Goldstream River Fuel Spill

Goldstream River cleared of  life after 40,000 litres of gasoline spilled into it
On April 16th, during the anniversary week of the BP oil spill, a Vancouver Island fuel truck driver celebrated by having a few (allegedly), then crashing his truck spilling over 40,000 liters of gasoline and diesel on the Malahat highway 17 km from Victoria.

The Malahat, named after local First Nations, is a section of Highway 1 that runs along Saanich Inlet, and is described as a "famously winding and steep route". It passes through much-loved Goldstream Provincial Park which contains ancient forest and one of the most productive salmon streams on Vancouver Island.

Fuel trucks coming from terminals in Nanaimo laden with tens of thousands of liters of fuel are on the highway most days delivering the fuel that area residents use. All of these trucks, loaded with their toxic cargo, use the heavily commuter-laden twisty route. It is inevitable that such a crash would occur sooner or later, and when it happened, it happened in one of the worst possible locations.

Over 40,000 liters of gasoline, and smaller amounts of diesel, spilled from the crumpled tanks into a roadside ditch. The hydrocarbons fouled a ditch that drained into the Goldstream River. The spilled fuel flowed into the river, and eventually into Finlayson Arm, where a slick was seen shortly after.

It is not known how the spill will impact the area in the long run. In the short term though, it appears that all life in Goldstream River below the spill was wiped out. Some plant life immediately alongside the river was also killed instantly. Can the fuel move laterally through the soil threatening some of the big trees?

Local First Nations, that have relied on the area for thousands of years for fishing, hunting, and the collection of medicinal plants, could be facing years of impacts from this unfortunate poisoning.

It is sad to note that much of the news since this tragic accident has been about inconvenienced commuters left stranded after the only route up-island was closed for the clean-up operation. Commuters that use the fuel that is trucked over the Malahat, some of which ended up fouling a major natural resource the day of the crash.

Columbia Fuels, the company responsible, has generously offered to compensate all those inconvenienced commuters. As far as I know, to date they have not offered to compensate First Nations. I doubt, also, that they will find compensation for the school groups that were planning to release salmon fry this week into the now-tainted river.

Nor have I heard anything about how they will compensate the trees for the loss of the nutrient boost of thousands of spawned out salmon. Or how they will compensate the thousands of eagles that come here to fatten up on salmon every fall.


Celebrate Earth Day - End Deforestation

Trees give generously and have, since the Wood Age began. But they get little respect in our current cut and run, fibre for profit world.

Trees are necessary for many things. I pause on Earth Day to acknowledge the thousands of ways we benefit from our forests. I am grateful for everything made possible by the amazing properties of trees.

I thank the people that bring wood products to me. Having said that, we must come up with a sustainable manner of managing our forest resources.

Global deforestation is a problem that will come to haunt us, and probably sooner than later. More than 80% of the planet's original forests have been destroyed. With erosion and soil depletion, many forests will never regrow.

Canada, and British Columbia are among the worst offenders. The destruction in our forests must end, or we will. We need trees, and Mother Earth is only a good source of timber when we treat her with respect.


Shirley's Save Our Salmon Festival Proceeds To Protect Muir Creek

Muir Creek is a haven for old growth trees and three species of salmon

With all the activity in land changing hands along the south west coast of Vancouver Island lately, Muir Creek and its old growth shaded waters sometimes doesn't get the respect it deserves. The 5th Annual S.O.S. Festival being held Saturday, April 23 at the Shirley Community Hall, 15km west of Sooke, is hoping to change that.

Festivities start at 1:00 PM and run till 1:00 AM. Bands start after the opening ceremony at 4:30 PM. Tickets (on a sliding scale) at Stick In The Mud in Sooke, or call Amanda Swinimer 250-818-2433. See more here.

The Festival will have fun family events during the day, and an age limit of 19 and over in the evening. All proceeds from this event go toward saving Muir Creek.

About Muir Creek
  • The second largest Pacific Yew tree lives among the Muir Creek old growth.
  • While 2nd largest overall, this tree has the largest circumference of any Yew in British Columbia - 3.6 meters (12 feet)
  • Land belongs to Timber West, a private logging and residential land development company.
  • Three species of salmon call Muir creek home - they, like us, need clean water
  • S.O.S. is hoping to resume talks with CRD, local politicians, and Timber West regarding saving this precious resource for the future.
  • Intensive logging is currently taking place in the upper watershed newer forest
  • The location has been used by First Nations since ancient times
  • There is a diversity of wildlife in the area, some are threatened by habitat loss
  • Groups have been working to save this special area, and would appreciate your support. Attend the festival. Donate. See more here.
  • See Muir Creek for yourself - witness what we are in danger of losing.


400 Foot Coastal Douglas-fir Giants Gone, But Big Trees Remain

Giant Douglas-fir trees in Cathedral Grove, Vancouver Island

The east coast of Vancouver Island, along with the Gulf Islands lie in the Dry Coastal Douglas-fir ecozone. Because of the rain shadow created by Washington's Olympic Range, and the Vancouver Island Range, this area is much dryer than the rest of the coast. This creates prime conditions for growing a tree among the tallest trees on Earth - the Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii).

Vancouver Island sports the largest Douglas-fir in the world. The Red Creek Fir, near Port Renfrew, is a massive 800 year old tree with a 12.5 meter (41 foot) circumference. The top is  broken off, and the tree is currently about 74 meters (242 feet) tall.

One of the most accessible places to see large Douglas-fir is in Cathedral Grove, on the highway between Port Alberni and Pacific Rim National Park.

Cathedral Grove contains a fine stand of sky scraping trees, including one Douglas-fir that soars to 70 meters (230 feet) with a 10 meter (33 foot) circumference. It is the second biggest Douglas-fir in Canada.

The Nimpkish River Valley is 200 km north of Victoria. An Ecological Reserve was established here in 1988 to protect a small patch of a formerly spectacular, and ancient Douglas-fir forest. The tallest trees in the reserve grow to 84 meters (275 feet) and up to 2.5 meters (8 feet) in diameter.

Nimpkish Valley, Vancouver Island

Historically, Douglas-fir reached such spectacular heights that today it is hard to believe. Indeed, there have been people interviewed who personally witnessed Douglas-fir over 122 meters (400 feet) tall, including one near present day Vancouver that was measured after it was cut down.

Imagine a tree as high, or higher, than a 40 floor building. Of 42 buildings in Vancouver that are taller than 30 floors, only fifteen are taller than 40. The original forest would cover all of downtown - only these 15 buildings would poke up out of the trees.

Such incredible trees do not exist any more (that we know of), and may never exist again. These big trees have been the primary target of logging interests over the past 150 years. The unbroken extensive forests, and the 122 meter (400 foot) plus trees are now part of the tragic history of deforestation in this globally unique ecosystem. But large, tall, old, and impressive Douglas-fir persist in places.

Currently the tallest Douglas-fir in the world is not on Vancouver Island, or in Canada. The champion tree can be found in Coos County, Oregon. It is just over 100 meters (325 feet) tall, and can be seen 56 km (35 miles) southeast of Coos Bay in the Sitkum area.


The Longevity of Vancouver Island's Ancient Trees

The Cheewhat Cedar - 2000 to 3000 years old and still growing

Every time I go into the old growth, and stand next to ancient trees as wide as houses, I feel a sense of my brief tenure on this globe. It is with humility that I compare my lightning flash of life to the eon-spanning longevity of the massive Pacific Coast trees. How old can these giants get? Could they live forever?

Trees are at the opposite end of the life span spectrum as mayflies, which epitomise the saying, "Life is short, then you die". In its adult stage, the tiny insect flutters about looking for a mate before the day, and its life, are over. Different types of trees have been known to live thousands of years, including some of those on Vancouver Island.

Vancouver Island grows some of the largest, gnarliest, and oldest trees on the planet. These massive forests are unique among temperate forest regions of the world, and contain more biomass per square meter than tropical rain forests. Hot summers and mild winters provide an environment that is perfect for growing big, ancient conifers.

How Old Do Vancouver Island's Trees Get?

A yellow cedar that grew in the Caren Range on the Sunshine Coast portion of BC's mainland coast is Canada's oldest documented tree. An actual ring count was possible because the tree had been cut down in an old growth clear cut. The cedar was found to be 1836 years old. Are older trees out there?

Yellow Cedar

The more we learn about trees the longer we extend their lifespans. The beautiful, slow growing Yellow-cedar may live for 3500 years under ideal conditions, with a diameter of 119 inches and height of  130 feet.

Sitka Spruce

The salt-tolerant, coast-hugging Sitka spruce typically lives to 500 years, but under ideal conditions can push 750 years. In that time it will grow up to a 244 foot height with a 210 inch diameter trunk.

Red Creek Douglas-fir, 750 - 900 years old

The premier tree of Vancouver Island's dry east coast forest is the mighty Douglas-fir. It commonly lives up to 750 years. It doesn't even reach peak seed cone production until it is several centuries old. Under ideal conditions these 260 foot skyscrapers can live up to 1200 years old, with a 174 inch diameter trunk.

Western Red-cedar

Western red-cedar is another tree that knows about longevity. It commonly grows to 1000 years, and under ideal conditions can push 2000. An ancient 120 foot red-cedar could sport a jumbo 252 inch diameter bole.


Hemlocks grow to about 400 years old, but can be as old as 800 years. Western hemlock can shoot up to 211 feet with a 104 inch diameter base.

Could Trees Live Indefinitely?

In the 1800s, British botanist John Lindley said his research had failed to show that there was a definite lifespan set for any tree, and that if circumstances favored there seemed no reason why trees might not live indefinitely.

British-born American botanist Thomas Meehan agreed after studying the trees of North America's Pacific Coast forests. This may not be as far fetched as it first seems. I found a more recent reference on the net that claimed, "There are trees that could live indefinitely in the absence of environment factors that could kill them. The giant redwoods are an example of this type of plant."

That is certainly how I feel when among the old trees. That if it were not for catastrophic weather events, root rot, insect attack, fire, and human intervention, some of these trees might just grow and thrive forever.


Spring In The Coastal Forest

Skunk cabbage in wetland
A welcome sign of spring in the coastal forest, besides deciduous plants budding out, are the early flowers.

Skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) and white fawn lilies (Erythronium Oregonum) are two early spring flowers that brighten up the dark coastal forest as winter rains begin to give way to sunshine and warmer temperatures.

Skunk cabbage emerges early in wetlands and moist forests throughout Vancouver Island. This unique, tropical-looking flower emits a skunky scent to attract insect pollinators. The bright yellow flower along with its pungent smell is hard to miss, and it is a sight for yellow-starved eyes after long, grey winters.

Skunk cabbage on moist forest floor

Skunk cabbage is edible, and all parts of the plant can be eaten. It contains substances that can be harmful, so caution is required.

White fawn lilies gracing a mossy, fern-covered rock face

White Fawn lilies are delicate white flowers that also make an early appearance once spring has arrived on the calendar, if not in the weather. These whiter than white dangling flowers dot the landscape, carpeting meadows and the forest floor. They can also be found clinging to rock features surrounded by puffy yellow-green mosses.

White fawn lilies have brilliant pendant flowers hanging from long stalks

It turns out that Erythronium, a genus of 20 - 30 species of perennial plants with long bulbs and pendant flowers, are also edible. The bulb, or corm, can be cooked, or dried, and can be ground into flour (using a flower to make flour). The beautiful green leaves are mottled with brown and white, and can also be cooked and eaten.

The wide leaves of Fawn lilies emerge early from the carpet of brown detritus

Spring 2011 may be coming slowly to the coastal forest, but you can't tell from the Skunk cabbage and Fawn lilies. They are coming up full force, regardless of overcast, cool days. They seem to be saying, "It is spring - let's grow. Let's do this thing."

Right now is a good time for a walk in the woods. You will witness all of life waking up for another season. Treat yourself, and experience the magic of Spring in the coastal forest.


Can Hemp Help Save Our Forests?

Save a Tree: Stop Hemp Prohibition
    Can hemp save our forests? The short answer is probably "No", but it definitely could take pressure off of trees and forests harvested unnecessarily for paper and cardboard products. Growing hemp as a fibre alternative to wood would also give struggling farmers an excellent crop to produce, thus keeping farms running and development of farmland at bay.

    Hemp has been used for a variety of purposes in China for 10,000 years. The first paper made from hemp fiber was made there 2000 years ago. Today, China is stockpiling B.C. trees in vast whole log storage facilities. They also happen to be the world largest producers of hemp fiber.

    Using virgin forests for paper, single use products, and cardboard production is ecological insanity. Especially when there is a completely viable alternative fibre source available now.

    It makes no sense to cut trees with lifespans measured in the hundreds of  years to make paper and single use convenience items. Even second growth trees require decades of growth before they are ready for harvest. It is time to try something different. Something better.

    Hemp fiber is stronger than tree fiber
    Interesting Hemp Facts
    • Hemp fibers are stronger than tree fiber. Therefore any hemp cardboard or paper can be recycled four times more.

    • Hemp requires no chlorine bleaching...this making the waste usable as compost...unlike bleached paper products which are toxic waste, producers of dioxin, one of the 12 worst industrial pollutants.
    • Hemp can produce many spin-off industries...such as paper, cardboard, building paneling, soaps, foods, livestock feed, plastics (non toxic), insulation, fabrics, oils, fuel and so forth. No tree can match this usefulness.
    • Hemp requires no pesticides, thus reducing pollution everywhere.
    • Hemp agriculture can save farmlands from sprawl by making them economically viable.

    • Hemp restores soils damaged by modern pesticide intensive etc farming techniques.
    • Hemp needs very little water...unlike cotton (which also happens to be one of the top pesticide using crops).
    • Logging workers MUST be educated about the alternative of hemp jobs...that will not poison or kill them or destroy forever parts of their and their children's own ecosystem.
    Cartoon and Hemp Facts from: John Jonik


    Protecting Our Ancient Forests

    Tofino Creek, Clayoquot Sound, Vancouver Island, Garth Lenz
    The coastal old growth forests of Vancouver Island and the BC mainland, after 144 years of exploitation, continue to come under assault by short-minded economics and small-minded thinking. We have done a poor job of protecting our ancient forests.

    The devastation in the photo above documents an "alternative logging operation" in 1991 at Tofino Creek, Clayoquot Sound, on Vancouver Island. It became widely seen as a poster for a Greenpeace campaign to end clear cut logging.

    More recently, ancient forest campaigner TJ Watt added to the documentation of the end of the ancient forest. He took the award-winning photo below near the big tree town of Port Renfrew.

    Circumference: 35ft
    Diameter: 11ft
    Species: Redcedar
    Valley: Bugaboo Creek in the Gordon River Valley
    Region: Port Renfrew area, Vancouver Island

    Ancient Forest Alliance, of which Watt is a co-founder, is the fastest growing environmental group in Canada. The dedicated and hard working organization is "working to protect the endangered old-growth forests of BC, and to ensure sustainable forestry jobs in the province". See more of Watt's work, along with an interview here.

    The Sierra Club images below graphically illustrate why so many people are concerned about old growth forests on Vancouver Island and the BC mainland coast. They highlight the vanishing forest, which by the way, happens to be a global phenomena.

    About half of the worlds forests have been similarly affected. "The clearing of the forests has been one of the most historic and prodigious feats of humanity."

    Click on images to enlarge.
    Forest cover prior to European settlement (click to enlarge)

    The 10,000 year old forest after 144 years of exploitation

    British Columbia's mainland coastal forests, and Haida Gwaii have also been the target of industrial logging interests over the past century and a half.

    It is time to end old growth logging in BC's forests

    Vancouver Island Forest Facts (source: AFA)

    left edge
    The most recent photo analysis based on 2004 LandSat satellite images shows that:
    • 73% of the original productive old-growth forests of Vancouver Island have been logged. ie. 27% remained by 2004.
    • 87% of the original productive old-growth forests on southern Vancouver Island, south of Barkley Sound/Alberni Canal, have been logged. ie.13% remains
    • 90% of the low elevation (less than 300 meters above sea level), flat (less than 17% slope) ancient forests, such as the valley bottoms, where the largest trees grow and the greatest biodiversity resides, have been logged. ie. 10% remains
    • Only 6% of Vancouver Island's productive forest lands are protected in our parks system.
    • Only 1% of the original old-growth Coastal Douglas fir zone remains.
    • Less than 1% of the original very dry eastern Coastal Western Hemlock forests are protected.
    • Only 2% of the original very dry western Coastal Western Hemlock forests are protected.

    Carmanah Valley, Vancouver Island, Garth Lenz
    The photo above shows some of the unbelievable Sitka spruce of Vancouver Island's Carmanah Valley. Once slated to be logged, the tallest spruce trees in Canada were saved after an extensive campaign and public outcry.

    Carmanah/Walbran Provincial Park is reached via a rough logging road, and is in a remote and rugged location. It is worth every bit of effort to visit this amazing place and witness some of the largest and tallest trees on earth.

    There are more old growth forests like the Carmanah Valley that need our help. The following immediately come to mind, although there are more that I will be writing about in future posts:
    • Mary Lake, Highlands District
    • Muir Creek, west of Sooke
    • Avatar Grove, Port Renfrew
    • Clayoquot Sound, Tofino
    • The Great Bear Rainforest, mainland coast
    • Flores Island, Tofino
    Tell Premier Clark you support the protection of British Columbia's remaining ancient forests.

    Honourable Christy Clark, Premier
    Victoria BC

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