Take Us To Your Tree People

"Sorry, we are looking for intelligent life forms with patience and a sustainable, cooperative attitude."

"Greetings gentle tree people, carriers of sustainable, cooperative approaches to living. You have so much to share. If we were looking for a cooperative, sustainable model to emulate, your forest ecosystem would be unsurpassed.
Thousands of species working together in perfect harmony resulting in a stable system that can last little unchanged for many eons. Until those pesky suit-wearing humans intervene."

Intelligent life forms know that driving entire ecosystems to extinction is not a good idea. Here is hoping that the new year brings you, the enlightened reader, plenty of forest experiences that motivate you to join the growing chorus to save the last of the old growth on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and around the world.

Happy new year. Happy better year.

"Beam me up. After they killed all the trees there's no intelligent life left down here."


Sooke Solstice Tree

We don't set up a tree indoors this time of year - there are plenty of beautiful trees just outside.

Our Solstice Tree does not need to be cut down and consumed, then thrown in the garbage or chipped. It does not need to be decorated, either.

Our tree has Old Man's Beard hanging lichen that looks just like green tinsel. The drops of morning dew hanging on the lichen and the needles are strings of little lights glinting brilliantly with the sun's rays.

The branches are adorned by chirping chickadees and brilliant crested kingfishers. Up top instead of an angel, a Great blue heron or two tops off our wildlife-trimmed tree.

Happy solstice!

Do visit Vancouver Island Big Trees in the new year, and together we will explore, and save, the old growth.


Winter Storms Pound Local Beaches

On Florencia Bay, Tofino, driftwood is strewn across the upper beach
Recent strong winds across the region canceled 75 ferry sailings, knocked power out, and gave spectacular displays of tree-tossing turmoil on local beaches.

Florencia Bay, Tofino
Often giant pieces and whole trees were high on the beach, seemingly beyond the water's reach. When I first started visiting the west coast of Vancouver Island, I marveled at the tumble of drift logs on most beaches.

Having visited only in the summer time, I wondered how the logs could get so far from the placid water. When I moved here I witnessed coastal winter storms for myself, and discovered the awesome power of wind, water, and waves. Any drift wood caught in such a storm doesn't stand a chance.

Huge white-foamy waves cover wilderness beaches and toss old growth drift trees like rubber ducks in a turbulent tub. Logs bob in the surf and are driven up against the beach, eventually coming to rest along the edge of the rain forest.

Big waves toss big logs over the beach on Ross Bay in Victoria, BC during a recent storm
In the city, waves drive logs over concrete embattlements and into the street. After strong south-easterly storms, heavy equipment must be brought it to clear large chunks of drift wood debris.

Summers on the coast are nice with calm weather and stretches of drought, but to witness the full fury and power of the Pacific, you have to do some winter storm watching.

Watch out for rogue waves. 


Mossy Maples

Moss covered Bigleaf Maples, Sooke River

Every season is a good one to be out in the forest. Right now, for example, with winter solstice just days away, the temperate rain forest is moss-puffy perfection.

With Bigleaf maple tree's branches leafless and visible, the green glowing moss is available for inspection. Of the thousands of different life forms in the forest, only a few have ever been seen and recorded.

Scientists inspecting in the canopy of the old growth forest of Carmanah Valley have found invertebrates, mosses, lichens, fungi, algae, protozoa, and soil bacteria previously undiscovered. 

Many of the species discovered only thrive in forests over a hundred years old.

Winter is a good time for a hike in the temperate rain forest of Vancouver Island

Under the moss on the branches of the maple lies a layer of soil that provides a rich environment for a variety of living things. It is estimated that there are 4 times more species of bacteria in one handful of soil than the number of species of higher plants in all of British Columbia.

Bigleaf maple branches send roots from the top of the branches into this soil and moss layer. The moss and soil give nutrients to these roots in return for the favour of the tree's scaffolding. Both benefit.

With winter rains and no deciduous leaves (except underfoot), now is a great time to take a hike in the forest and enjoy major moss at the peak season for growth and viewing.


The End Of Old Growth Logging

The photo above is the trunk of Te Matua Ngahere, the 'Father of the Forest'.

It is New Zealand's oldest living Kauri tree, and is estimated to be over 2000 yrs old with a girth of 16.41m.

Logging of old growth, or native forest, on public lands has been illegal in New Zealand since 2004.

When people say ending old growth logging "can't be done" in British Columbia, they fail to realize that exactly that has been done in many areas around the world.

[In 2004] New Zealand’s Labor government introduced hard-won legislation that ended logging of publicly owned temperate rainforests. In words unfamiliar to US politicians, Pete Hodgson, the minister responsible for timberlands, told parliament that, “These lowland forests are considered by many New Zealanders to be a unique and significant part of our natural heritage, too valuable for logging of any sort to continue.” 

Read more about New Zealand's forward thinking forest policy here. 


Largest Tree In Victoria, BC Is A Giant Sequoia

 Giant sequoia at Moss and Richardson St.,Victoria, BC. Is this Victoria's largest tree?
Image credit: Myles Green

Southern Vancouver Island enjoys mild coastal weather in a sub-Mediterranean climate. This encourages the growth of some very large Giant sequoias, relatively speaking.

With all the largest native big trees removed long ago, a Giant sequoia import is the largest tree in the Victoria area. Not bad for a species more used to growing farther south in California, where the really big ones live.

One of the big California sequoias. This massive specimen, the President Tree, is the second-most-massive tree
known on Earth. Here it is being measured by Steve Sillett and his team. 

(Image credit: Michael Nichols/National Geographic)

The President is one of the oldest (3,200 years) giant sequoia trees in Sequoia National Park, California. It's the second-largest tree on Earth, according to Steve Sillett of Humboldt State University. He should know - he climbed it recently and measured it himself.

You can read more about this and other impressive sequoia trees in their native range at National Geographic. The article I linked to has great photos, and mentions Sillett's research finding that some species of trees, including Giant sequoias, grow more rapidly as they age. Trees thousands of years old are not only viable, but are adding new wood faster than ever.

How The President Measures Up

Base of the President Tree

Height above base                                      75.0 m 245.0 ft
Circumference at ground 28.4         93.0
Diameter 1.5 m above base                          7.1           23.1
Diameter 18 m (60') above base 5.2           16.9
Diameter 55 m (180') above base 3.55         11.6
Diameter of largest branch                          2.43         8.0
Height of first large branch above the base 37.1         122.0
Estimated bole volume (m³.ft³) 1,278.0    45,148.0
Age                                                            3,200 years (at least)

The Largest Tree In Victoria, BC 

"One would expect that the native trees such as Douglas Fir, Sitka Spruce, or Western Red Cedar would be the largest trees in Victoria, B.C. But no, these giants were logged out long ago. 

The largest trees in Victoria are gifts from the state of California where they have preserved some of the largest trees on earth for their citizens and the citizens of the world. 

Tracts of Sequoia and Coastal Redwoods were set aside in the last century and the century before by enlightened Californians whose population is almost as large as Canada's, but whose zest for preserving their natural heritage far exceeds our own.

The Sequoia pictured in the front yard of the home at Moss and Richardson [see photo at top of page] was a seedling given to the people of Victoria in 1858 by the state of California - for many years this was considered the largest tree in Victoria. 

A reputable arborist now considers the large Sequoia in James Bay's Irving Park as the largest tree in Victoria." 

- Myles Green

It looks like Victoria's transplants from the southern sequoia forest will retain the "largest tree in town" designation far into the future. Especially if they grow faster as they age. I will be checking out the James Bay sequoia soon for a future post.

The magnificent Giant sequoias around the Victoria region should be not only a sign of our ties to our southern neighbours, but also a call to action to do the right thing and preserve our remaining old growth natural heritage just as Californians protected theirs so many years ago.


Searching For Evidence of Big Trees

One of several Balch creek giant Douglas fir. Oct, 2008 Photo by Micah

If you are here chances are you recognize and respect the importance of trees, especially the old growth. Do I have a treat for you.

In this post I am pleased to highlight a fellow tree lover and blogger that resides in the big tree state of Washington, across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Essentially, we share what was once a continuous coniferous forest that ranged from northern California to Alaska.

photo by Micah
"Macleay Park-Forest Park, Portland. Sep. 2011. One of the larger trees I measured in the Balch creek canyon. 5 ft 6 inches diameter, at 4 1/2  ft. and 242 feet tall. May be one of the tallest trees in Portland, and probably over 300 years old. Forest Park was logged extensively in the 1880-1940′s, and most of the forest is only 50 to 100 years old — with pockets of 200 to 500 year old giants."

Few of the original big trees of the forest remain there, as here, but Micah has made it part of his work to seek out those last holdouts. He has also been conducting historical research to try and get a glimpse at what the forest was like prior to industrial exploitation.

He commented on VIBT recently:
"I tossed together most of the accounts I compiled in the last couple years and some photos I found on the internet and old books into one concise blog post recently-- listing all the Doug references, stories, and measurements of Doug firs from 300 feet and up I could find. There are definitely hundreds more I could add if I had access to museum archives, libraries etc. And a similar list could be compiled of Sitka Spruce, and Noble fir, Grand fir-- and the giant western red cedars. One account mentions a 407 foot cedar tree!!!...Although I am not sure how reliable it is, cool to imagine!"
photo by Micah
 "This giant tree must have originally been over 200 feet, maybe 250 before losing its top and was one of the thickest trees I saw on Whidbey Island. Mere cord wood compared to the largest giants logged in this area which topped 300+ feet. I stand beneath it for scale."

 Check out this post to see some of the results of Micah's work. Amazing trees that are just the "table scraps of a once immense forest".


Cortes Island Ancient Forest Defenders Force Island Timberlands To Table

"Cutting these ancient, threatened Douglas-fir is like shooting a black rino."
Cortes Island ancient forest defenders, led by the community alliance Wildstands, have successfully forced Island Timberlands back to the table in the ongoing struggle to protect the island's last remaining old growth forests.

The original Coastal Douglas-fir forest ecozone, small to begin with, has withstood 100 years of industrial exploitation to the point that only 1% remains. A small part of that 1% resides on beautiful Cortes Island.

The government of BC refuses to meaningfully protect this dwindling resource, and in some cases encourages its destruction through investments in the corporations that are slaughtering the last big trees. Responsibility for protection inevitably falls on the caring shoulders of regular folks in the communities being degraded by continued old growth liquidation.

The people gathered together on Cortes as human shields protecting the last veteran trees (250-500 years old) are often those most affected by the degraded conditions left in the wake of industrial clear cut logging.

Zoe Miles, a member of Wildstands, says, “For more than four years, community members have attempted to work with the company to develop an ecosystem-based approach to forestry.  As road-building equipment moves in, the community is now left with no choice but to stand in its path to defend these ecologically significant forests.”

The group aims to "protect the ancient bio-diversity of Cortes Island, and serves as a forum for discussion of the protection, legislation and conservation of this fragile eco-system".

Wildstands blockaded logging equipment in recent days rather than submit its old-growth temperate rainforest to unsustainable logging practices by Island Timberlands, the second largest private timberlands holding in British Columbia.

The first stage of the blockade has been successful, and IT has agreed not to ask for an injunction against the group for at least one week.

Send Island Timberlands an email if you support old growth protection on Cortes Island. Click here.

Our government should know of your wishes as well. Click here.
"People are here because they want to make it known that the industrial forestry model doesn’t work for local communities and it doesn’t work for the province. Island Timberlands will destroy ecologically sensitive ecosystems and leave nothing beneficial in its wake. We will be left with devastated ecosystems, a contaminated water supply and no long term jobs. All the benefit is going to people who live far away and who aren’t aware of the cost of their profits to our community and our province."  - Leah Seltzer


Stopping Island Timberlands, Saving Cortes Island

 Will logging of ancient forest be halted before it can begin?

November 28, 2012 (Cortes Island, BC)  Residents of Cortes Island have formed a blockade to stop the BC based timber company, Island Timberlands (I.T.), from beginning logging operations in one of BC’s last stands of old growth coastal Douglas-fir forest.  For over four years, community members have attempted to work with the company to develop an ecosystem-based approach to forestry.  As road-building equipment moves in, the community is now left with no choice but to stand in it’s path to defend these ecologically significant forests.

Yesterday, Island Timberlands trucks were stopped at a logging road gate by two protesters lying on the ground. Company personnel filmed the protesters, likely in preparation for an application for a civil injunction. The protesters did not respond to their questions and community members remained on the site until the end of the day.

Adjacent landowners were among the community members present. One couple explained that they have a water license on Basil Creek which runs through Island Timberlands’ property.  I.T. plans to log in the riparian area and within 30 feet of the wetland that feeds the salmon-bearing creek. They wrote to Morgan Kennah, Island Timberland’s Manager for Community Affairs, stating their concerns about water supply and contamination. “I thought I would get a letter from Morgan assuring me that my water supply would be safe,” the landowner stated, “but that never happened. I got no response.”  Another community member showed up with Christmas decorations and a Christmas tree to lighten the protesters’ spirits.

Leah Seltzer explained the situation in this way, “People are here because they want to make it known that the industrial forestry model doesn’t work for local communities and it doesn’t work for province. Island Timberlands will destroy ecologically sensitive ecosystems and leave nothing beneficial in its wake. We will be left with devastated ecosystems, a contaminated water supply and no long-term jobs. All the benefit is going to people who live far away and who aren’t aware of the cost of their profits to our community and our province.”

The threatened lands contain some of the last 1% of old-growth Coastal Douglas-fir forests, and, according to Ken Wu of the Ancient Forest Alliance (AFA), are some of the most extensive stands remaining in the endangered "Dry Maritime" forests along BC's southern coast.  The forests also contain a number of documented threatened species and sensitive ecosystems.

At this time, I.T. has contracted several local workers but these jobs will only provide short-term employment.  More than 60% of I.T.’s raw logs are shipped out of the province to be processed overseas.  Standing exclusively to profit are I.T.’s corporate shareholders, which include Brookfield Asset Management and the BC Investment Management Corporation, the pension fund for provincial employees.

While I.T. claims to use sustainable forestry practices, long-time forest activist and Cortes Island land-owner, Tzeporah Berman, warns us not to be fooled: “The majority of their logging is traditional clearcut logging with devastating ecological implications that result in either a change of land use or a dramatically weakened and simplified ecosystem. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) that Island Timberlands touts does not ensure strong environmental standards and has little support from First Nations or environmental organizations.”

Cortes resident and Greenpeace co-founder Rex Weyler agrees.  “There’s no excuse for industrial-scale logging in these times,” he says. “Forward-looking and economically-viable alternatives exist that are based on community health and ecosystem health. Island Timberlands’ plans are a step backwards. Cortes Island is moving forward.”  Residents have sought Island Timberland’s participation in this kind of forestry model but have been met with disregard.

Community members hope that the situation will not escalate, and that I.T. will recognize that Cortes holds a rare opportunity to work with a willing community to create a forestry model that benefits everyone.  Until then, islanders will be standing in the way of the equipment, and keeping a close eye on any further signs of I.T. activity on the island.
Several participants are available for comment.

Photo credits: WildStands, Facebook

For Immediate Release

For more information, please contact:

(Please be advised, there is limited cell phone service on the island but we will respond to your calls as soon as possible.)

Media Liasons: 
Leah Seltzer, Educator, Cortes resident 

Zoe Miles, Cortes-raised activist 


Devonian Park Ancient Douglas-fir

A gentle trail leads to this fine specimen in Devonian Regional Park, Metchosin

Devonian Regional Park in Metchosin contains one tree in particular that makes me think of the primordial forest. Standing next to its wrinkly girth my mind is spring-boarded into the past.

During the Devonian period (417-354 million years ago), the North American and European land masses were situated at the equator. It is fitting that during the 'age of fish' that these land areas were mostly covered in a shallow sea.

However, by the end of the Devonian, the land was populated by ferns, horsetails, and the first seed plants appeared which produced the first trees and forests. In 2005 the world's oldest known tree species was identified as Wattieza

Gilboa, New York has the distinction of having fossils that represent the world's earliest forest. It was the "Devonian Explosion" and trees began to dominate the landscape.

The trail continues to a cobble beach on Parry Bay

Devonian Regional Park is a nature sanctuary situated in an area that eventually became covered in one of the planet's greatest forests.

While the tree featured in this post may 'only' be 500 - 800 years old, it is a link to the beginning of the Pacific Coastal Forest which started 10,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age.

Looking even further back, the forest in Devonian Park is the result of millions of years of evolution linking it to the Devonian Period and the initial colonization of the land by plants.

Visit and feel millions of years of nature's tinkering evidenced in every fern, horsetail, seed plant, and tree. 


Vancouver's Urban Streams See Biggest Salmon Returns In 80 Years

After decades of use and abuse, many former salmon streams in the Vancouver, BC area are again teeming with life. In one stream the returns are the biggest seen in 80 years as Chum return to rehabilitated waterways once again.

Stream rehabilitation projects since the 1990's are starting to pay off and salmon are being seen in waters previously degraded and suffering the effects of insensitive development and pollution.

Many projects, often run by volunteers, have improved gravel spawning beds, restored stream bank vegetation to prevent erosion, and added ladder improvements and Large Woody Debris to expand available habitat. Culverts are often a barrier to fish movement, and projects also remediate these blockages.

How much money do developers and logging companies add to these restoration projects that clean up the messes made as a result of their environmental exploitation? I would expect the answer is "little to none". As usual, the private sector gets the profits, and the public sector (the rest of us) pays to repair the damage.

But it sure is good to see that we can atone for their sins, and bring the salmon back.

Read more here.


Ayum Creek Habitat Restoration - Salmon And Large Woody Debris

Large Woody Debris put in place during Ayum Creek stream restoration

Ayum Creek is a good salmon stream, and like all good salmon habitat, it contains the trunks of large trees. In the creek assessment world these large trees are known as LWD, or Large Woody Debris, and their contribution to salmon streams is significant. The structure they provide is critical to the chum, coho, stealhead and trout that call Ayum creek home.

In less than 100 years of industrial logging in British Columbia, the majority of salmon-bearing coastal waterways went from pristine to extinct, threatened, or uncertain status. Prior to 1988, coastal streams were clear cut logged right to their banks. This starved the streams of the large, mature fallen trees (LWD) which are the primary structuring element in the habitat.

Once affected, degraded waterways can take decades or centuries to recover naturally. It would take about 100 - 200 years alone for the trees to grow large enough for what is required in a maximally functioning salmon stream. That is why stream rehabilitation projects often bring in mature trees (in the form of large logs) from elsewhere, and place them in strategic locations.

This LWD complex is anchored into the bank of lower Ayum Creek, and creates a deep, stable
pool that benefits spawning and juvenile chum and coho salmon

The loss of the large old-growth trees in stream channels with their massive rootwads as anchors, is the type of structure that cannot be easily duplicated in degraded riparian areas. It is the roots of fallen old growth trees that anchor the trees in place against the pressure of swollen winter waters. This is why cables anchoring woody complexes to streamside trees and instream boulders are used in restoration projects in leu of roots. 

The role wood played in providing the structures that salmon need was not established until the 1980s. At that time old growth trees and fallen LWD complexes were found to be of primary importance in, and along, salmon streams. They create structures that result in stable stream banks, deep pools of still water, and places for juvenile fish to hide from predators.

Bridge over Ayum Creek on the Galloping Goose Trail, looking west toward Sooke
Logging had other impacts including increased erosion, road failures, and landslides, all of which increase the sedimentation of salmon streams. Culverts blocked the free flow of fish, and wood was removed from streams as routine practice.

Ayum Creek was affected by development and industrial activity from the earliest days of Sooke. On the land logging was a mainstay of the community, and on the water the salmon fishery was heavily exploited. The Ayum Creek watershed had been used for thousands of years by the T'Sou-ke 1st Nations, but now just a few decades after colonization and industrialization, it had become degraded like so many other coastal waters. The salmon run was in peril.

Now much of the Ayum Creek watershed lies in protected regional park reserves. Their mandate focuses on preservation and enhancement of the natural environment of mixed forest and a biologically rich estuary.

Part of the enhancements over the years have included watershed restoration projects, one of which has been the placement of LWD complexes in the creek to mimic the structure of fallen old growth trees that used to grow along the banks.

Something must be working, because there are some nice salmon returning to Ayum Creek every year, including the 2012 run.

Not only do the trees benefit the salmon, but the opposite is true as well. The nutrients that the salmon provide to the stream environment will enhance the growth of the nearby forest, ensuring future LWD for the fish. Those same nutrients are also important for the growth and survival of juvenile salmon.

Bigleaf maple leaves fall on Ayum Creek Bridge
In 1994 British Columbia implemented the Watershed Restoration Program to reverse habitat losses associated with past and new forest harvesting. This program helps to accelerate the restoration of affected watersheds, but will do little if not accompanied by making waterways off limits to future logging in perpetuity.

Watershed protection is the preferred, cost effective choice over watershed rehabilitation. It is just one more reason to protect our old growth forests, as well as the second growth forests that now dominate most coastal watersheds. Intact watersheds provide services that result in excellent water quality and habitat for salmon and many other living things.

Including humans.

Getting There

From Victoria, take the Old Island Highway/Highway 14/Sooke Road toward Sooke. Just before town look for Ludlow Road on your right. Turn here to hike to the bridge, or continue past Ludlow to turn left off the highway to park and hike to Sooke Basin via the forest trails.

Ayum Creek Regional Park Reserve currently has no services as nature preservation is the key here. There are several trails between Highway 14 and Sooke Basin, and the Galloping Goose Trail crosses a section of the park north of the highway.

Some of the lower Ayum Creek salmon habitat restoration can be viewed from the bridge on the Galloping Goose Trail where it crosses the creek. Looking toward Sooke Basin one can see both the LWD complex put in place, as well as the huge fish that hang out in the pool it created.

Limited parking is available on Ludlow Road, then walk west towards Sooke along the Galloping Goose to get to the bridge. To hike the lower creek to Sooke Basin, park on the south side of Highway 14 along the edge of the park reserve.


East Sooke Park: Aylard Farm

Old growth Douglas-fir at Aylard Farm, East Sooke Park

At one time a mysterious consortium of European investors owned much of the land in East Sooke. They had big visions of a private luxury resort and hunting preserve that would cater to the international jet set. Fortunately for nature lovers everywhere, the exclusive domain of the rich fell into a financial and legal morass, and the landowners were forced to sell some of their extensive East Sooke land holdings.

In 1970 the Victoria Capital Regional District purchased a significant piece from the stressed landowners. The purchase price was $520,000, and East Sooke Park was born. Now everyone is welcome to enjoy this rugged 3417 acre park and its native petroglyphs, rugged coastline, sandy beaches and magnificent forest.

Aylard Farm's meadows of clover, wild rose, and blue-eyed grass

East Sooke Park can be enjoyed via 50 km of trails, including the knee-punishing 10 km Coast Trail. The park's semi-wilderness has several entrances, including the Aylard Farm access point off of East Sooke Road via Becher Bay Road.

East Sooke lies in the Western Very Dry Maritime Coastal Western Hemlock Zone. Although the forests were selectively logged decades ago, and the sea harvested for its bounty, this remains a wild land. The park visitor is advised to watch small dogs and children as cougars and black bears still populate these coastal lands.

Ocean glimpses through the trees invite the hiker to the sandy beach below

Much of Aylard Farm and the rest of East Sooke Park is covered in second growth trees 60 - 100 years old. Because it was selectively logged, rather than clear cut, old growth trees of +250 years can still be seen.

Old growth forest near the Alyard park access can primarily be found at Creyke Point. The main forest consists of large Douglas-fir, Western hemlock, and closer to the ocean, Sitka spruce.

The coastal bluffs support upland ecosystems of Garry oak, Arbutus, and the twisted, tortured Shore pine. These trees are often small as they inhabit thin-soiled areas over bedrock and are exposed to harsh winter winds and storms.

Getting There

East Sooke Park is 35 km west of Victoria. Allow about an hour to drive and be able to enjoy the ample scenery. A couple of different routes are possible.

Old Island Highway From Victoria

Take the Old Island Highway (#1A) to Sooke Road. Follow Sooke Road (#14) to Happy Valley Road, turn left and continue down Happy Valley. Turn right on Rocky Point Road, which veers right to become East Sooke Road, and leads to the park. The entrance at Aylard Farm is at the end of Becher Bay Road, and left hand turn off East Sooke Road.

Trans-Canada/Highway 1 From Victoria

Follow the Trans-Canada Highway (#1) from Victoria, and take the Colwood exit. Follow the Old Island Highway (#1A), which turns into Sooke Road (#14). From Sooke Road, turn left on Gillespie Road. Turn left on East Sooke Road, then right on Becher Bay Road to reach the park entrance.


Big Tree Art: Thin Air Trees, Stuart McMillen

The big tree art of Australian artist Stuart McMillen's Thin Air Trees is beautiful, but his connection to trees goes far deeper than his stunning visual representations.

McMillen has a deep respect for trees, and writes, "Once hidden before my eyes, I am now drawn to the sight of trees wherever I look. I marvel at the defiant way they erupt from the ground, pushing towards the sky. I rave over the precarious way they hold their mass above our heads. What I once ignored now forms a focal point of the way I appreciate the world around me."

"A major aim of Thin Air was to make readers appreciate the elegance and brilliance of a familiar, yet overlooked neighbour: the humble tree."

The Thin Air cartoon describes the 17th century experiments of Jean Baptista van Helmont. His 5 year experiment with a willow tree aimed to figure out from where plants got their mass.

The cartoon goes on to describe the natural engineering of big trees that are built with little more than air and water.

The author/artist believes that humanity would be better served if we conducted our business in a more natural, sustainable manner, like the trees.

"To the enlightened person, McMillen says, "trees are no longer just ‘things’ that fill the space between the important, man-made structures of the world. They are incredible in themselves!"

See More

McMillen's work goes far beyond trees, and his cartoons on science, society and ecological sustainability are as thought-provoking as they are wonderful to look at.

See Thin Air Trees at: http://www.stuartmcmillen.com/comics_en/thin-air/#page-1

Stuart McMillen's other work can be found at: http://www.stuartmcmillen.com/en/


Saanich Citizens Save 300 Year Old Tree, For Now

300 year old Douglas fir at Seaview and Telegraph Bay Rd
 in Saanich is slated for removal... but can it be saved?
"Please help save me. I am over 300 years old, and I have been condemned by Saanich Parks because I have a fungal infection, not unlike what many trees around here have to contend with. Think of it as osteoporosis. It is not deadly. It just means I am not as strong as I used to be, and Saanich is scared I may fall and do some serious harm. Saanich has risk assessment criteria and the amount of decay in the core of my trunk makes me a borderline risk. Saanich does not want to acknowledge that, statistically, my chances of surviving upcoming storms are at least as great – and possible greater – than my chances of failing in one of these upcoming storms. So, to be completely safe, Saanich Parks wants to cut me down, and they are adamantly unwilling to acknowledge that my chances of surviving future storms should be part of their calculations."
Citizens save tree, for now. See brave tree defenders stand up for a tree's right to exist, and turn away the chain saws for the time being. Video

Read more at: Save This Majestic Douglas fir.


Refugee Tree: Largest Red Cedar In The CRD

The multi-topped Refugee Tree, Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Washington's Olympic Range can be
seen from the gravel pullout along Highway 14

A recent big tree quest saw us cruising West Coast Road/Highway 14 west of Sooke on a stunning fall day. Our mission? To seek out the largest red cedar in Victoria's Capital Region District.

For enthusiasts, a journey like this is a pilgrimage, but instead of searching out a temple, the goal is a living shrine.

Some of these shrines are older than those of the more visited religious variety. Several are older than the establishment of the religions themselves.

Call me a druid, but I think that these old growth shrines, like the CRD's Refugee Tree, have as much or more moral and spiritual significance than a lock of hair or scrap of hem from someones garment.

You can't live for an eon or more and not exude a certain aura of experience, wisdom, and patience.

The Refugee Tree is 13.72 meters in circumference (45 ft) 

Comparing these places to shrines is only one spiritual similarity. When surrounded by the giant column-like boles in an old growth forest, many people feel like they are in a cathedral. Indeed, that is exactly how Port Alberni's Cathedral Grove got its name.

The lofty heights take ones eye upwards to the canopy high overhead. Light filters through like beams through stained glass. The magnificence of the trees, plus the stillness and quiet, elicit a sense of humility in all gentle supplicants that enter here.

What we should be asking for is forgiveness, for the bulk of this cathedral has been desecrated and razed to the ground.

The Refugee Tree is surrounded by other older cedars and younger forest of Western Hemlock

The hike to the Refugee Tree is a short, but occasionally steep fifteen minutes from the Highway 14 pullout. The trail is marked with some flagging on some bush. Once you have found the trail, just follow the flagging right to the tree. The trail is overgrown in spots, and the trail is easy to miss if you are not paying attention. Always keep the next flag in sight before proceeding.

Away from the road the highway noise begins to fade and you can hear the distant roar of waves below. There are a few big hemlocks along the trail, but these are small compared to the Refugee and several other smaller, yet still impressive, red cedars in the area.

With the sound of the ocean below, and the fresh air surrounding you, it is soon apparent that a visit to the Refugee Tree is a worthwhile quest. Big trees and ancient forests have an amazing capacity to instill a sense of awe, as well as calm.

This is a special place, and if you are still and quiet, all questions are answered.

The adventurer returns, like after all successful pilgrimages, a renewed person with more respect and appreciation for the larger world.

There are other nice old growth trees around the Refugee Tree

Getting There

Directions from Victoria, BC – approx. 1 hour

  1. Take West Coast Road/Hwy #14 through Sooke towards Port Renfrew.
  2. Set your tripometer at Jordan River; you will drive approximately 17 km more before hitting the roadside turn out
  3. The turn out is at a corner which you can recognize by its cement barrier that runs along the left hand side of the road and the steep cliff face that runs along the right. Loss Creek is about 2 km past the turn out, so if you make it to the creek you can turn around and go back.
  4. Stop at the corner pull out on the ocean side, and park. From here y
    ou should be able to see out over the Juan de Fuca, and you can see the many spires on the top of the Refugee Tree.
  5. Walk along the road barrier toward Victoria while keeping an eye out for a bit of flagging in the bush to your right.
  6. Enter the forest by the flagging, and follow the faint trail. Before long you will come to a short steep section that requires caution. 
  7. After descending the small shelf you can follow the flagging and the trail to the tree.
  8. At the beginning of the trail notice the huge cedar stump on the left hand side. Many areas along this stretch of coast were clear cut logged 30 or 40 years ago. For reasons unknown, the odd huge cedar, including the CRD's largest, were left standing.
  9. Loss Creek, two km past the Refugee Tree, has areas of protected old growth Sitka Spruce forest. There are no services or established trails, just a nice creek and some great trees.

The Refugee Tree is currently unprotected as it grows on forestry land. The Juan de Fuca Trail, which passes by below, could be extended to include the tree and other bits of remnant old growth that are close by in the steep ravines.


Fog In The Forest

Fog floating in to Sooke Harbour off the Strait of Juan de Fuca

South Vancouver Island has a Mediterranean climate, the mildest in Canada. Summer droughts are the norm, and true to form, we have not had appreciable precipitation since June. Except for fog.

The fog showed up early this year, and we have had many beautifully misty days under otherwise blue skies. The trees on the coast benefit from the moisture as they filter it out of the low clouds passing their needles.

When the needles can hold the precious drops no longer, the life-giving liquid falls to the ground below; shriveling roots sip and rejoice.


McLaughlin Ridge Old Growth

McLaughlin Ridge, which contains a small part of the 1% of the CDF old growth remaining, is being logged
photo: AFA, TJ Watt

Not far from Port Alberni and the much visited and loved-to-death Cathedral Grove, lies a 500 hectare remnant of the once mighty Vancouver Island Coastal Douglas-fir ancient forest. While visitors to MacMillan Provincial Park, (of which Cathedral Grove is a part) enjoy one of the tallest, fattest, and oldest groves of trees on earth, Island Timberlands is logging a forest just like it on nearby McLaughlin Ridge.

Location of McLaughlin Ridge (Cathedral Grove is along hiway 4 at the west end of Cameron Lake), from AFA website

When there is only 1% of the original Coastal Douglas-fir forest left untouched by industrial activity, continued destruction of this ecologically diverse ecosystem may be legal, but it definitely is not moral, or an intelligent use of the land.

This is what remains of 100 hectares of the McLaughlin Ridge old growth forest, photo: AFA, TJ Watt

Biologists classified this forest, which is on private lands, as critical habitat to several species such as wintering deer and nesting goshawks. It is also critical habitat for big trees, which are endangered here. 400 foot plus Douglas-fir, which once were common in the ancient forest, are probably already extinct.

Big Douglas-fir in the ridge old growth forest, 23.5ft in circumference, 7.5ft in diameter, photo: AFA, TJ Watt

The government tells us that Cathedral Grove park "protects and preserves an internationally significant representative example of Douglas fir old-growth forest within the East Vancouver Island and the Coastal Douglas fir Biogeoclimatic Zone."

The park is established as Class "A", Category 2, Schedule A, and "is dedicated to the preservation of its particular natural environment for the inspiration, use and enjoyment of the public".

Here, the propaganda tells us, one "can stroll through a network of trails under the shadow of towering ancient Douglas-fir trees, majestic pillars untouched by the modern world – some more than 800 years old".

Or you could drive a bit further to McLaughlin Ridge, and see a similar forest being converted into a scarred and torn wasteland.

Conservationists are calling on the provincial government to purchase the land that this old growth forest covers. After clear cut logging 100 hectares of old growth, 400 hectares remains on McLaughlin Ridge. To liquidate it, and everything else that depends on it, is delusional folly at best.

These trees do not belong to Island Timberlands, or to the pro-business government. These trees, and all old growth forests belong to the earth, and all its citizens.

We can stop the destruction by saying NO to continued old growth exploitation on McLaughlin Ridge, and everywhere else it still exists.

See the Ancient Forest Alliance website for more information, and to see beautiful (and disturbing) TJ Watt photos of the McLaughlin Ridge ancient forest.


Community Concern Saves Oakland's St. Albans Sequoia

View St. Albans Sequoia To Be Saved in a larger map

Whether we are in the back country, or in urban areas, there is rarely good news when it comes to saving significant trees in British Columbia. Here, in Canada's most treed province, the value of our woody wonders has perhaps been diluted by the sheer volume of them.

Occasionally though, dentritic defenders win a battle, if not the war. Such is the case of the St. Albans Giant sequoia in the Victoria neighbourhood of Oaklands. It has been under threat since the property on which it grows was sold to developers.

Giant sequoia have a very long association with Victoria, even though the huge trees are native to California. That the trees exist here shows early Victoria's connection to the American state.

Some of the trees were brought as saplings by Californians moving north, and sequoia seeds were advertised in Victoria as early as 1860. Local nurseries also raised sequoias for sale locally. Many must have been planted by displaced Californians that missed their unique state tree.

Today, Victoria's Giant sequoias have become landmarks, and their conical tops tower above everything around them. The tallest sequoia, which may be the tallest tree in Victoria, is 52 meters (170 ft) tall. But let's get back to the sequoia on the St. Albans property.

Earlier this summer, Cindy, an Oaklands resident, contacted me to see if I might be able to offer some suggestions for saving several Garry oaks, and one sequoia. I responded with some ideas, and waited to hear of the fate of this landmark tree.

Recently I received a follow up email from Cindy. In it she says:
"Many people came out to the Community Association Land Use forum to speak out in favour of protecting the Sequoia tree. This resulted in these wishes being considered in the report drafted for recommendations associated with the approval of variance application being put forth by the developer. 
Over a month has passed and this morning, the application went before the Planning and Land Use Standing Committee.  I have good news!!  The committee approved staff recommendations that a restrictive covenant be registered on the Sequoia prior to a public hearing that will also take place! 
 In case you are interested, here is the report that the Committee considered, and upon which made its decision:
Planning and Land Use Standing Committee Report
Thank-you again for taking the time to help provide us with guidance.  This helped contribute to what looks like a happy ending!"
Loggers long ago removed the largest Western red-cedar and Douglas-fir from the Victoria area. With the native big tree competition gone, the biggest trees in town are Giant sequoias. All the old, huge sequoias have heritage value and deserve to be protected.

Congratulations to Cindy and the Oaklands neighbourhood for taking action on behalf of their neighbourhood giant, and saving it from becoming yet another victim of the relentless development that has been taking place here since the 1850s.

I am happy to have been a small part of the effort to successfully save what is probably the neighbourhood's oldest planted tree.

Are you trying to save a significant Vancouver Island big tree? Let us know in a comment, or contact us (see info on side bar). We are happy to help in any way we can.


50% of World's Forests Logged

With 50% of the world's forests already affected by logging, it is important that we take responsibility for caring for what is left. There are things that each of us can do to help save our forests.

Saving for all the other living things that depend on it, for future generations of humans to use and enjoy, and for the simple fact that forests as 'super-organisms' have the right to exist unimpeded by greed and mismanagement.

Each of us can do things to help save the world's forests:
  • be conscious of how we are using paper and other wood products - don't waste, recycle
  • buy wood products to last - a good wood cutting board could last generations if cared for properly
  • only buy certified wood products
  • refuse to use single use paper products
  • go paperless - printers cost a lot to maintain. We got rid of ours, and if we really need to print something out we go to the public library.
  • if you own a forest, practice good stewardship - you are only borrowing it from future generations
  • lobby politicians for an end to old growth logging - some countries have already put a moratorium on old growth logging, such as Japan and New Zealand.
  • consider alternatives to wood as a building material - steel, concrete, straw bale...
  • get out and visit big trees and old growth areas - let people know you value these special places


Refugee Trees

Sooke Harbour Douglas-fir in middle of photo, with Sitka spruce lining the beach to the right 

Wherever I go my gaze is automatically drawn to the landscape, especially the trees. Big trees poke out like beacons from the past. They whisper to me of an ancient forest of which they were once a part. Today, many of these trees stand alone.

This old Douglas-fir may be the largest tree on Sooke's Whiffin Spit, and is one of the largest in town

One such tree lives at the west end of Sooke Harbour on Whiffin Spit in Sooke, BC. It is another one of those refugees that dot the land, standing alone surrounded by younger trees and in this case, residential development.

Standing at 30 meters (98 ft) plus, this ancient entity has been here longer than the Europeans who have exploited the original forest to near-extinction.

Sooke is an excellent place to fill your tree spotting life list as it sits in a transitional zone between Vancouver Island's two major ecosystems. To the east and up the inside coast is the dry Coastal Douglas-fir ecozone, and to the west and north is the wetter Western Hemlock ecozone. It is a big tree spotting paradise.


Logging In Walbran Valley May Threaten Champion Red Cedar

The Castle Giant (5 meter diameter, and registered Champion), is a Western red-cedar in the unprotected
Upper Walbran Valley, that may be threatened by logging. photo: T.J. Watt, Ancient Forest Alliance
The wilderness of Vancouver Island is an unusual landscape where industrial clear cuts boarder shrinking areas of pristine old growth.

On one side, the sounds of chain saws, helicopters, and monster trucks carrying now-inert ancient trees; and on the other, mist floating through a 10,000 years old ecosystem, wetting the rain coast undergrowth. Pileated woodpeckers call from the fluted trunks of massive thousand year old cedars.

I have not visited the big trees of Vancouver Island's back country as much as I would like this past summer. Considering that, I appreciate the work of the people who are out 'in the bush', navigating dusty washboard gravel roads shared with loaded logging trucks, to visit the old growth and report back to the rest of us.

The adventurous forests defenders of Victoria-based Ancient Forest Alliance are examples of individuals that are acting as our eyes in endangered old growth rain forest areas. They drive to rough and rugged foggy places where few dare to tread (although more all the time), and often the information they bring back is vital and disturbing.

One of their most recent field trips was no different.
"Members of the Ancient Forest Alliance found the tape in the Upper Walbran Valley, near Castle Grove, which contains the Castle Giant, a western red cedar with a five-metre diameter. The tree is listed in the provincial big tree registry as one of the widest in Canada.
“Castle Grove is ground zero for the ancient forest movement on southern Vancouver Island, both historically and today,” said Ken Wu, Ancient Forest Alliance executive director. “To try and log it is insanity — it will only escalate the war in the woods to a whole new level,” he said.
The logging tape, marked “falling boundary,” is less than 50 metres from the Castle Giant, said Alliance campaigner TJ Watt who discovered the tape." - read more here
It seems that no one in government, or the company that operates in the area (Teal Jones Group of Surrey), knows anything about logging activity in the area in question. Or at least they aren't willing to speak to why the area has been flagged for falling.

The Teal Jones Group is a private logging company whose website states that the organization "recognizes that only through respect for all aspects of our environment can we consistently achieve our objectives and commitments in the long term productivity and conservation of natural resources."

However, cutting trees up to 1000 years plus does not show respect. And then planting a few seedlings doesn't cut it, unless they are planning on letting the seedlings grow for the next several hundred to 1000 years before they harvest again.

How about even 250 years? This is about the time required for the coastal forest to mellow into the next old growth phase, and attain a level of biomass not seen in any other ecosystem.

No, the next harvest here, in order for logging companies like Teal Jones to 'achieve their objectives' of increasing profits, will be in 60 to 80 years.

Once it is logged, the old growth forest and all the diversity that goes with it is gone forever. That is why it is so important to save what is left, including the Upper Walbran Valley's Castle Grove and champion trees like the Castle Giant.

Say NO to old growth logging.


Gulf View Picnic Ground

If you happen to be in North Saanich visiting the big trees of John Dean Park, you might consider adding a stop at the nearby Gulf View Picnic Ground. This accessible 2.5 acre park has been hosting the public since 1936 after a successful public campaign to preserve land and viewscapes for public use and recreation.

This space is also known as National Gravity Net Station #9041-1979, which is marked by a small benchmark disk on site (N 48° 37.042 W 123° 24.980). Gravity Net Stations "contain information pertaining to gravity standardization networks in Canada and abroad, gravity mapping in Canada, instrumental parameters, digital terrain and crustal motion." Wow - watch for gravity anomalies!

Little bench, big tree
The view is the best thing here as there are not any monster trees left in this location. However, by most people's standards, the Douglas-fir trees that are here are nothing to shake a stick at.

Spectacular Gulf view
As the name implies, this small picnic ground has great views to Bazan Bay, the southern Gulf Islands, the San Juan Islands and Mount Baker. Here you are looking at a unique ecozone that produced some of the biggest trees on the planet.

Along the east coast of Vancouver Island is prime coastal Douglas-fir territory. John Dean Park, a short drive up Mt. Newton from the picnic ground, is a good example of a mature Douglas-fir forest.

The climate in this small, narrow ecozone is the driest on the island, and creates perfect conditions for Douglas-fir, Grand fir, Arbutus, and Garry oak to thrive.

Nice trees and a nice view
Gulf View Picnic Ground is a great place for a stop before or after a John Dean Park hike through the giant trees. Take a load off, have bite to eat, or just sit or lay around and enjoy this beautiful public space.

Getting There

The picnic ground is east off of East Saanich Road in North Saanich. It is near the intersection of E. Saanich Road and Dean Park Road (the access to John Dean Prov. Park). Park is open during daylight hours.

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