West Coast Wood Architecture

A whimsical wood creation on the beach, Sooke, BC
Coastal beaches are excellent places to walk, or play, or do nothing but sit and listen to the waves breaking on the cobbles. Riches abound, with seaweed, driftwood and sand on one side, and the magnificent forest on the other. A better playground has never been built.

As I walked on the beach near Sooke I rounded a corner to see the wispy beachfront creation pictured above. As I stopped to look at it I considered whether it was a structure, or a sculpture.

I decided it was both, although the builders might have informed me that it was indeed a 'fort', or 'hut'. Regardless, we would all agree that the woodwork here is a thing of west coast beauty.

The Lookout provides a view of the beach below, and the Juan de Fuca beyond
As I climbed the steep bank behind the wood sculpture I delightfully discovered more woodworking wonders. Stick ladders, boardwalks, and platforms perched precariously in trees dotted the trail. The simplicity of how the natural materials were used appealed to my spartan ways, and reminded me of boyhood discoveries and creations.

However, since I was raised on the short-grass prairie, as a boy I dug more holes than I built tree houses. But I am making up for lost time now, and am enjoying the coastal beaches and trees as often as possible. This is where I like to play.

Trail leads to old growth wonders at the top of the bank


Going, Going, Gone

"Going" - I photographed the Douglas fir in the distance one year ago
and wondered how long it would last
Change is constant in the coastal forest, and where the forest meets the sea exists a zone where nothing stands still for long. Wind-driven salt spray, rain, and the ceaseless eroding action of tides and waves make this zone a challenging place for a tree to eke out an existence.

A year ago I did a post after a hike along the beach on the coast of the Strait of Juan de Fuca in Sooke, BC. Along the stretch of beach there are several big Sitka spruce and Douglas-fir that are being eroded by the action of the pounding surf, and are tottering on the edge.

"Going" - Close up of the root ball, showing its precarious, eroding perch
This tree in particular caught my attention due to its gravity-defying location hanging off a steep bluff. The Douglas-fir was a fair size (over 30m/100ft.), and it has been growing here since before WWI. It was obvious that it was only a matter of time before nature took its course on this tree.

"Gone" - The big tree gives in and hits the beach
Sure enough, the tree did not make it through 2011 intact, and now lies on the beach pointing out to sea. Maybe in 2012 it will change into a drift log, showing up on a beach near you.


The Gifts Of Trees

Happy Holidays from everyone at VIBT

What would a Christmas celebration be without a tree?

The UN International Year Of Forests is drawing to a close. Now is as good a time as any to give thanks for the many, many gifts given to us by our trees and forests. In their generosity and bounty, trees have paved the way for much of civilization as we know it.

We would not have come as far, or as fast, without the ample gifts of trees. Perhaps this coming year we can consider everything trees have done for us, and then consider what we can do for them in return.

Forests everywhere desperately need us.

Seasons Greetings to all tree lovers and forest defenders.


Bark Beetles: Beauty And The Beast

Sitka spruce on the beach showing evidence of bark beetles
Bark beetles are an important part of the life cycle of forests. These small, cylindrical insects are about the size of a rice kernel, but when they work together they can wipe out billions of trees. They breed in downed wood and stressed trees, but can also attack and kill healthy mature trees. And they are on the rise along with global temperatures.

These tiny insects survive by boring through the bark of host trees, and excavating tunnels through the phloem - the layer between the bark and wood of a tree. This layer consists of living cells that transport sap which is rich in sugars made by the needles of the tree. Eventually the flow of food and water between the roots and needles is disrupted, and the tree dies.

Bark beetles have been big news in British Columbia over the past few years, as pine beetle attacks in the interior of the province have completely devastated forests. Over 5.7 million hectares have been affected, involving 108 million cubic meters of timber. Resulting clear cuts exceed 250,000 acres in size, representing a second environmental catastrophe, this time human-caused.

South-central Alaskan Sitka spruce forests have been under attack by spruce beetles since a major infestation started there several decades ago. In the current outbreak, spruce beetle activity in Alaska was mapped on over 1.3 million acres in 1997. Cumulative beetle activity now totals over 3 million acres statewide since 1989.

Tracks show where bark beetles have eaten
the phloem layer under bark

BC's coastal forest is also affected by the activities of bark beetles, and although they leave beautiful patterns on the wood they feed off of, their activities are decidedly deadly.

Warming temperatures due to climate change are making it easier for bark beetles to overwinter and mature, which is causing numbers to explode.
Bark Beetles in British Columbia
The main species in B.C. are the mountain pine beetle, spruce beetle and the Douglas-fir beetle.
  • Spruce beetles attack Englemann spruce, White spruce and Sitka spruce trees from late April to early May. These insects have a two-year life cycle.
  • Douglas-fir beetles attack trees from late April through May and have a one-year life cycle.
  • Mountain pine beetles attack Lodgepole pine, Ponderosa pine and White pine trees from mid July to mid August. Mountain pine beetles have a one-year life cycle.
These insects inhabit forests throughout British Columbia. Like forest fires, bark beetles have always played an important role in our forests.

Amazing patterns under the bark of this Sitka spruce

10 Facts about Bark Beetles and North America’s Infestation

1. Other than human beings, no creature on the planet can change a landscape as fast as the bark beetle.

2. Bark beetles are not pests. They collapse and renew forests on time frames inconvenient for humans. For tens of millions of years they have been pruning or collapsing ailing, aging or drought stricken forests. A bark beetle can probably hear the distressed song of a drought stricken tree.
Spruce beetle

3. Climate change triggered the epidemics and allowed the mountain pine beetle, in particular, to expand its empire into a larger geography: mountains, northern latitudes and the boreal forest.

4. The beetles also took advantage of human engineered landscapes where decades of fire suppression has created a seemingly stable base of scenery that is really volatile.

5. Bark beetles prey on large trees in packs and behave much like wolves and killer whales attack when hunting. These highly social creatures also communicate by sound and chemical perfumes.

6. The great bark beetle epidemics of the last decade killed more than 30 billion conifers from Alaska to New Mexico.

7. Beetle epidemics are like hurricanes. Spending billions of dollars to control them is like putting up fans along the coast of Louisiana to stop another Katrina.

8. Novel sound experiments with bark beetles in Arizona have turned the creature in cannibals and may revolutionize insect control.

9. Canada used to have one of the world’s best insect monitoring programs on the planet. The federal government killed the program in 1996 to save money just as the pine beetle emerged in British Columbia and did $50-billion worth of damage.

10. The bark beetle, says Canada’s greatest living ecologist Buzz Holling, are really harbingers of things to come: collapse and renewal. He reckons that the extreme, the small and the improbable will decide our future.


Ravens - Rainforest Roosters

Ravens are rain forest roosters

Here in the northern hemisphere we are just about through the darkest days of the year. In less than 2 weeks we will celebrate winter solstice, the darkest day of them all. These are magical times, and humans are not the only ones to notice.

I live in a semi-rural part of a small south Vancouver Island coastal village of 10,000. Here, among the fog-cloaked tall trees, people have not yet taken over. Our town is shared with harbour seals, orcas, black bears, cougars, bald eagles, and big, black ravens.

Out here, on the far western edge of the continent, you can experience the folly of feeling like an all-powerful, highly evolved ape. In comparison to the vastness of the stormy sea on one side, and the impenetrable, deeply green, mossy forest on the other, the affairs of humans are mere scurryings of ants, and the watchful ravens reside over it all.

Over the past few long nights the ravens have been orchestrating the elements from their lofty laboratories in the tree tops within earshot of my bedroom window. Dressed in their black cloaks, these early risers are the mysterious roosters of the rain forest.

Each morning for the past couple of weeks I have been woken by the raven's guttural and commanding call. I hear it as an invitation to stand up and face the magic of the rising sun, and new day.

A day that will soon be a little more magical, and a little more sunny than the one before.


Big Tree Art: Taralee Guild

Cathedral Grove 3, 2009
I tend not to get out into the forest as much during this time of year. With cooler temperatures and only a few hours of daylight, I am left without my regular forest fix. A rainy, dark day is a good time to stay by the fire and check out tree-related sites on the web.

In the breaks between outings, art is one thing that can fill my need for the beauty of nature. I found the paintings featured in this post on the website DeviantArt, and they immediately drew my forest-deficient gaze. To see a gallery of more of this inspirational big tree art at this site, check out here.

The artist also has a website of more stunning Vancouver Island west coast rain forest art. Check it out here, and get a winter day forest fix - you will not be disappointed.

About The Artist
Taralee Guild (1984-present) lives and works in Vancouver, BC and is originally from Thunder Bay, Ontario. She is inspired by the Canadian tradition of nature painting and the artwork of Tom Thompson, Gordon Smith, and Peter Doig. Taralee Guild will be completing her BFA in Visual Arts at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, graduating in 2010 .
- from DeviantArt
About The Art

Cathedral Grove 3 (above)
This painting is part of a small group of work that materialized from a late winter photo shoot of Cathedral Grove on Vancouver Island. The area features a combination of old growth Red Cedar and Douglas Fir natural to West Coast BC. This painting looks almost straight up at these very tall trees. The sun was setting, which gave a particular kind of light which illuminated the tops of the tree canopies. Throughout the composition, broken light hits different spots of trunks and bristles.
- DeviantArt

Arbutus Trees, 2009

Arbutus Trees, 2009

Arbutus trees are quintessentially West Coast Canada, being particularly prominent on Vancouver Island. The twisting path of the branches and the peculiar bark are their main features. This painting acquired a nice sky blue for the background, whereas the warm brown bark and Hooker’s Green leaves compliment each other. The thick detail oriented trunk base becoming smoother as it goes up makes a convincing visual perspective. It is meant to feel like looking up at tall Arbutus trees on a nice spring day.
- DeviantArt


Nanoose Bay Forest Old Growth Logging

Big Douglas-firs of Nanoose Bay Forest, photo: TJ Watt, TimesColonist
The Nanoose Bay Forest, also known as District Lot 33 by the BC government, is a mixed stand of giant old-growth and smaller second-growth trees in an area that was partially logged about a hundred years ago. Today this publicly owned, endangered Coastal Douglas-fir forest on central Vancouver Island is being decimated by logging that is in no one's interest.

The provincial government says that this forest is not of a high enough quality to qualify for protection. However, in an endangered ecosystem where only 1% is left in its natural state, you would think that any undeveloped forest would be a likely candidate for protection. 

By the governments own admission, the Coastal Douglas Fir ecosystem is among the top four most endangered ecosystems in Canada, the others being Manitoba’s Tallgrass Prairie, southern Ontario’s Carolinian Forest, and BC’s “Pocket Desert” near Osoyoos.  

Work done in DL 33 before protesters
halted logging

The province has had ample opportunity to protect the Nanoose Bay Forest because it (meaning 'we') already own the land. The importance of this threatened ecosystem has been voiced by a passionate and motivated public that has been pushing for protection for years. 

Still, the province refuses to do the right thing, which would be to arrange funding for First Nations to develop sustainable industries, and save the 200 - 300 year old Douglas-firs.

When logging equipment rolled into the forest and big trees started to fall, protesters did what the province refused to do - halt the logging operation. But the forest occupation was short-lived as the band received a court injunction and enforcement order last Monday, so work recommenced.

The First Nations logging company cutting in the Nanoose Bay Forest says they will receive about $750,000 dollars from the proceeds of harvesting 15,000 cubic metres from a 64-hectare patch of the endangered old-growth coastal Douglas fir forest.

Economic development is important, but not when it is destructive and unsustainable. Surely there are better solutions than pushing an entire ecosystem, and its untold riches, closer to extinction.

Enjoying nature in the Nanoose Bay Forest, photo: Wilderness Committee

Timberwest has signed a contract to purchase the logs from DL 33. The company is certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) which "helps customers source responsibly managed forest products".

 The following is from the Timberwest website:
We demonstrate our commitment to the environment by:
  • ensuring our forestry practices meet or exceed environmental standards, laws and regulations
  • obtaining and maintaining sustainable forest practices certification from national and international agencies that are the recognized monitors of such practices
  • acknowledging that environmental protection is a condition of our social license to operate

Contact Information

TimberWest Forest Corp.
Third Floor,
856 Homer Street
Vancouver, BC 
Canada V6B 2W5
Phone: (604) 654-4600
Fax: (604) 654-4571 

Elected Officials

Members of the Legislative Assembly of B.C.
to find your local MLA's contact addresses

Hon. Christy Clark, Premier
PO Box 9041 Stn.Prov.Gov.
Victoria, BC
V8W 9E1

Phone: 250-387-1715
Fax: 250-387-0087
Hon. Dr.Terry Lake
Minister of Environment
Room 112
Parliament Buildings
Victoria, BC
V8V 1X4

Phone: 250-387-1187
Fax: 250-387-1356

Hon. Steve Thomson
Minister of Forests, Lands & Natural Resource Operations
Room 248
Parliament Buildings
Victoria, BC
V8V 1X4

Phone: 250-387-6240
Fax: 250-387-1040
Hon. Mary Polak
Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation
Room 325
Parliament Buildings
Victoria, BC
V8V 1X4


Dr. James Lunney, MP
#6 - 6894 Island Hwy. North, Nanaimo, BC
V9V 1P6

Phone: 250-390-7550
Toll Free: 866-390-7550
Fax: 250-390-7551
Mr. Ron Cantelon, MLA
501 Turner Road
Nanaimo, BC
V9T 6J4

Phone: 250-951-6018
Fax: 250-951-6020


Surfing The Drift Wood

Bufflehead riding the driftwood during recent high spring tide

Nice platform for preening and relaxing

Even after trees fall and enter local waterways they continue to provide habitat for local wildlife.

I caught this Bufflehead (Bucephala albeolata) taking advantage of a piece of driftwood in the Sooke Harbor recently.

Wintering Buffleheads prefer the shallow water shelter of the coves, estuaries, beaches and harbors along the coast of southern Vancouver Island.

These tiny birds are the smallest diving ducks in North America, and also one of the fastest in flight.

Drift wood in the estuary and harbour is a magnet for Buffleheads and other creatures such as: eagles, vultures, ducks, river otters, kingfishers, cormorants, and gulls.

Multiple seagull captains surfed this big log away