Liberating Trees From English Ivy

Old Douglas-fir with English Ivy infestation
"After habitat loss, biological invasion constitutes the greatest threat to biodiversity." - Jeffrey A. McNeely, Scientist

The first independent European to settle among the giant trees on Vancouver Island was probably also the first person to introduce an invasive species to the area. It was 1849 when Captain Walter Grant occupied land and planted the first Scotch Broom (Cytisus scoparius) to remind him of home. Less certain is the first individual to bring another nasty invader, English Ivy (Hedera helix).

The problem with invasive plants is that they show an inclination to spread and overtake native species. English Ivy is a shade-tolerant plant which alters the structure of a forest by strangling trees, and creating clearings in the forest when they fall. This disturbance can in turn create favorable conditions for other invasive plants such as Broom.

A study conducted in 2003 for the Department of National Defense found that English Ivy posed "the biggest threat to the defining ecology of the Royal Roads property." But it also found that the infestations generally were less than in other area forests of similar size, such as University of Victoria’s Mystic Vale, or Sannich’s Mt. Douglas Park.

English ivy reduces the amount of light that falls on the trees and the forest floor. It also affects soil properties, and interrupts normal forest succession processes. The vines, which can get as thick as your wrist, do not penetrate the bark of the tree. However, they do extend small hold-fasts which absorb water from the bark.

Often when I go for hikes I carry gloves and a small saw specifically to liberate trees from English Ivy. Stems should be cut close to the ground and again at breast height. The vines higher up the tree can be left to die, and may be removed after they become brittle. 

Ivy is difficult to pull out of the ground, but if you do so, try not to disturb the soil. Make sure you get as much root out as possible or it may resprout from what is left.

Stem cuttings and roots left behind from pruning may resprout if contact with the soil is made. Take cuttings and roots away for disposal, or leave them in a dry, sunny location. 

Contact with English Ivy may cause an allergic reaction. Wear gloves and full coverage clothing when doing the trees a favour and liberating them from invading, forest-altering English Ivy.


Extending Pacific Rim National Park

West Coast Trail ladders aid movement through the rainforest.
Photo credit: footloosiety

The mist blowing off the sea and through the canopy of the rain forest near Port Renfrew, BC sweeps through some of the most monumental coastal trees in BC, Canada, and the world. Some, including ex-MP Keith Martin, think that extending Vancouver Island's spectacular coastal park south could give the trees the protected status they richly deserve.

View Pacific Rim National Park Extension in a larger map.

Clear cut logging of the last unprotected old-growth forests adjacent to Pacific Rim National Park has been taking place since the park was established in 1971. Logging often takes place right to the boundary of the narrow strip of coastal park, and can be heard in places from campsites on the West Coast Trail.

Logging old growth in the Upper Walbran valley near the spectacular (and unprotected) Castle Grove, home to the Castle Giant, one of Canada's largest Western red cedars.
Photo credit: Wilderness Committee

In places like the Klanawa, Rosander, Upper Nitinat, Upper Walbran, Gordon, Hadikin Lake and San Juan Valleys, precious old growth of the type that draws over 1 million visitors a year to the National Park is thoughtlessly destroyed.

Stunning forest along the WCT.
Photo credit: footloosiety
A proposal to extend Pacific Rim National Park could include these old growth trees, as well as the Juan de Fuca trail, and adjoining resource lands of speculator Ender Ilkay's failed bid to rezone and develop the wild west coast between Sooke and Port Renfrew.

The Red Creek Fir is the world's largest know Douglas fir. It is
presently unprotected. Photo credit: Ancient Forest Alliance/TJ Watt

Near the south end of the West Coast Trail Unit of Pacific Rim National Park, lie some of British Columbia's most monumental coastal trees. In spite of being listed on BC's Big Tree Registry, none of them are officially protected by the province. Extending Pacific Rim National Park to include these trees and others, is an idea whose time has come.

Some of our largest remaining trees and wild stretches of coastline are being targeted by both logging interests and the provincial government through corporate-friendly policies. 90% of the most productive forests on Vancouver Island have already been affected.

The people made Pacific Rim National Park happen in the first place. We can extend it. But it will take a public outcry if we are to save the last big trees.


Nurse Stump

Nurse stump in Goldstream Park, Victoria
The rain forest is a rich, green vertical column of rapidly growing life. Here some of the biggest trees in the world thrive in the moderate, wet climate. Year round the growth and the life continues, carpeting everything in a thick, luxuriant moss. Everywhere you look there are things growing on other things.

The nurse stump above is of an ancient Western red-cedar. Hundreds of years old when it died, the wood is so rot-resistant that it could last hundreds of years more as a stump. Before the cedar stump breaks down it may be engulfed by the new cedar growing on it.

Nurse logs, nurse stumps, and abundant epiphytes (plants that grow on other plants) - everything is growing on everything in the coastal rain forest.


The Carmanah Giant

The Carmanah Giant: Diameter - 3 m (10ft), Height - 95 m (315ft), Age - 500 to 700 years

The Carmanah Giant is a monumentally tall Sitka spruce growing in the Carmanah Creek canyon in Carmanah/Walbran Provincial Park. It is the tallest tree in Canada, and the tallest Sitka spruce in the world. The Giant lives in one of the tallest forests on the planet, and is an excellent example of the vanishing primeval forest that once blanketed Vancouver Island.

The trees of the Carmanah and Walbran watersheds escaped the saw for a long time due to their remote location on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. But the arrival of the timber cruisers, bulldozers, road builders, and fallers was inevitable, and in the 1980s they finally came. 

If it were not for conservation efforts, starting with Randy Stoltmann, this magnificent tree and all its neighbours would have surely been razed in a clear cut that would have represented a huge global loss. It would have been a loss, as well, to the pairs of endangered Marbeled murrelets that nest only on the huge branches of old growth trees.

I am glad this incredible tree and the forest in which it grows were saved from impending destruction. However, the Carmanah Giant is not in the "See Them" category of big trees. Visitation to some parts of this park, including the Carmanah Giant, is discouraged in order to avoid the devastating potential results of unregulated access.

Even though I feel the lure of the big trees, many individual trees get loved to death by tourists. For me it is good enough to know that the Carmanah Giant is out there, growing, thriving, and perpetuating 12,000 years of continuous forest processes and cycles.

Photo credit: Iriemaan


Devonian Regional Park, Metchosin

Douglas-fir forest at the start of the 0.9 km trail to Parry Bay

Devonian Regional Park is a 40 acre forested park stretching from William Head Road in Metchosin to Parry Bay on Juan de Fuca Strait. Established in 1980, the park preserves two different forest types and provides access to the ocean and a long cobble beach.

Trails run along shady Sherwood Creek Ravine

A 0.9 km trail leads through the first forest type comprised of Douglas-fir, Grand fir, Western red-cedar and Western hemlock. The trail winds through this mixed forest that grows on both sides of the small ravine formed by Sherwood Creek. Watch for the occasional Pacific yew, a tree with medicinal qualities, and very tough wood.

Sherwood Creek trickling in late summer

Along the ravine trail the forest is dotted with several exceptional Douglas-firs. Their thick, deeply furrowed trunks show the hard-won wrinkles of sturdy centenarians. They have been filtering the water that runs in the creek, and providing habitat for red-backed voles for centuries.

Another gnarly Douglas-fir centenarian
 Although much land has been cleared for farming in Metchosin over the past 150 years, Devonian Park will preserve a bit of the original forest cover, and these amazing larger trees which are becoming rarer all the time. Now development for residential properties is one of the biggest threats to the remaining forest on surrounding private lands.

Huge Douglas-fir growing near small bridge over Sherwood Creek

Closer to the ocean the trail passes through the second forest type in Devonian Park. On the more exposed, dryer steep rocky slopes toward the beach, Garry oak/Arbutus forest dominates.

The driftwood-strewn beach at Parry Bay, Devonian Park, CRD photo
In the Coastal Dry Douglas-fir ecozone, Douglas-fir, Garry oak, and Arbutus are companion trees that create a stunning and ecologically diverse forest. Metchosin, and Devonian Regional Park, are good places to witness such diversity and beauty.

Getting There

Driving - From Sooke Road, turn left on Metchosin Road, which turns into William Head Road at the Happy Valley Road junction. Follow William Head Road to the park entrance on the left. Allow approximately 40 minutes driving time from Victoria.

Public Transportation - Take BC Transit bus #50 from Victoria to the Langford Exchange. Transfer to #54 or #55 to William Head Road at Lombard Drive. The bus stop is at the park entrance.


Vancouver Island's Forest Defender, Merv Wilkinson, Dead At 97

Merv Wilkinson - environmental hero
Merv Wilkinson, eco-forestry advocate and staunch defender of the forest, passed recently on Vancouver Island. Surrounded by the Wildwood, his 137 acre patch of dry coastal douglas-fir forest near Nanaimo, Wilkinson moved on to that great forest in the sky. He leaves behind a lifetime of good work, and a legacy that will affect forest practices for generations.

When he bought his property in 1938, Merv's neighbours considered him unusual for his decision not to clear cut the land, and make it 'productive'. But he knew it was productive just the way it was, and that it could continue to be productive in perpetuity if cared for respectfully with sustainability in mind.

"You don't have to destroy the forest to harvest trees" was his guiding principle, and he proved it a valid idea over 70 years of managed logging in his old growth forest. Merv became interested in eco-forestry early, learning about the Scandinavian logging practice of single tree selection. Because of that, today Merv's forest remains an intact ecosystem, and contains as much or more wood than when he started logging it 7 decades ago.
"Back when Wilkinson purchased Wildwood, it had 1.3 million board feet of standing timber and, after 70 years of selective logging, he has pulled out some 2 million board feet of lumber—with an astounding 1.6 million board feet of timber still standing. Compare that to B.C.’s traditional industrial logging methods: it took 25,000 years for Vancouver Island’s forests to grow and, according to 2004 satellite imagery, we’ve cut down 73 percent of our productive old growth in about 100 years." - Tall Timber Tales, Monday Magazine
Wilkinson's forest, Wildwood, in Nanaimo area
Wilkinson not only practiced forest preservation on his own land, he also became involved in local protests and campaigns to save Vancouver Island old growth. He joined the largest peaceful act of civil disobedience in Canadian history at the Clayoquot Sound protests in 1993. He was arrested along with his wife as they stood  in defense of the 12,000 year old primeval rainforest. 

Merv was instrumental in influencing environmentalists of the day to make an important shift from "no logging" to "no clear cut logging". He knew that we must cut trees, but also knew that modern industrial methods of clear cut, burn, and run were not the responsible way to go - big industry gets the profits, and communities are left to deal with the environmental wasteland left behind.

Another campaign that Wilkinson was involved in was for the preservation of the old growth wonder, Cathedral Grove, outside of Port Alberni. This grove of ancient Douglas-fir draws one million visitors per year from all over the globe. It contains trees over 800 years old, and 9 meters in circumference, and is now managed by the The Land Concervancy

Merv Wilkinson's life work is proof that our government is going about managing our forests in a very damaging manner. He showed us that there is an alternative to big business and clear cuts. His land is the proof. Even after the continuous selective logging of 2 million board feet of lumber, the Wildwood remains a complete forest with many large old growth trees still standing.

Merv's is an alternative that supplies us with the lumber we need without destroying the forest and everything that lives there in the process. May he, and the old style corporate clear cut forestry that he rebelled against, rest in peace.

Where is Wildwood?


Candelabra Cedar

Candelabra cedar in the Saseenos area of Sooke, BC

Flowing cedar roots

The Western red-cedar (Thuja plicata) is a long-lived coastal forest tree that assumes a unique architecture and character as it ages. From the flowing, seeking, roots to the multi-topped canopies, the sacred cedar is one gnarly magical tree.

The tree pictured at the top sports an amazing candelabra, but not because any leaders have died. This tree has multiple leaders, and all of them are healthy. All together they add up to a large volume of wood - this is a deceptively large tree.

Cedar can live for 1500 years or more, and older trees are often described as 'disfigured'. Many old trees take on a characteristic candelabra shape as the main leader dies, then is replaced by another. These spires become weathered and grey over time forming bleached tridents that Neptune would be proud to own.

Typical candelabra form of ancient red cedars in Avatar Grove, Port Renfrew
Not only are Western red-cedar unique in their shape and form, but they are also the largest trees in BC's coastal forest. The Cheewhat Cedar has a trunk circumference of just less than 19 meters (59 ft), and soars to a height of 59 m (193 ft). There is a cedar on Meares Island in Clayoquot Sound (near Tofino) that has a trunk circumference of 20 meters (65 ft).