Metchosin's Largest Tree

Is this Metchosin's largest tree? Photo: Utopia Photo-Blog
Some say that this magnificent specimen is "Metchosin's largest tree". The old-growth Douglas-fir measures 8.69 metres (28.5ft) in circumference, and 2.74 meters (9ft) in diameter. It grows on a hillside near Matheson Lake, east of Sooke.

Matheson Lake Park has several large, scattered, old growth trees that escaped the ecocide that took their contemporaries.


Goldstream Park: Accessible Old Growth

Accessible old growth forest just 30 minutes from downtown Victoria, 
Goldstream Park (day use area)
There is nowhere else in the Victoria region that I know of that a person can as easily access as many big trees as in Goldstream Park. It is unfortunate that this amazing, small bit of remnant old growth is split by the busy Trans Canada Highway, but don't let the road noise stop you from enjoying this living museum.

In comments on past posts here, VIBT reader and big tree guy, Samuel Bednarski, has noted the champions among the 800 year old trees in Goldstream Park.
"Goldstream still holds the crown for Victoria area big trees at 80+ meters. There are cedars that reach 72 meters, and the tallest Douglas-fir is 82 meters. There are many 70+ meter tall trees, especially off the highway."
"A few hundred metres south of where the Trans-Canada Highway meets Finlayson Arm Road, there is a grove of trees on the east side of the road that I have not measured, and are about 80 metres tall." 
Those are some pretty impressive numbers. Are these the tallest trees in the CRD? Samuel thinks so, and he should know - he has a laser device for easy and accurate measurement of trees, and has used it here.

Looking up the trunk of a Goldstream Park old growth Douglas-fir

The day use part of Goldstream contains many huge trees that one can drive or walk right by, and there are several trails for hiking. The primeval forest still dominates here, and is populated by gigantic, ancient Western red-cedar, Douglas-fir, Bigleaf maple, Grand fir, and Black cottonwood.

Broken Western red-cedar surrounded by Bigleaf maple along Goldstream River

This is part of the 1% of the old growth Coastal Douglas-fir forest that remains after 150 years of depletion. 99% of the trees outside of parks have not been so lucky. Goldstream Park and places like it exist to remind us of what we have lost. Hopefully they also provide the inspiration and motivation to  stop the continued destruction of the tiny bit of old growth that remains.

Day use area parking lot - big tree drive through

There remains a lot to be discovered in this island of old growth. Check it out - spend a day in a temperate rain forest with trees that were already large when Europeans were living in walled cities, and errant knights in shining armour roamed the countryside.

For more information see here.


St. Albans Sequoia Needs Divine Intervention

Image shows St. Albans property with the church, behind which lives a Giant sequoia (the tallest tree) currently on death row. Slated to be cut for development, it may be the oldest planted tree in the Oaklands neighbourhood.  View Larger Map of St. Albans, Oaklands, Victoria, BC

Canadians are generally tree-defending people that consider significant trees to be community assets to be shared and enjoyed by all. We don't talk so much about "your" trees or "my" trees as much as "the community's" trees, since we all benefit from their presence. However, not everyone sees it that way.

Where some see history and beauty to be protected, others see distracting impediments to their plans. This often leads to clashes over trees and green space with a preservation-oriented public, and pro-development governments and business people taking sides in adversarial standoffs.

Such is the case in the community of Oaklands, where what may be the oldest planted tree in the neighbourhood is under threat of the chain saw. The sale of St. Albans, a former Anglican church property, is threatening the magnificent, and much loved, Giant sequoia as well as valuable green space with several Garry oaks. It looks like divine intervention might be needed to save the trees.

A concerned tree-loving citizen of the community contacted me via email shortly before a public forum (Thursday, July 19, 2012) took place to discuss the developer's plans, and the community's wishes. The email states:
"I am a resident of the Oaklands community (adjacent to Fernwood).  At the site of the St.Albans property (former Anglican church property, recently sold to a developer) there is a Giant Sequoia that is currently under threat of being taken down to accommodate the developers plans.  There is a public forum on Thursday at our Community Centre to discuss the variance application being put forward and it is believed that it will be argued that the Sequoia must come down (I understand that the developer will be bringing her arborist to the meeting).   
There are many in the community that feel very strongly about that property in general (and in fact an attempt by the community to acquire it was made in the spring) and the Greenways/trees that run along the front of the property in particular.
One of my neighbours believes very strongly that the tree, 'has /had a Heritage Tree Certificate.  But I have not seen it in recent years; it was presumably kept with other parish records which are now either lost or at the diocesan archives.'
I have sent a message to someone to make inquiries with the Anglican Church and I have also had it confirmed by the City Parks dept. that there is no covenant on the tree, but I wonder if there is somewhere else I should be looking to confirm this? Do you have any ideas on how we might argue that the tree must stay?  How do we convince the City that the developers plans must preserve this tree?"
Of course, the best protection for trees is education, but when a tree is about to come down, urgent action is required. Victoria has a tree protection bylaw (see an overview here), so the city is the first place I would start. Other avenues of action could include checking to see:
  • if removal defies your municipality's urban forest (or other) plan.
  • whether removal contravenes your municipality's tree bylaw.
  • checking to see if the permit for removal, if issued, considered all mitigating factors.
  • checking if the tree is a 'heritage tree'.
  • if all alternatives have been considered.
  • if removal makes aboricultural (tree) sense.
  • if anyone has talked directly with the developer/landowner to see if mitigation is possible.
If all negotiations fail, and the municipality will not intervene or rescind the permit to cut the tree, and you feel that there are still alternatives to be considered, further actions could include:
  • contacting the local media about the story, and being available for an on-site interview.
  • contacting a lawyer to ascertain your right to ask for a stop work order until the issue is resolved.
It is surprising that the sequoia is not already protected under Victoria's tree bylaw, since it has both heritage and landmark value. It could be over 100 years old, and may have been planted around the same time as many other sequoias that early settlers from California brought with them in the late 1800s. This one may have originally been planted on a farm as the Oaklands area was farmland from Victoria's inception right up until the 1920s when the last farmer's field was subdivided for residential development.

Also, any tree on private property over 80 cm in trunk diameter is protected by the bylaws. The community has expressed the importance of the trees on the property, both the giant sequoia and the Garry oak, a threatened species in the Coastal Douglas-fir eco-zone.

I see no reason why all these trees can not be incorporated into the new development. Indeed, they would make anything built there even more attractive to potential new neighbours.

Good luck to the community of Oaklands - you have taken on a difficult, but worthy struggle. It would be sad to see these trees taken down. The sequoia could live for 3000 more years!

Contact us at VIBT (see sidebar) if you have any ideas or skills that could be useful toward helping in this opportunity for citizen action, and tree preservation.


Metchosin Holdouts - Old Growth Survivors

Ancient Douglas-fir in Metchosin close to Taylor and Rocky Point Rds,
seen from Kangaroo Rd looking south west
Bilston Creek Farm was established in 1853, and was the first colonial settlement of Metchosin. Up until then the Coastal Douglas-fir ecosystem had existed relatively unchanged since the end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago. Groves of giant fir were interspersed with Garry oak meadows. Arbutus grew on rocky outcrops and along the ocean.

After the arrival of Europeans, much of the original forest in the area was altered. But patches of old forest remain, and while much of it is on private property, parks in the area also provide a refuge.

Metchosin is not pro-development like neighbouring municipalities, so other than the agricultural areas, most of the land is covered in forest. For the patient tree hunter, individual giant first growth trees can still be found.

One such tree is the seemingly out-of-place, over-sized Douglas-fir that can be seen on private land just off Rocky Point Road near the intersection with Taylor Road. This lonely senior citizen of the forest continues to hold on after living for hundreds of years, and experiencing the death of most of its kin. Now it stands alone among the young whipper-snappers of trees half its size.

This big, old Douglas-fir has size and character - truly an impressive specimen
This wrinkled grandparent tree has swayed through countless gales blowing off the close-by ocean, and no doubt these strong winds have imposed many an indignity on the tree's lofty branches. Now, with deeply wrinkled bark and a dying leader up top, this graying holdout perches us on its rooty knees and regales us with stories of the mighty ancient forest that it was part of until recently.

We would be wise to listen to these elders, and learn the lessons they have to share with us. Otherwise, will the children of the future know that there were once magnificent trees such as this?


Log Booms Past And Present

Log boom off Clover Point in Victoria, July 04, 2012
Log booms were once a common sight on Canada's west coast. During Vancouver Island's logging heyday in the 1950s, giant log booms transported the big trees from the Douglas-fir forests of the east coast to mills up the Fraser River. The rafts, like long puzzles assembled in protected booming grounds, held millions of board feet of prime timber.

The Strait of Georgia was a salt water highway for the industry, and tugs towed rafts hundreds of meters long in an often perilous journey. Quickly changing weather, fog, strong tides, and rocks were constant threats, and many a log were lost on the trip.

Up until recently, the only log booms in transit I have witnessed were along the Sunshine Coast on Georgia Strait. Therefore, I was surprised to see a large boom off Clover Point during a recent visit to Victoria. Judging by the crowd that was gathered to see the tugboat maneuver the boom along the shore, it is indeed a rare sight these days.

Prior to the late 1980s, log booms entering Sooke Harbour destined for the old mill on Goodridge Island could be seen frequently.

Log booms at Sooke Forest Products mill, Goodridge Island, in the 1970's
Photo: Sooke News Mirror
The decades after WWII were boom years for logging on southern Vancouver Island as the industry creamed out on the best trees that will ever grow here. The Sooke Forest Products mill cut Douglas-fir into railway ties destined for the UK, and milled Douglas-fir and Hemlock into lumber for industrial and home construction. In the 1970s the mill began to process only Western red-cedar, the wonder wood of the west coast.

The Sooke Forest Products mill closed its doors for good at the end of the 1980s, which signaled the end of the logging era in the small coastal town.

As the most lucrative old growth becomes increasingly rare, logging is in decline. You are more likely to see a bulk whole log carrier shipping second and third growth trees overseas, than tugs towing booms along the salt water highway. 


Who's Really Poaching B.C.'s Old Growth?

Stump of ancient red cedar hauled away by poachers, Torrance Coste photo
With southern Vancouver Island's near total loss of unlogged watersheds and low elevation forests, we have to look at who is taking the last of the big trees. Since 1853, about 90 percent of the low elevation ancient forests, where the largest trees and greatest biodiversity can be found, have been logged.

In the above photo, Torrance Coste, of the Wilderness Committee, revisits the site of the recent tree poaching in Carmanah/Walbran Park.

Illegal poaching of Vancouver Island's trees is not unknown, or surprising, considering that an increasingly rare large Western red cedar can yield thousands of dollars worth of shakes, shingles, and other products.

In the Carmanah incident, an 800 year old cedar was cut through by poachers, but left standing. Parks officials had to knock the tree down as it was an obvious hazard to visitors. The thieves returned later to haul away the carcass. They have not yet been caught and held responsible for their crime.

Massive, 1000 year old red cedar 'legally' cut by government sanctioned loggers
Some would say that the ongoing elimination of the island's old growth forests by government-sanctioned logging interests is a crime. With most of these trees, among the largest and oldest on the planet, long gone, it boggles the mind as to how we can justify continuing the slaughter.

The massive red cedar stump above was photographed by TJ Watt of the Ancient Forest Alliance. It was freshly cut in the Klanawa Valley (northwest of Nitinat Lake on Vancouver Island) in June 2011. It may have been legal, but I don't think it is moral.

The Klanawa Valley is not far from Pacific Rim National Park, and the location of the Cheewhat Cedar, Canada's largest tree.

Paul George visiting old growth logging bordering Cathedral Grove Park in 2000
Paul George is the founder of the Wilderness Committee. He is also the author of the 2005 book Big Trees, Not Big Stumps. The photo above shows George visiting the location of forest giant Weyerhaeuser's ancient forest destruction next to world famous Cathedral Grove in 2000.

While the legalities may differ between 'poaching' and 'logging' the old growth, the results are identical. One is illegal, the other legal, but both are wrong.

Destroying Vancouver Island's last stands of old growth trees is a crime any way you look at it.


Big Trees, Big Roots

Giant roots holding an old growth Douglas-fir as it slumps
 into the sea on Billings Spit, Sooke Harbour

The misty coastal forest is the place to see monumental trees. As awesome as these giants are, we are only seeing 3/4 of the total tree, and even less of the total forest life. There is a lot going on under our feet as our gaze is lifted skyward.

Roots can compose 25% or more of the total biomass of a tree. Scientists have found that up to 66% of a Douglas-fir forest's total biomass is out of sight underground.

Trees on Port Renfrew beach showing root remnants
A sapling can have several feet of roots, so it is not surprising that an ancient tree can have hundreds of kilometers of them. An old growth tree 150 meters (300 ft) tall and and 5 meters (15 ft) wide, needs an extensive root system to support the trunk and canopy.

Early settlers on Vancouver Island used bonfires and dynamite to extract the massive stumps and roots when clearing the big trees of the primal forest.
"Well into the 20th century 'stumping powder' (low-grade dynamite) was used to blow a stump apart, so that the fragments could be removed more easily. Someone wishing to remove a stump tunneled under it, inserted enough powder to break it apart (preferably without damaging the arable soil), lit a fuse and got out of the way. If the detonation didn't come, it was best to avoid the area for a day or so, as many a stump-wrangler lost life or limb to a belated blast."  - source

This Western red cedar's roots look a lot like octopus tentacles
Roots anchor the tree, provide uptake of nutrients and water for growth, store food reserves, and produce organic materials required for tree growth. Roots also interact with beneficial fungi, and with other trees.

Tree roots exposed by the flowing waters of Sooke River
Douglas-fir roots readily fuse together, blending the lines between individual trees (and species of trees) and the forest as one large organism. This crossover of roots can keep the stump of a cut Douglas-fir alive long enough to grow a layer of bark over the cut.

Roots are fragile structures that can't handle rough treatment. Soil compaction restricts water and oxygen uptake, and can be caused by heavy foot traffic over the tree's root zone. It is best to avoid, if possible, walking or driving over a tree's roots.

Small protective fence surrounding the Harris Creek Spruce, Port Renfrew
It is because of potential soil compaction and root damage that you will find fences and boardwalks around some of Vancouver Island's most visited big trees. The Harris Creek Spruce has a small protective fence around its ample base, but a raised boardwalk would be ideal.

Heaven Tree boardwalk, Carmanah/Walbran Park
Heaven Tree, in Carmanah/Walbran Park, has boardwalks built over the tree's roots and around the tree's circumference. Such measures prevent soil compaction over the root zone, and helps protect these trees from being loved to death.

Next time you are out in the forest, pause to consider all the activity that is occurring under your feet. Notice the places roots make their presence known, such as along hiking trails through the forest, and in areas that have been eroded, leaving roots exposed.

The 'feet' of the giants can be as fascinating as their more glamorous and obvious parts.

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