High Tides And River Levels Moving Drift Logs

This large drift log was flushed out of the Sooke River two years ago

Fall and winter are the seasons that put the rain in coastal rainforest. The calm summer is a distant memory that dropped with the leaves of the maples and oaks. Now is the time for gales, tropical punch drenching rains, and the highest tides of the year.

The drift log was lifted by recent high tides and swept away like a big canoe
With the summer drought over, the life-giving rains that define the forest begin to fall. Conifers that have been growing so slow that they are near dormant now have the rainfall that they have been missing for the past several months.

Rain-swollen rivers rise to heights that enable thousands of pacific salmon to return to their birthplace and continue a cycle that has been taking place for millions of years. The forest, and almost 200 species of animals, will benefit from the salmon's nutrient bounty. This includes Bald eagles which gather in large numbers to feast on the dead salmon which dot the low tide sand bars.

This huge stump has been on Billings Spit beach for many years -
it is unmoved by even the highest of tides.

After several big storms the ground nears saturation, and water begins to flow in low lying areas. Previously dry rock faces now sport gushing waterfalls, and the moss is puffed with moisture and at its brightest green.

The water rushes over the land and down to the ocean. River water levels reach several times the meager summer flow, washing accumulated woody debris, including whole, large trees, into the estuary in the harbour.

This cedar drift log lasted a few weeks on the beach before
being cut, floated, and hauled away

When high river flows combine with perigean spring tides (20% higher than normal), flooding is possible in coastal regions, especially if there are strong winds. On south Vancouver Island the highest tides of the year take place right now, then the end of December 2011, and mid-January 2012.

Another large cedar stump washed out of the Sooke River into the estuary.
It was only a few days before a boat tied up, cut the roots off, and hauled the log away.
The highest water levels of the year flush drift wood from beaches to float on the currents until they find a new resting place. The tide flats of the Sooke River estuary are often cleaned of old drift wood, before new trees and wood are washed out of the hills and end up taking their place.

Some drift logs stay for years, others will be gone by spring. Valuable large drift logs are hauled away by enterprising coastal residents to become shingles and shakes, posts, beams, and firewood. Their winter work is rarely witnessed by fair weather visitors.

Although not traditionally a part of the tourism season, late fall and winter offer exciting opportunities to see the coastal forest during its most tumultuous, powerful, and ever-changing moments as it interacts with the wind, water, and waves.  


Loggers For Old Growth Protection

Sometimes we cut 'em, and sometimes we don't
I was reading an article in the Globe and Mail on saving old growth forests - Avatar Grove, I think. The most interesting part, though, was not the article, but the comments after the piece.

Comments came from a wide spectrum of readers, including many from loggers, retired and otherwise. It made me think about the wealth of knowledge these people have, and how that could be useful in our efforts to protect old growth forests.

Take, for instance, the following comment:

"The biggest red cedar I ever saw was 27 feet in diameter and about 200 feet tall (cedar don't get very tall ) with dozens of candelabras. The faller came and told us,"You better go have a look 'cause I'm cuttin' it down tomorrow." He seemed kind of sad about it. We took a photo of the crew sitting in the undercut. It was in the Nit Nat Lake area.

Maybe the trees in the article aren't actually the biggest of their kind. One story I heard was that when representatives of the Champion Tree Society went to verify the size of a candidate for biggest Sitka spruce (somewhere in Washington, I think), there was initial disappointment that the specimen was somewhat smaller than the biggest spruce known. Then they just happened to find a vine maple nearby: four feet in diameter! Lucky or what?

I worked in the woods in BC for many years and saw lots of places that probably should have been protected from logging. Once, up to Soatwoon Lake (near Fair Harbour), we were cruising a big bowl of pretty run-of-the-mill giant red cedars. The exceptional thing was that the stand included thousands of Pacific yew two to three feet, occasionally more, in diameter. Never saw anything like that before or since. They are all gone now.

Just to quell the idea that all loggers are rapacious, let me tell you about a stand we discovered near the White River. What looked at first like an ordinary stand of giant red cedars, on closer inspection turned out to be an almost pure stand of yellow cedar. They were so big that, at first glance, they looked like red cedar (yellow cedar don't normally get as big) and, except for this area, don't normally form pure stands at lower elevations.

A few years later there was an article in the local newspaper that the IWA fallers refused to fall this stand because of its uniqueness. The company (I think it was M&B) subsequently preserved the area.

" - BCahoutec

We can thank conservation-minded loggers over history that take a stand and refuse to destroy what they know are special trees.

The Red Creek Fir, found near Port Renfrew, is one such tree. Rumour has it that when the first loggers approached the tree through the wet, tangled, green forest, they thought they were at the base of a cliff. They had lunch, then continued on their way.

A second group of loggers found the giant tree and marveled at its size. It was the end of the day so they left for camp. In camp the second group asked the first about the huge tree they came across. As they talked about it, the lunch group realized they had eaten not at the base of a cliff, but at the base of a wall of wood, the 4.23 meter wide Red Creek Fir. 

The men did not cut the monumental tree. Today it stands as the largest Douglas-fir in the world, with a volume of 349 cubic meters (12, 318 cu ft).


Hiking In Cougar Country

If you encounter a cougar, face it, look into its eyes, and
make yourself look big. Illustration: Backwoods Home

The forests of Vancouver Island are home to Puma concolor, more commonly known as puma, mountain lion, or cougar, as they are called here. This amazing relative of domestic cats has the greatest range of any large wild terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere. The island has one of the highest concentrations of cougars in the world.

If you are planning a trip to visit the big trees of the island, an encounter with a cougar is possible. Hiking in wilderness areas increases the likelihood of having an encounter. You can help yourself (and the cougars) by learning a bit about these elusive creatures before you go into their forest home.

While doing research on these stalk and ambush predators I found some potential ways to protect myself while out hiking. One of my favourites was a recommendation to wear a hat or hoodie with large eyes painted on the back. Another was to frequently look up, around, and behind you as you hike to show a cougar that you are being alert. Ambushes happen when the prey is not paying attention.

The BC government website has some good, comprehensive information in their Safety Guide To Cougars. I have included some of their tips below.

When in Cougar Country:

We have little understanding about what might trigger an attack, but following these general guidelines will reduce the risk of cougar conflict and prepare you in the unlikely event of an attack.

 Hiking or working in cougar country:
  • Hike in groups of two or more. Make enough noise to prevent surprising a cougar.
  • Carry a sturdy walking stick to be used as a weapon if necessary.
  • Keep children close-at-hand and under control.
  • Watch for cougar tracks and signs. Cougars cover unconsumed portions of their kills with soil and leaf litter. Avoid these food caches.
  • Cougar kittens are usually well-hidden. However, if you do stumble upon cougar kittens, do not approach or attempt to pick them up. Leave the area immediately, as a female will defend her young.
If you meet a cougar:
  • Never approach a cougar. Although cougars will normally avoid a confrontation, all cougars are unpredictable. Cougars feeding on a kill may be dangerous.
  • Always give a cougar an avenue of escape. A cougar that feels trapped is unpredictable.
  • Stay calm. Talk to the cougar in a confident voice.
  • Pick all children up off the ground immediately. Children frighten easily and their rapid movements may provoke an attack.
  • Do not run. Try to back away from the cougar slowly. Sudden movement or flight may trigger an instinctive attack.
  • Do not turn your back on the cougar. Face the cougar and remain upright.
  • Do all you can to enlarge your image. Don't crouch down or try to hide. Pick up sticks or branches and wave them about. Hold your back pack above your head.
If a cougar behaves aggressively:
  • Arm yourself with a large stick, throw rocks, speak loudly and firmly, or growl. Convince the cougar that you are a threat not prey.
  • If a cougar attacks, fight back! Many people have survived cougar attacks by fighting back with anything, including rocks, sticks, bare fists, and fishing poles.
Cougars are a vital part of our diverse wildlife. Seeing a cougar should be an exciting and rewarding experience, with both you and the cougar coming away unharmed. However, if you do experience a confrontation with a cougar or feel threatened by one, immediately inform the nearest office of the Conservation Officer service.


More Coastal Colour

Brilliant fall display beside Todd Creek and the timber trestle, Galloping Goose Trail

The winter weather has swept in with gale force winds up to 34 knots knocking down trees and cutting power to thousands of hydro customers. Power lines are not the only things coming down though, as whatever colour was left on the deciduous trees gets blown off. Good thing I got a few photos before the gales blew through.

Leaf litter is rich in nutrients providing a natural soil enhancer for the forest
Soon the deciduous trees will show their beautiful skeletal structures as their bare branches are silhouetted against the winter sky. Their amazing patterns remind us of many similar ones we see in nature, such as those formed by flowing water, our vascular system, or our lungs.

Trees amaze, regardless of the season.


Coastal Fall Colours

Bigleaf maple provide a splash of yellow on Lower Thetis Lake trail
Unlike the great deciduous forests of eastern North America, the coastal temperate rainforest is not a place people come to see fall colours. We have our share of colourful broad-leaf trees, it is just that they are a minor part of the forest. But what they lack in fall attire, they make up for in their importance to the forest ecosystem.

Here the giant centuries old conifers rule the land while deciduous trees are relegated to the fringes and clearings of the forest.

Arbutus is a broad-leaf tree that keeps its leaves,
but continuously sheds its bark- deciduous and evergreen.

Dense stands of mature conifer forest contain few colourful fall trees, but where the continuous canopy is broken, broad leaf trees fill in. Rocky outcrops form clearings in the forest, providing space for Garry oak and Arbutus to move in.

Arbutus is Canada's only broad-leaved conifer - it does not shed its leaves in the fall, and they are green year round. However, this beautiful, sun-loving tree does shed its orange-brown bark to reveal the fresh green bark underneath.

Large Bigleaf maple, Sooke River Road

Barrow's Goldeneye

Local lakes and rivers often have large Black cottonwoods growing along the freshwater waterfront. These massive moisture-loving trees provide perches and nesting sites for eagles and other large birds of prey.

More than 60% of the world's Barrow's goldeneyes nest in Black cottonwood trees. Right now cottonwoods heart-shaped leaves are turning yellow and carpeting the forest floor.

Black cottonwood form the
upper canopy along the Goldstream River

Deciduous trees are a small yet important part of the coastal forest ecosystem. They are the pioneer trees that reclaim disturbed areas for the future conifer forest. Red alder, usually the first tree to colonize areas like clear cuts, can fix nitrogen into a form plants can use. Deciduous leaves are less acidic than conifer needles, and are a rich source of nutrients for building the soil.

Broad-leaved trees also provide important wildlife habitat. Woodpeckers excavate new cavity nests each year, and these are frequently made in deciduous trees. Deciduous don't live as long, and decay faster than the resinous, long-lived conifers, making them perfect for cavity nesting.

Downy and Hairy woodpeckers
need deciduous trees for nests

Over 20 species in British Columbia are secondary cavity nesters, animals that can not excavate their own nests. These creatures move in to the year old abandoned holes, and include saw-whet owls, black-capped chickadees, flying squirrels, and martin.

Although the deciduous contingent of the coastal forest may be hard to see throughout the summer, their fall colours make it difficult for them to go unnoticed, giving them their moment of much-deserved glory.


BC Government Seeking Public Input For OGMA Protection For Avatar Grove

An ancient Western red-cedar in Avatar Grove near Port Renfrew, Vancouver Island

A deadline is looming on the call for public input to the BC government's proposed Avatar Grove protection plan within the framework for Old Growth Management Areas (OGMA). Responses are accepted until Wednesday, November 9, 2011.

About OGMA In BC
Most areas of BC have had Old Growth Management Areas (OGMAs) established. These are mostly old growth stands on crown forest land (although some are in parks). You can ask any forest company or BC Timber Sales to view a map of the OGMAs in their area.

Generally around 10% of the forested land has been set aside (the exact amount varies). That is often only a portion of the old growth in any area. In some areas where there is hardly any old growth left, younger stands have to be selected; over time and with protection, they will grow into Old Growth. For now they're called "recruitment" OGMAs.

OGMAs have some legal protection, through a government land use objective, but in reality it's only the forest industry that has to honour the protection. The forest industry can harvest in OGMAs, under specific conditions, but the harvested area must be replaced by another stand that has "equal or better" old growth characteristics. - source

The forest floor, Lower Avatar Grove

Ancient Forest Alliance is reporting the following information concerning the inclusion of Port Renfrew's Avatar Grove into a OGMA in The Renfrew Ammendments 2011.

 From the AFA website:

Please WRITE a QUICK EMAIL to PROTECT the AVATAR GROVE and ALL of BC’s Endangered Old-Growth Forests.

After almost two years of intense public pressure led by the Ancient Forest Alliance and the Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce, the BC government is looking to officially declare Avatar Grove off-limits to logging. They are proposing to include the Avatar Grove within 59 hectares of new Old-Growth Management Areas (OGMA’s), pending the completion of public input that closes this Wednesdsay, November 9.

This is a great step forward for the most spectacular, easily accessible stand of unprotected old-growth cedars and Douglas-firs on southern Vancouver Island. The Avatar Grove is extremely rare, valley-bottom ancient forest, about 95% of which has been logged on the South Island.

However, the logging company will be compensated with 57 hectares of forest (27 hectares of old-growth, 30 hectares of second-growth), while thousands of hectares of old-growth forests are logged each year across Vancouver Island, tens of thousands of hectares across BC, and millions of hectares of BC's old-growth forests remain in jeopardy. Already 75% of the original, productive old-growth forests have been logged on Vancouver Island.

PLEASE TAKE 3 minutes to WRITE a quick EMAIL by this Wednesday, November 9 to the BC government at:

Ministry of Forests: RenfrewOGMA@gov.bc.ca
BC Forest Minister Steve Thomson: steve.thomson.mla@leg.bc.ca
Premier Christy Clark: premier@gov.bc.ca

BE SURE to include your FULL NAME and ADDRESS so they know you are a real person!

Please reference: Renfrew Amendments 2011

TELL THEM that you:

- Support the protection of Avatar Grove as an Old-Growth Management Area (OGMA) in the Renfrew 2011 Amendment and ultimately as a conservancy or park.

- Want ALL of BC’s endangered old-growth forests protected through a Provincial Old-Growth Strategy.

- Want the BC government to ensure the sustainable logging of second-growth forests and to ban the export of raw logs to foreign mills.


Old Growth Forests

This coastal Douglas-fir achieved old growth status 500 years ago.
Many will agree that the old growth forests of Vancouver Island, and the world, are vital landscapes that need to be protected. However, there may be some disagreement over what compromises late-successional, or old growth forests.

The whole concept of old growth, and old growth management was born not far from here in the 1970s. A grass-roots movement was forming in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. due to the continued loss of original forests, and fears of a diminishing biodiversity. Organizers were seeking a clear definition of old growth in order to be able to save it.

There are a few key factors and commonalities that can be used to identify old growth. More difficult may be convincing the powers that be that these forests are worth saving.

The following information is adapted from the Royal BC Museum Living Landscapes web site:

Old growth forests are a major issue for the forestry industry throughout Canada and particularly in British Columbia. These forests are the source of potential economic wealth, but destroying them could have a greater impact than losing a few old trees.

There has not been one exact definition for old growth forests, as they can differ depending on climate, site characteristics, forest type and history of disturbances. On Vancouver Island it takes approximately 250 years for the forest to take on the structure seen in old growth settings. A stand of Douglas-fir can grow undisturbed for centuries.

Characteristics of Old Growth Forests
  • Very Large Trees. This is highly dependent on climate, site characteristics etc., so is not a sole way of evaluating old growth forests.
  • Very Old Trees. This factor also depends on many factors especially the area in which trees grow. The temperate rainforests of the coast commonly reach ages exceeding 250 years, which is generally when a forest begins to take on old growth characteristics.
  • Complex Ecosystem Structure. A multilayered canopy is one characteristic that is said to be true of old growth forests.
  • High Species Diversity. Many old-growth forests are have great species diversity, more so than a newer or second growth forest.
  • Deep Litter Layer/LDWD. Old growth forests generally have a lot of accumulation of dead organic matter on the forest floor when they have remained undisturbed by fire for centuries. One component in the structure of the litter layer is the presence of large diameter woody debris (LDWD), or large, downed trees. These trees may take many decades to decay, provide rich habitat, and return nutrients to the soil.

In British Columbia, there have been ongoing calls to protect the remaining old growth forests, particularly the coastal temperate rainforests that occur on Vancouver Island. Each year almost 200,000 hectares of old growth forest are clear cut.

Concerned citizens have staged some of the largest mass civil disobedience movements in Canadian history in order to protect increasingly threatened public forest lands. These actions have impelled provincial governments to take their responsibilities to protect the public interest seriously.

There have been changes, although it remains to be seen how far the government is willing to go in ending old growth logging completely. The BC government established an Old Growth Strategy in 1992, and has been increasing the number of Old Growth Management Areas (OGMA) that seek to protect more old growth forests and their ecological and cultural assets.

Progress has been made since the 1970s, and after a major campaign, the government divided the Carmanah Valley in half. Rather than clear cut the entire valley, the bottom was set aside for a park in 1990, while allowing the upper areas to be logged (which may have impacts on the bottom part of the valley). Had the original logging request been allowed, the tallest Sitka spruce trees in Canada would have been destroyed.

Clayoquot Sound on Vancouver Island, has been a focal point since the 1980s, in BC and globally, over forest value and issues of environmental and economic sustainability. In 1984, the first logging blockades in Canadian History occurred on Meares Island, resulting in the protection of its ancient forests.

Clayoquot represents 262,000 hectares of which 244,000 are forested. Over 30,000 hectares have been logged to date, and only 39,100 hectares are in protected areas, and the remaining 90,400 hectares of commercially productive land is mainly old growth forests.

We know, roughly, what an old growth forest is. We know that they are vitally important in providing crucial environmental services such as water purification, soil retention, and carbon storage. And we know that given current policies all original old growth forests will be degraded, depleted, and destroyed over the next few decades.

It is time to stop harvesting old growth forests in BC, and around the world.