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.


John Dean Park: Saanich's Largest Old Growth Forest

The parking lot is in the heart of John Dean Park, and trees hundreds of years old tower overhead
John Dean Provincial Park, north of Victoria, is a special place. The area has been known as a sanctuary for the original peoples since time immemorial. Visiting this out of the way, quiet ancient forest will reveal why. Here you can stroll through the lands of the Pauquachin 1st Nation, and be surrounded by wrinkled, grey-barked trees in a forest that drips with ghostly antiquity.

Big trees everywhere!
In more recent times, a European settler also found sanctuary in the groves on Mount Newton. The park is named after the man whose land gift started the park, it was the first donation of its kind in British Columbia. John Dean was against the rapid development of the Victoria area during his day, and actively opposed what he saw as the destruction of the area's natural beauty. He saw his donation as a way to preserve a bit of what was left.

A Western hemlock growing on a previously logged Western red-cedar stump is a common association
- downed logs and stumps provide nutrients for the forest's next generation of trees
Recognizing a good idea when they saw it, four other neighbours (and the province), chipped in with land donations of their own, increasing the size of the park from Dean's original 32 hectares in 1921, to 173 hectares by 1960. It is the largest tract of mature Douglas-fir forest left on the Saanich Peninsula.

Culturally modified trees remind visitors that 1st Nations continue to use the forest as they have
for thousands of years
Along with Douglas-fir that are so huge that they are free of branches for the first 30 meters up their fat trunks, there are also large Western red-cedar, Grand fir, Hemlock, and Garry oak in exposed rocky outcrops. The largest trees are 70 meters (210 ft) tall and 3 meters (9 ft) wide, and in some places are densely packed throughout the shady forest.

Some of the big trees are very accessible, others have restricted access to protect them and their fragile surroundings

There are a variety of trails throughout the park's 400 plus acres. The largest trees can be found via the Valley Mist Trail, or Illahie Loop. A steeper trail descends to the right of the park map sign leading to a T-junction. Turn left for the Illahie Loop, and right to hike to a beautiful lily pond and beyond. Some of the park's biggest trees are scattered about the forest in this area.

This lily pond, a short hike from the parking lot, is a great place to sit and contemplate the dragonflies hunting over the water
John Dean Park provides a sanctuary from the hustle of modern life, as well as from the heat on a scorching August day. The park with its many well-marked trails, mature forest, and abundant wildlife, make it a worthy destination for a day of exploration and revitalization. Here you can visit some of the largest Douglas-fir trees on southern Vancouver Island.

Directions To John Dean Park

John Dean Provincial Park is located near Sidney on southern Vancouver Island. The park can be accessed off Hwy #17. Turn west onto McTavish Road, south onto East Saanich Road, then west onto Dean Park Road. Follow Dean Park Road until you reach the park.

Note: The access road into the park is closed between November and March.

A park Western red-cedar - tree of life


Why We Can't Save Our Last Old Growth

Logging? What logging?
It may be cynical, but I often wonder if anyone is actually paying attention to what is happening globally to our original forests, the likes of which we may never see again.

It is a fact that life is complicated, with many distractions. But let us look at the facts of what we are losing while being consumed by all our trivial things.

  • Vancouver Island has lost over 75% of its productive old growth forests, including 90% of the valley bottoms where the biggest trees and richest biodiversity are found.
  • continued old growth logging below 30% of intact forests creates a high probability of massive species loss 
  • 99% of the old growth coastal Douglas-fir forest on Vancouver Island has been logged already 
  • some of the biggest, tallest, and oldest trees on earth are still being logged in British Columbia
Governments and multinational logging companies are planning on taking 100% of our original forests. If we don't wake up and stop them, who will?


We Need To Harvest Trees

When a tree is milled every part of it is used except the smell

There is a saying that when a tree is milled that every part of it is used except the smell. That is good to know, because our trees are a necessary resource, and we should be making the most of every single one. But what good is the efficiency in the mills if our forests are being completely wasted at the same time?

Tree cutting is something that every tree-loving human must come to grips with. We need to harvest trees. Some scientists believe that civilization would have been impossible without the thousands of things produced with trees' wood, leaves, bark and roots. Trees are also a major source of energy around the world. Many homes on Vancouver Island are heated with wood stoves.

We need to harvest trees.

However, we do NOT need to harvest old growth trees, except in some circumstances where the unique properties of old wood are required, such as in instrument making. Careful selective old growth logging, that takes individual trees from forests in a sustainable way, would ensure this resource is around for future luthiers.

The wholesale clear cutting of original forests, wherever they are, is a very unwise practice. This is what is occurring in British Columbia, as has been the case for the past 150 years. It is not sustainable. When forests are cut on a 60 -80 year cycle, they never again reach the rich old age of old growth, which is at least 250 years old.

It is probable that industrial-scale logging of old growth, even that deemed sustainable, actually is not. Even the so-called 'sustainable forest management' practices can not sustain natural ecosystems. When you take the high value timber, you take the rest of the forest with it, and the ecosystem is damaged beyond repair.

BC's last remaining old growth should be made off-limits to logging immediately. Only 1% of the Coastal Douglas-fir forest on Vancouver Island remains in its original unlogged state. Even that small bit of forest is being hacked away at in a rush for the last of the big ones.

We need to harvest trees, but we do not need to harvest our last little bits of old growth. Unfortunately, our elected officials do not agree, and are in the process of selling off the last of the big trees until they are gone, and the ecological integrity of the primeval forest has been lost forever.

Then what?

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