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


Victoria Region's Heritage Grove Trees Rival B.C.'s Biggest, Tallest

   Fattest tree in Heritage Grove, Francis/King Park, Diameter: 3 metres (9.9 ft)
Like a lot of people, I am driving much less than I used to. I don't get out into the back country like I used to before a tank of gas required a small loan. That makes local tree sites like Francis/King Regional Park all the more appreciated.

This beautifully forested park, one of my favourites, is home to a grove of some of the most impressive old growth Douglas-fir in the region, rivaling those of the more well known Cathedral Grove trees. You may not hear as much about it, but this humble grove of giants contains some notable specimens.

Fattest tree has little taper
Francis/King Park's Heritage Grove is close to town and easy to access (not wheelchair accessible). Once in the forest you will find many connecting trails, some without signage. Consulting the park map is essential.

To experience the majesty of Heritage Grove, walk directly from the parking lot down the driveway to Munn Road and carefully cross the road. Turn right onto the horse trail in front of the gate, and walk for a couple of minutes until you come to the next gate. Pass through it, and you are not far from some of the oldest and most impressive known Douglas-fir on Vancouver Island.

Crown far above
Just before the trail descends down a slope and crosses a small seasonal creek, you will find, on the right, the thickest Douglas-fir in the grove. This tree measures an impressive 3 metres (9.9 ft) in diameter. It has a circumference of 9.45 metres (31 ft), and is the 13th largest known Douglas-fir in British Columbia according to the Big Tree Registry.

The fat trunk rises, limb-free and with little taper, to the crown of twisted, lichen-covered branches topping out at 41 metres (135 ft) in height.

Looking across creek to tallest tree
in Heritage Grove

Continue hiking past the creek and you will find the tallest Douglas-fir in the Heritage Grove at the Centennial Trail junction. The ancient giant measures 74.7 metres (245 ft) and is over 500 years old.

Not only is this the tallest Douglas-fir in the Victoria region, its great height makes it the 5th tallest known Douglas-fir in British Columbia, slightly taller than the Red Creek Fir (73.80 m).

Tallest tree in Heritage Grove, 74.7 metres (245 ft)
Thanks to Thomas Francis generously donating this land, these impressive trees, and others in the park, provide a coastal douglas-fir forest experience close to the city, and unique in the province.

Getting There 

Follow the Trans-Canada Highway from Victoria, and take the Helmcken Road exit. Turn left on Burnside Road West, then right on Prospect Lake Road. Turn left on Munn Road, which leads to the park entrance on the right. Allow approximately 20 minutes driving time from Victoria.

Click to enlarge park map
Heritage grove is just across the road from the parking lot. Enjoy!


Hollowed Cedars Often Still Living

This large, partially hollow cedar in Francis/King Park is still living
What do Pacific Rim National Park and Victoria area's Francis/King Regional Park have in common? Both are listed in Randy Stoltmann's Hiking Guide To The Big Trees of Southwest British Columbia. The Heritage Grove in Francis/King Park hosts some of the largest trees in the greater Victoria region. Mixed in among them, is a huge, hollowed out Western red-cedar.

Western red-cedar are long lived trees of the coastal forest that can grow to monumental proportions. Older cedars are prone to rotting in the center, a fact taken advantage of in the past by First Nation hunters looking for shelter in the forest. Sometimes fire was used to increase the hollow area.

Tree shows evidence of burning, possibly from a fire in the 1950s
Heartwood-dead, outer parts-living
(click image to enlarge)

The heartwood of a tree is composed of dead cells, and provides structural support. Although a hollow cedar may be more prone to falling, missing the center does not hinder the outer, living parts of the tree.

As long as the moss-covered living wood touches
the ground, this cedar can continue living

The hollow cedar here still has a coating of living bark and wood right down to the ground where roots spread out in all directions. This connection to the earth sustains the small still-growing crown at the top of the tree.

Sometimes old cedar trees with rotted heartwood can start on fire. One recent cedar fire near Sooke was deemed human caused, and probably smoldered for days before being noticed by a worker that heard crackling and smelled smoke.

Large hollow cedar fire near Sooke is extinguished by a firefighter.
Benjamin Yong photo

The hollow cedar has a living canopy high above
Western red-cedars are special trees in the coastal rain forest, and for me they most represent the watery environments they like to grow in. Their branches, bark, and roots all seem to reflect water in the wavy ways that they grow.

You can see the elements of the forest flowing through these amazing trees, considered sacred by many. Living up to thousands of years in exceptional cases, these trees are true survivors.


Giant Fallen Douglas-fir Snag

The huge Douglas-fir snag took out a branch of a Bigleaf maple on the way down

On a recent trip up Sooke River road to Sooke Potholes Park to view spawning salmon, I noticed this massive ancient Douglas-fir snag that recently succumbed to the relentless pull of gravity. It looks like it probably made a sound - a big sound.

I am surprised I didn't notice this massive remnant from the ancient forest of days gone by before it fell. It is just off the road, and it is huge! The Douglas-fir had already lost its top which was nowhere to be seen. The 20 meter wind-snapped snag remained, and stood until very recently.

This tree was probably hundreds of years old when the top came off. The remains could have stood for another hundred years or more. During that time insects moved in creating pathways for other organisms that slowly eat and break down the wood. Beetles, sow bugs, termites, centipedes and slugs all came to the banquet.

Soft, decaying wood in large snags allows cavity nesting birds, like woodpeckers, to dig out comfortable homes. A spotted owl may have used the broken top to settle down in and raise a family. A squirrel family may have moved in after the birds moved out. The snag was a vertical ecosystem unto itself, hosting literally billions of organisms.

Having fallen, the snag changes status. Now it is 'large diameter woody debris', an integral component of old growth coastal forests. It will add to the forest floor for hundreds of years more as it breaks down further, providing rich nutrients and habitat for many more organisms.

Perhaps a salamander will discover and occupy the log. Salamanders have smooth, unprotected skin, that requires a moist environment. They don't like heat or dryness, so the fallen log is a perfect haven.

Slabs of thick bark
Decaying logs are sponges that soak up enormous amounts of water over wet coastal winters. During summer droughts the log provides the moisture that the salamanders need.

The tree's status may yet change again, as the log decays into the forest floor and tree seeds establish themselves on it. Then it will be known as a 'nurse log'.

When this huge snag fell, echos of the past resounded through the forest. It was a reminder of the change that happens constantly in intact forest ecosystems.

It was also a reminder of how humans have interfered in this process. Trees like this one are rare today due to our misguided intervention.