:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_uPkAWsvVw

We need progress for saving endangered ancient forests at all spatial scales - monumental trees, whole stands (like the Avatar Grove), and landscape level old-growth protections like valleys and regions. Starting with trees and stands is certainly a welcome beginning. Let’s make this happen!!

This will take just 5 MINUTES! Your letter counts!

PLEASE WRITE to Pat Bell, Minister of Forests, Lands, and Mines at pat.bell.mla@leg.bc.ca

Let him know that you:

- Support him moving forward to protect the Avatar Grove near Port Renfrew. Let him know if you have visited the area.
- Support the protection of monumental ancient trees and stands of ancient trees.
- Want all old-growth protections to be legally-binding, not voluntary.
- Encourage him to also undertake a much larger Provincial Old-Growth Strategy to protect endangered old-growth forests across regions where they are scarce, such as on Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland, southern Interior, etc. and to ensure sustainable second-growth forestry instead. 

Be sure to include your home mailing address so he knows you are a real person!

Also please SIGN our PETITION and get as many of your friends and family to as well at:
http://www.ancientforestpetition.com/index.php#sign "

The AFA adds this additional information (see more here):

Forests Minister Pat Bell’s statements comes on the heels of a new Forest Practices Board (FPB) report released on Thursday that calls on the BC government and industry to seek “creative ways” to save ancient trees, that the land-use policy framework exists for the BC government to readily protect the Avatar Grove, and that there is a “strong public interest in seeing more ancient trees and forest stands preserved to live out their natural lives and functions, and managed as a social, economic and ecological asset to the public and surrounding communities.” 


The Trees And Surf Of French Beach Provincial Park

Big Sitka spruce on the edge of French Beach

Earlier this week the south island had winds gusting up to 90 km/hr. The morning after I headed out to French Beach Provincial Park to feel the spray coming off the thundering surf. As usual, along the way I would keep my eyes peeled for interesting trees.

It didn't take long to find evidence of the storm as just outside of Sooke a couple of  trees had come down on the highway overnight. They had just been cleaned up off the road, and power restored, before we drove through the sawdust.

French Beach is 20 km west of Sooke along West Coast Road, and encompasses 59 acres. It consists of a campground and day use area, both of which have a nice, coastal forest feel. From most areas of the park you can hear the pounding of the waves on the beach. Although it doesn't rain as much as farther up the coast, it is wetter here than in Victoria.

Sitka spruce bark chips and cones litter the ground
This park is located in a second growth forest of Douglas-fir, Sitka spruce, Western hemlock, and Western red-cedar. Close to the beach on the front line of the forest are the salt-tolerant Sitka spruce.

In some areas with this exposure the trees are blasted by wind-driven salt spray and sand into a wedge shape. This bizarre formation is known as a Spruce fringe. These leading edge trees protect the taller forest behind from the powerful gales off the ocean.

In December of 2006 the most powerful storm since the 1960s hit the coast of Vancouver Island. Many thousands of trees were blown down all along the coast. You can still see evidence of this storm in the forest behind the grassy picnic area just off the beach. Many nice, medium size Sitka spruce are laying down. Over the decades they will nourish the forest floor and eventually disappear among the moss and ferns.

A couple of Sitka spruce trees blown down during severe winds in the winter of 2006
The waves were huge on this visit, and the ocean spray was blowing through the forest in a fine, salty mist. Although it was not as windy as the night before, a steady breeze was continuing to pile up waves and knock spruce cones out of trees. An eagle called repeatedly, then hovered on the wind right overhead.

At lower tides you can get past the cobbles and on to the sand to beachcomb
for new driftwood brought in by winter storms.
Although not ancient forest, French Beach Provincial Park is an nice example of an older second growth forest. There are some nice medium size trees here, and the overall setting is classic coastal. I would love to see it in 200 years when it will achieve old growth status once again.


Avatar Grove: Canada's Gnarliest Tree

Ancient Forest Alliance has released a video showing some of the amazing trees near Port Renfrew in the patch of old growth forest known as Avatar Grove. AFA is working to save this rare and amazing patch of giant Western red-cedar and Douglas-fir.

On my first visit to Avatar Grove I was especially impressed by the unique Western red-cedars. These trees, which can grow past 1000 years, have wide buttressed trunks covered in moss and massive burls. Their candelabra tops are grey spires rising above the green cathedral below.

Marring this spongy, dripping monument to 10,000 years of the northern Pacific coastal forest are fluorescent orange flagging markers and spray-painted logging graffiti. It marks the area for impending destruction.

Once you see them, you will want to save them.


Walking In The Big Trees Has Health Benefits

"In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks."- John Muir

I always felt that spending time in the forest had health benefits beyond the immediate exercise. Now, repeated studies support what many have felt for a long time - a walk in the forest is a very good thing for physical, mental, and spiritual health.

In Japan people visit nature parks and spend time among the trees practicing ‘Shinrinyoku’, or forest bathing. Doctors prescribe time in the forest for the health benefits of nature. Research has shown that this contact reduces stress levels, and strengthens the part of the immune system that fights cancer.

The Japanese Society of Forest Medicine, established in 2007, conducts studies to test the beneficial effects of nature, forests in particular. One study lead to the recommendation that repeated forest bathing may help decrease the risk of stress-related illness.

Not only that, but the unique forest smell has beneficial effects as well. Another study of forest bathing attributed increased immune activity partly to breathing in air containing phytoncide (wood essential oils) like α-pinene and limonene. These oils are antimicrobial volatile organic compounds emitted from trees to protect them from rotting and insects.

Two of Vancouver Island's native trees, the Western red-cedar and Douglas-fir, are rich in essential oils. The wood of these trees has long been known for being rot resistant, but now it looks like sniffing them can help us boost our immune system and resist some cancers. The researchers found that the elevated immune response was evident for many days after being in the forest.
VIBT heartily recommends a forest bath today. Forests as small as 1 acre have been shown to be large enough to produce benefits. Not yet studied, but more than likely beneficial as well, are walks in parks with a good density of trees.

Have fun wherever you immerse yourself in nature, and rest assured that you are benefiting from bathing in everything the forest freely offers.

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