Phillips Road Big Trees, Sooke

The tiny vehicle gives scale to this tall line of trees marching down Phillips Rd in Sooke.
The column consists of older Douglas fir and Sitka spruce.

Only eight years ago when I first moved to Sooke, upper Phillips Road (which runs along the west side of the Sooke River) was still like an entrance to the old forest. Here were some of the largest trees remaining within the municipal boundary.

At that time two massive Douglas fir elders stood on either side of the road creating a narrow bottle neck that I knew would need to go some day when development came farther up the road.

The centuries old trees were so close on either side of the pavement that they had large scars on their bark from multiple contacts with vehicles trying to squeeze through.

There has been development in this area since the earliest days of European settlement, but it was mostly limited to small farms along the Sooke River.

I was happy when these trees were spared during roadway upgrading in this developing area.
The empty field in the foreground is now a thriving community garden.
Now the Sunriver neighbourhood has added hundreds of new homes and the treescape has been dramatically and permanently altered. Eventually the two large trees guarding the entrance to the old forest on upper Phillips Rd. became impediments to development, and were taken down. The stumps were pulled and an upgraded roadway was put in.

Other spectacular trees survived the on-going transformation of this part of Sooke, including the tall row of trees across Phillips Rd. from the community garden. There are others to be found here and there along the Sooke River that runs along the eastern edge of this new neighbourhood.


Hemp Can Save Trees

It is unnecessary to cut ancient trees for pulp and paper when a crop of hemp
could produce four times as much fibre in a single season.


"Emily Carr: Deep Forest" At Vancouver Art Gallery

A Rushing Sea of Undergrowth, Emily Carr, 1932-35.

This weekend is a celebration of Emily Carr's 142nd birthday. The local artist was born in Victoria on December 13th, 1871.

Emily Carr was a friend of Vancouver Island's forests. Throughout her life she sought to plumb their mossy green depths to hopefully some day say she really knew this magnificent ecosystem.

Her paintings document her quest to learn as much from the Victoria area's big trees as she could, then depict that in her images.

“This perhaps is the way to find that thing I long for: go into the woods alone and look at the earth crowded in growth, new and old bursting from their strong roots hidden in the silent, live ground, each seed according to its own kind expanding, bursting, pushing its way upward towards the light and air, each one knowing what to do, each one demanding its own rights on the earth. Feel this growth, the surging upwards, this expansion, the pulsing life, all working with the same idea…life, life, life…”
From "Hundreds and Thousands: The Journals of Emily Carr." 

Soon you will be able to experience Carr's vision in a new exhibit of her work. "Emily Carr: Deep Forest" at the Vancouver Art Gallery will exhibit over 40 paintings starting December 21, 2013.

Most of the paintings are scenes within 25 km of Carr's home near Victoria, and were completed in the 1930s.

Scorned as Timber Beloved of the Sky, Emily Carr, 1935.

After a trip to view the exhibit, one can get first hand exposure to some of the same forests that the artist enjoyed on the south island. While vastly altered, the green fuse still drives growth and the trees still pulse with life.

"I glory in our wonderful west and I hope to leave behind me some of the relics of its first primitive greatness. These things should be to us Canadians what the ancient Briton's relics are to the English. 
Only a few more years and they will be gone forever into silent nothingness and I would gather my collection together before they are forever past."

One can visit the forest here and be surrounded by the power of nature that so gripped Emily Carr. The natural power of trees that kept her mesmerized is still to be found.

But how long before a trip to the trees yields a vast "silent nothingness"?


Magical Mossy Maples

It's the season of the Moss in the Pacific rain forest

Rolling stones gather no moss, but trees sure do. Now is the best time to see the display of aerial gardens in the Pacific rain forest. These epiphytic plants  hang from the trunks and branches of trees in a display that may only be rivalled by the Fangorn Forest itself.

Especially cloaked in the temperate rain forest are the Big leaf maples.

The climate is mild enough that there are plants growing year round here. Some species thrive in the mild winter temperatures. Included in this category would be a wide variety of mosses and some ferns.

Moss-dripped trees are reminiscent of Tolkien's Fangorn Forest.

During summer droughts moss goes into stasis until relieved by fall rains. Then through the slide
toward the shortest day of the year the moss gains a robust, puffy green that is best enjoyed this time of year.

Big leaf maple also has an association with the epiphytic licorice fern.

The association between moss and the maple trees is mutually beneficial for both. Nature is expert at ensuring such win-win interactions between species.

The moss gets a scaffolding on which to grow and thrive. These "air plants" are able to absorb water and nutrients from the atmosphere, rain, and bits of forest debris. What does the tree derive from this symbiotic relationship?

The Big leaf maple has the ability to grow "canopy roots" from the tops of their branches up into the rafts of moss, thus gaining water and nutrients from them.

Just like in Tolkien's Middle Earth forest, there is magic at work in this world's Pacific rain forest.


And The Wind Said

"And the wind said,
May you be as strong as the Douglas fir,
yet as flexible as the cedar.
May you stand as tall as the Redwood,
live gracefully as the willow,
and may you always bear fruit
all your days on this Earth."


Big Fish, Big Trees: Sooke's Ayum Creek

Big fish in Ayum Creek.

Ayum Creek in Sooke is a good place to witness how salmon and the forest interact. Although one is a water creature that cruises the ocean's depths, and another a fixed feature of the land, these diverse species need each other.

This fern-covered Bigleaf maple greets visitors to Ayum Creek Regional Park Reserve

Most people know that salmon need both fresh and salt water during their life cycle. Less well known is that large, old trees are just as important to all seven species of salmon that have lived and died in Vancouver Island waters for 10 - 12,000 years.

Ayum creek is a small spawning stream that contains coho and chum salmon, as well as steelhead and cutthroat trout. These species are dependent on large trees in the riparian habitat along the banks, as well as large woody debris in the water to provide more structure and an improved habitat.

Evidence of this land's industrial past. There used to be an early saw mill
and log sort on the 6.4 hectare site where the park now sits.

"The abundance of coho can be limited by the number of suitable territories available (Larkin 1977). Pool habitat is important not only for returning adults, but for all stages of juvenile development. Preferred pool habitat includes deep pools with riparian cover and woody debris."

"Streams with more structure (logs, undercut banks, etc.) support more coho (Scrivener and Andersen 1982), not only because they provide more territories (usable habitat), but they also provide more food and cover. "

"There is a positive correlation between the amount of insect material in the stomachs of salmon and the extent the stream was overgrown with vegetation (Chapman 1965). In addition, the leaf litter in the fall contributes to aquatic insect production (Meehan et al. 1977)."                              
          - source

But the fish aren't the only winners. The trees and riparian habitat benefit from the nutrients found in the dead salmon. Often bears, gulls, and other creatures pull dead salmon into the forest to dine on. Uneaten portions are left in the woods.

Once there, the nitrogen in the decaying fish fertilizes the surrounding plants, including the trees, helping them reach their impressive proportions.

Researchers have reported up to 70 percent of the nitrogen found in riparian zone foliage comes from salmon. One study concluded that "trees on the banks of salmon-stocked rivers grow more than three times faster than their counterparts along salmon-free rivers and, growing side by side with salmon, Sitka spruce take 86 years, rather the usual 300 years, to reach 50 cm thick."

While there are not any giant ancient trees in Ayum Park, there are a nice selection of medium sized trees that are growing larger with the benefit of the park's protection, and the salmon's nitrogen.


Logging Vancouver Island's Last Stands

Below is Cathedral Grove and its huge ancient trees - up above trees just like them are being cut down
 by logging giant Island Timberlands. But don't worry - it's all legal. Photo: TJ Watt

How much of Vancouver Island's dwindling patches of old growth forest do logging companies wish to cut down? All of them. 100% And if not that, then as much as they can get away with.

On October 19, MLA Scott Fraser and myself met with Island Timberlands’ CEO Darshan Sihota, and asked him if he was intending to save any old-growth Douglas-fir forests – his reply was that it was his legal right to log it ALL. 

So despite the BC government’s scientists formerly designating these vital wildlife habitats for protection when they were still within the Tree Farm Licence, Island Timberlands sees nothing wrong with harvesting the old growth forests across all their lands. 

This even includes the mountainside above Cathedral Grove, Canada’s most famous old-growth forest.

- Jane Morden, coordinator Port Alberni Watershed-Forest Alliance 

It is evident that there is no one in industry or government with enough gumption to do the right thing. That is why you will hear them talking a lot about rights and laws, jobs and the economy, but not so much about responsibilities, natural law and morality, or sustainability.

Timberlands bigwig Sihota thinks that all the ancient Douglas fir on "his" lands belong to him and he can do as he wishes with them. It says so in the law. But laws that allow this travesty to continue to the point of the extinction of an entire ecosystem is what Thomas Aquinas called a "perversion of law".

Natural law holds that law and morality are connected. How inconvenient this must be for corporations and their shareholders.

Law is not simply what is enacted in statutes. If legislation is not moral, then it is not law and has no authority. This view is frequently summarized by the maxim: “an unjust law is not a true law”.

In order for man-made law to be valid it must accord with higher law. The highest laws are the laws of nature. If we break those we are setting ourselves up for some severe punishment down the road regardless of what human courts say.

Logging the last wild ancient trees knowing that we will never see the likes of them again on these lands is surely breaking all the laws of nature.

Bad things happen when good people act as passive participants in the destruction. Only we can save the last big trees.

A visit to the Ancient Forest Alliance FB page right now is a crash course in the liquidation of our remaining primal forests. I highly recommend a visit to see TJ Watt's aerial shots of Vancouver Island's last stands of undisturbed old growth.

The last big tree and land grab is on its way in BC. This time they are desperate and have full governmental support, both provincially and federally. They are coming for our trees. And how much do they want?

All of it. 100%


Are big-five forest firms about to get a windfall?

Ancient Douglas fir on Juniper Ridge marked for death so Island Timberlands shareholders (including the BC government, Timberland's single largest investor), can realize more profit.
Photo: TJ Watt

Are big-five forest firms about to get a windfall?

From: The Province - Ben Parfitt, October 20, 2013

Shortly before the May election, the provincial government withdrew legislation that could have handed de facto control of publicly owned forestlands to a handful of forest companies.

The contentious sections of the bill were dropped amid a swelling chorus of questions about why such a gift would be bestowed without any debate about what it meant for our shared lands and resources.

It took little time, however, for the government to reverse direction again. During a campaign stop in Burns Lake, Premier Christy Clark said that if re-elected, her government would reintroduce the bill because that is what “the people” wanted.

Given that only weeks earlier the government had pulled the bill from the order papers in response to objections from First Nation leaders, environmental organizations, social-justice advocates and forest professionals, among others, the premier’s choice of words was, to say the least, odd.

What “people” did she refer to? Well, we may soon find out. Following her party’s re-election, the premier instructed Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Steve Thomson to make the campaign pledge a reality.

A good bet is that the answer lies in understanding who would benefit most from such a change. In that regard, the shareholders of the five largest forest companies operating in the province fit the bill nicely.

Between them, Canadian Forest Products, West Fraser Timber, International Forest Products, Tolko Industries and Western Forest Products control the bulk of what is logged each year in British Columbia. They would control even more under the proposed legislative changes.

To understand what is at stake, it helps to know that outside of parks, virtually every standing tree in B.C. is spoken for, because the province has allocated the rights to log them under numerous licences issued to forest companies, logging contractors, woodlot owners, First Nations and communities.

The most important and valuable of those licences are Tree Farm Licences. Holders of TFLs have exclusive rights to log trees over defined areas of land. Currently, TFL holders log about 11.3 million cubic metres of trees per year (a cubic metre equals one telephone pole). Of that, the top five companies control 9.1 million cubic metres or 80 per cent. TFLs are as close as one gets to private control of public forestlands in B.C.

The next most important licences are forest licences. Forest licence holders have rights to log set numbers of trees over vast landmasses known as Timber Supply Areas or TSAs. But because many different companies may hold forest licences within the same TSA, forest licences have less value than TFLs, which give one company exclusive control over a specific area.

One other essential detail: the most valuable forest licences are “replaceable” or renewable. Far less valuable are non-replaceable forest licences, which are usually issued on a one-off basis to deal with perceived crises such as mountain pine beetle attacks or forest fires. Significantly, the overwhelming number of licences held by First Nations — who are typically on the outside looking in when it comes to benefiting from natural resources in our province — are non-replaceable.

As with TFLs, the top five forest companies hold a virtual monopoly on replaceable forest licences. Two out of every three trees allocated under such licences are theirs.

What the government now proposes in the name of “the people” is to allow the holders of replaceable forest licences to roll such holdings into far more secure TFLs. This could lead to near total control of public forestlands by an exclusive five-member club.

In 2012 and in the lead-up to the 2013 provincial election, that club made $556,020 in political contributions to the Liberal Party and $115,200 to the NDP — big dollars for some, but no more than modest investments for a powerful handful of companies who have a very clear vision of what lies ahead.

Entire TSAs — where trees are in increasingly short supply and where what little timber remains is oversubscribed — are on the cusp of being rolled into TFLs. And the Gang of Five is well positioned to divvy up the spoils.

Left on the sidelines would be First Nations, rural communities, small independent and value-added mill owners — people made poorer to give “the people” what they want.

Whether the government’s second attempt at this legislation will move forward remains to be seen. It has promised a public consultation process of sorts. The voices of opposition were heard loud and clear in the lead-up to the provincial election. This time out, which people will the government listen to?

Read more here: http://blogs.theprovince.com/2013/10/20/ben-parfitt-are-big-five-forest-firms-about-to-get-a-windfall/

Read even more here: http://www.vancouverobserver.com/news/island-timberlands-log-contentious-old-growth-forests-vancouver-island

See much more on continued threats to BC's old growth forests here: http://www.ancientforestalliance.org/news-item.php?ID=705


Sooke River Cedars

Cedar growing along (or in!) the Sooke River.

The Cheewhat Cedar in Pacific Rim National Park is the largest known tree in Canada. This building sized behemoth lives only about 100 km away, as the eagle flies, from my home. Thankfully I don't need to go that far to visit ancient cedars.

Cedars favour a moist, wet environment making the Sooke River riparian zone prime growing habitat. Only a few kilometres from my house I can access some of my favourite giant, ancient cedars growing where the land and the river meet.

Riparian zones provide rich habitat and have high biodiversity.

Wikipedia describes riparian zones as "important natural biofilters, protecting aquatic environments from excessive sedimentation, polluted surface runoff and erosion. They supply shelter and food for many aquatic animals and shade that is an important part of stream temperature regulation."

There are a trio of trees in this ancient cedar grove on the Sooke River bank.

Cedars are a major part of Vancouver Island riparian ecosystems. This community of plants ensures perfects conditions for spawning and growing salmon. Any damage to the cedars and the riparian zone will result in damage to salmon runs, as has been the case all along BC's coast.

An unhealthy salmon run reflects back on the rivers and damage to the riparian zone results. Every year millions of salmon return to their river birthplaces and provide riparian areas with tons of nutrients. No fish - no nutrients.

Broken top cedars on the river bank show their advanced age.

Some of the local cedars I visit on my bike rides could be up to 800 years old. Or more. I marvel that they still exist, and breathe a sigh of relief each time I go for a visit and see that they are still there.

Then I soak up the history and magic of the riverside groves and of these patient, wise tree beings that have so much to share. They don't call it the "Tree of Life" for nothing.

Soon the salmon will be running along the base of their land dwelling tree friends, continuing the cycle of life for both fish and trees.

Perhaps one day in the distant future one of the Sooke River cedars will be the largest tree in Canada.


Tree Art - Mark Gauti

Tree/Ent by Mark Gauti

Mark Gauti is a local artist that does beautiful Coast Salish art. I love his work and how he incorporates  traditional and modern in his images. I especially love his depiction of a tree being in "Tree/Ent".

Ents are tree creatures in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. They are tall, slow, patient creatures which live in the forest of Fangorn and exist to protect the trees.

When I go out into the rainforest I see ents everywhere. They are the elders of the forest. Towering, wrinkled, and shaped by the centuries, they are as individual and distinctive as people.

But we have a problem.

In the Lord of the Rings all the ents are male. No mention is made of female ents, although surely they do exist. Luckily I have the solution.

In the coastal rainforest the straight and strong Douglas fir ancients are the male ents. In old age these tree beings take on the classic look as in the Fangorn Forest. Their ancient limbs are held at attention and are often twisted and broke by tussles with winter gales.

Dripping with old man's beard lichen they stand rigid and determined over the ages watching from their lofty heights over the forest.

And the females? Why they are the Western red cedars of course with their gracefully drooping limbs and feathery braided needle leaves. The female ents have fine stripped reddish paper dresses that peel and flutter in the wind.

When winter comes female ents don't defy the gusts and gales like the male ents. Instead of fighting they go with the flow as they dance and sway uninhibited. They smell good too.

Old Douglas firs, especially when dripping sap on a hot summer day, smell like a cross between a musky earthiness and aftershave. Ancient Western red cedar, on the other hand, smell like the most amazing perfume.

Maybe Mark Gauti will do a companion piece to the one above depicting a female ent. Either way, I love what he did with "Tree/Ent".

The following is from Mark's "Trickster Art" Facebook page:

Mark Gauti is a Coast Salish Artist from the T’Sou-ke First Nation. T’Sou-ke Nation is a Coast Salish Tribe on the border of Coast Salish territories and Nuu-chah-nulth territories. T’Sou-ke shares art and culture with the two different tribal groups. Mark uses a wide range of mediums in his art, including: paint and canvas, glass acid etching, drum making, wood carving, photography and digital art. 
Mark worked as an environmental scientist for many years for his tribe T’Sou-ke where he was involved mapping of endangered species and gathering traditional ecological knowledge on traditional uses of native plants for food and medicine. For the past ten years mark has been involved in Coast Salish Culture with participating in drumming, language programs and Tribal Canoe Journeys, as well as researching traditional art and storytelling. Understanding that traditional First Nation’s art and storytelling was the original form of environmental education Mark starting mixing culture with more modern environmental programing with T’Sou-ke and now continues this work with other tribes.  
In Pacific Northwest Coast stories, tricksters are the ones who take on a job that no one else will, often leading to change, and Mark considers his art to be trickster art because he is an environmentalist who sees the way we are treating the earth as wrong and uses art as a form of environmental and cultural education.

Marks' website can be found here.


Who is watching our public lands?

Illegal tree poaching by individuals - this 800 year old red cedar in Carmanah Walbran
Provincial Park was cut, sectioned, and hauled away for shakes or roof shingles.
Photo: Torrance Coste

Who is watching what is happening in our public lands? Well, if you can cut down and haul away a hugely valuable 800 year old red cedar IN a provincial park, I'd have to say no one is keeping tabs on our public resources.

"I'll tell you what irresponsible is - 10 years ago there were 194 park rangers in British Columbia, there's under 100 now." - NDP Scott Fraser in 2012

In the 2002 Raincoast report "Losing Ground: The decline in fish and wildlife law enforcement capability in B.C. and Alaska," author and wildlife scientist Dr. Brian Horejsi concluded the following:

"Wildlife populations and biological diversity are endangered by chronic underfunding and marginalization of wildlife conservation-oriented enforcement programs in British Columbia and, to a lesser degree, in Alaska. This period of measurable political disinterest and low and declining priority now approaches 20 years in duration. 
There is little evidence available to the British Columbia or Alaska public to indicate that current enforcement capabilities are sufficient to provide effective compliance with fish and wildlife regulations, a problem being aggravated by escalating and uncoordinated land use activities. 
In every capability measure examined, capability today is significantly lower than it has been previously. Enforcement and protection staff are presently unable to effect widespread and long-lasting changes in resource user behavior in either Alaska or B.C. 
While fish and wildlife protection capability in Alaska has slipped...the evidence indicates that B.C. has now crossed the threshold at which protection of fish and wildlife populations and their habitat by enforcement services has effectively and materially been abandoned."

Governments at all levels have abandoned their responsibilities as stewards of our shared public lands. Everything from oil to coal to gold to wildlife and old growth trees is being ruthlessly plundered and poached whether by "legal" or "illegal" means.

Legal tree poaching by corporations - this 800 year old red cedar on King Island, which is in the Great Bear Rainforest, was cut, sectioned and hauled away for building products.
Photo: Bedrohte Natursch├Ątze

By all accounts no one in government is watching anything except their own bank balances.

Without oversight on our public lands we can expect that they will be destroyed for the benefit of short term personal gain and shareholder profit.


Bad Mood? Take A Hike

Technically speaking it is possible to walk in the woods and be in a bad mood, and this meme reminded me of the proof that I possess. I know it can happen because I have seen it personally.

While hiking the West Coast Trail, a 72 km forest and beach experience, a hiking partner in our group developed an abscessed tooth. He was not a happy camper while carrying his backpack and sore face through the incredible forests as we neared the end of the trail at Port Renfrew. 

He was even less impressed when while hiking hard with head down he drove his noggin into a huge log suspended across the trail. The impact threw him backwards and he landed on his behind on the mossy boardwalk. 

For a moment his walk in the woods did indeed make him forget about his sore tooth. But only for a moment before the throbbing pain made its way back into his awareness. 

Generally however, a bad day in the woods is better than a great day at the office. Maybe not as good as an emergency visit to the dentist.

The exposure to trees may not cure an abscessed tooth, but it does do wonders for a bad mood. Try it!


National Forest Week - The Greenest Workforce

The American Martin lives in Canadian forests from coast to coast.
Destruction of forest habitat has reduced its numbers.

Everyone likes a party, and this week is a nation wide celebration. National Forest Week asks Canadians to join in a celebration of our trees and forests. How could that be bad?

Unfortunately, most of the information I have seen online is geared toward viewing our trees and forests as "resources" to be used for the sole benefit of humans.

“Canadians can actively engage in this year’s National Forest Week theme by inviting foresters into the classroom to teach students about Canada’s world leading progressive forest management practices. 
Students can also learn about the innovative green products that can be made from forest fibre such as cosmetics, car parts and clothing.” - Dave Lemkay, General Manager of CFA.

The slogan for this year highlights the importance of these forest resources, and focuses on extraction and jobs. The Canadian Forestry Association web site has a prominent headline stating "National Forest Week to Highlight 'The Greenest Workforce' Brand.

What kind of brand is this? Cutting the last of the old growth is not green by anyone's reckoning. In order for a renewable, sustainable cut in old growth forests you would need a harvest cycle of a few hundred years. Perhaps longer, and certainly much longer than a few decades.

Not mentioned anywhere is how many Canadian forests are being depleted, including those on Vancouver Island. The CFA was even created to address this very problem... back in the early 1900s. I am sure they have done, and continue to do good work, but this year's National Forest Week seems to have been hijacked by government and corporate interests.
American Martin range.

This "celebration" seems to have a focus on advertising and support for the forestry industry. Sure humans need forests (it has been theorized that civilization would be impossible without them), but we are far from the only users of these "valuable resources".

Little is said about the importance of intact old growth forests for their life-giving services like filtering water, preventing erosion, and providing critical habitat for species that can't live anywhere else.

To celebrate this week take the CFA up on their challenge to learn more about what is happening in our forests. Chances are you may not like what you find out. From short rotation periods that create perpetual tree farms void of diversity, to cutting visual barriers established by rules that have been thrown out by the BC government, there is a lot that needs to be done to set things right.

After your research you may be interested in joining the real "Greenest Workforce" - they are called environmentalists, and most work as volunteers out of their deep love and respect for trees, forests and the species that live there.

Don't have time to get involved? Consider donating to an organization near you and have them do the legwork. The Ancient Forest Alliance is a good place to start. They are "a British Columbian organization working to protect the endangered old-growth forests of BC and to ensure sustainable forestry jobs in the province. It was founded in January of 2010 and is run by BC environmental activists Ken Wu, TJ Watt, Joan Varley, and Hannah Carpendale."

Happy Forest Week. Wednesday is designated as National Tree Day, so get out there and hug your favourite tree or trees. We tend to protect what we love.


Sombrio Beach Old Growth Fringe

Old growth Sitka spruce hang on in a narrow fringe behind Sombrio Beach.

The easy 10 minute hike to Sombrio Beach is a lot like many of the trails that lead from Highway 14 to the cobble beaches below. After passing through second or third growth forests of mostly small, closely spaced Western hemlock, the trails lead into a narrow old growth fringe of fat Sitka spruce bordering the beach.

Old growth stump surrounded by smaller regenerating trees on the trail to Sombrio Beach.

While most of the west coast of Vancouver Island has been clear cut logged long ago, the Juan de Fuca trail, which runs for 47 km along the ocean between China Beach to Botany Bay (Port Renfrew), retained narrow strips of old trees in some places.

Toward the bottom of the Sombrio trail you enter the magnificent
old growth fringe.

Stunning Sombrio Beach is one of those places that escaped the saw, and its narrow old growth fringe harbours some big and unusual trees. The forest combined with the beach and ocean make this a magical place to be, as many have discovered.

Nice campsite on the sand under old spruce trees at East Sombrio.

While at Sombrio you may feel it beautiful enough to live permanently among the salt sprayed spruce, and indeed in simpler times a group of freedom-loving people did just that. The establishment of the Juan de Fuca Trail in 1994 meant the end of an era, and by 1997 the last Sombrians were served eviction notices.

Looking down Sombrio River from the suspension bridge toward the surf.
Photo: introvert3

You may not be able to stay for decades as some did in the past, but today you can camp under the canopy of the big spruce trees for up to 14 days. Most people take 3 to 5 days to complete the trail, although there are ambitious types that run its muddy, glorious 47 km in a single day.

Not me.

Western hemlock often start on logs and stumps. Eventually, the log or stump
 rots away leaving trees on root stilts like this one behind Sombrio Beach.

When I do the trail, I will max out and plan on 10 to 14 days to really let the magic sink deep into my bones.

Just enjoying the old growth in the Sombrio area could keep me busy for days.


New on VIBT - Tree Identification

I have added a new button at the top of this blog underneath the title banner. Clicking on the "Tree Identification" button will take the curious forest adventurer to a page with tree identification information. A link is provided that will lead the extra-curious to even more information about the British Columbia's amazing trees.

Learning more about the unique forests of Vancouver Island could consist of vacationing among the trees and identifying a few. Or, it could mean spending a lifetime getting to know the neon green forests of wrinkly, moss covered giants. Unlike the ancient trees around you, your fascination will never grow old.

The information on the id page was selectively harvested from the forest of information that has been
compiled by the government of British Columbia.

The Tree Book, one such government publication, is a basic introduction to the major tree species in the province. Of these, most grow on Vancouver Island, and of those I have selected a few of the more obvious and sought after tree species to share.

Enjoy learning more about Vancouver Island's big beautiful trees, and next time you are out in the forest you can put your tree knowledge to the test.

The more you learn about these trees, the more you will want to protect them and the special places that they grow.

Click on the Tree Identification page button above, or click here to connect directly.


Vancouver Island's Urban Forests At Risk

Urban trees enhance the environment and add to our quality of life.

"New mapping by Habitat Acquisition Trust has revealed that in the six years between 2005 and 2011 the thirteen CRD municipalities lost 1037 hectares (2564 acres) of tree cover."

"Trees are falling in every municipality from Sidney to Sooke." So states a new study by the Habitat Acquisition Trust that looks at the state of the Victoria region's forest cover.

Trees are important wherever they grow, and their services are wide-ranging and irreplaceable. Fewer trees means a degraded environment that is less suitable for human and wildlife habitation. Therefore the loss of urban forests represents a serious threat to the quality of life on south Vancouver Island.

Highlights of the Results

Of the 13 CRD municipalities, in the 6 years between 2005 and 2011:

• The District of Saanich lost the most tree cover: 378 hectares. Langford was next losing 118 hectares of tree cover.
• The City of Victoria lost the largest percentage of its remaining tree cover - 8.8%. In absolute terms, this was only 42 hectares, but the City of Victoria has a relatively small amount of tree cover.
• The Town of Sidney lost the least amount of tree cover at 7 hectares, but that accounts for 7.5% of the small municipality’s remaining tree cover.
• Metchosin lost just 1.3% of its tree cover (66 hectares), the lowest percentage of any municipality. Highlands was next best, losing only 1.4% (46 hectares) of its tree cover.
• Highlands also has the highest level of tree cover in the region: 84% of the municipality is treed. Sidney is the least treed - only 18.3% of the town has tree cover.

The biggest losses resulted from urban development and expansion of agricultural operations. Many trees are cut on private property and not just development properties. 

  • Reduce the rate of tree loss, and plant new trees when appropriate.
  • Encourage municipalities to formulate and implement an Urban Forest Strategy aimed at achieving a sustainable urban forest with no net loss of cover.
  • Solicit the help of private landowners who can care for existing trees, and plant new ones, and agree to permanently protect their property with a conservation covenant, or as a park or nature sanctuary.
  • Landscape with native trees and other plants.
  • Leaving buffer zones of native trees and plants between developments and waterways helps control erosion, filter water, and enhance salmon habitat.

Read the full Habitat Acquisition Trust report here (pfd).


Tree House Art Car Brings Bit of BC Forest to Burning Man

The tree house art car, built on Vancouver Island, will bring a bit of the forest
 to the Burning Man Festival in Nevada, USA.

How do you celebrate BC trees and forests while in the treeless, water-challenged Nevada desert, site of the Burning Man Festival? Bring a bit of the forest along with you by building a tree house art car, then invite the crowds in among the trees.

That is what a group of Vancouver Islanders are doing with their creatively converted old school bus.

"It's a nod to the BC forest," stated one of the participants working on the project.

Work in progress - the forest is growing.

Some nice BC wood was used on this tree house project, which is currently spreading the sweet smell of tree sap over the dusty flat lands of Burning Man.

Read the article in the Times Colonist here, or go to the tree house art car website to learn more about this creative conversion.

"People all have great memories of tree houses when they were little, whether they fell out and broke their arm, ate a mud pie, made out for the first time or read Playboys. And it’s a nod to the B.C. forest.” 

- Melanie Golder, tree house art car team


Rainbows and Clear Cuts

A recent open letter to the Vancouver Island community from the World Rainbow Family had something to say about the ongoing desecration and destruction of ancient forests on the north island.

In part, the letter stated:
"A main reason sounded for why we shouldn’t be able to gather on Raft Cove was the environmental impact on this place of significant natural beauty. What our family saw on our journeys around the North Island deeply shocked us, and we would like to share with the local community and the world the horrific level of deforestation of ancient and sacred trees occurring now on the North Island.  
 The Hopi prophecy that forms the ideology of our family is that a tribe, from all corners of the world, with multiple colours, will rise up from the midst of destruction and heal the earth. Given that we are a deeply environmentally conscious group, these environmental concerns were hard to comprehend. Historically, we have been involved in local environmental matters, such as the 1993 protection of the Clayoquot Sound forests."

Clear cuts are harmful to the forest, soil, water quality,
and animal life, but are profitable for corporations.


Clayoquot Sound 20 Years Down The (Logging) Road

Concerned citizens at the 1993 Clayoquot protests were successful in their efforts
to halt the clear cutting of one of the last and largest intact ancient forests on Vancouver Island

What do you do when governments and big business conspire to do what is most profitable rather than what is right? What do you do when the members of the legislature do not respond to normal avenues of citizen feedback?

The protests of 1993 in Clayoquot Sound near Tofino, BC are what you do. You educate, organize, and gather together 12,000 citizens. Then you put your body between those that would kill and their prey - the big trees in one of the last intact ancient forests, a 350,000 hectare wilderness area.

In the case of Clayoquot, site of the largest act of civil disobedience in Canada's history, protesters were putting their bodies between the agents of big logging interests and one of the largest remaining tracts of  ancient temperate rain forest left on Vancouver Island.

Hundreds of ordinary people providing valuable feedback to the people they employee in government, and a valuable service to humanity for protecting this unique global gift, were arrested for their efforts.

However, their work got done what letters, phone calls, petitions, facts, meetings and the truth failed to do up until then.

Indeed, people gathering in great numbers in streets, squares, avenues, parks, and on the ocean and up logging roads is usually the only thing that will stop (or slow) the rampant greed of self-interested individuals in both government and business.

From Haida war canoes blockading enormous bulk whole log carriers full of sacred old growth cedars, to Clayoquot Sound, to concerned citizens gathering on the lawn of the legislature, organizing and gathering together to exercise our civic responsibilities is the most effective way to go.

And now, 20 years after Clayoquot, the pressure is building again all over Canada as hard fought for environmental protections are stripped from the books by resource mad federal and provincial governments.

Logging of ancient trees close to Cathedral Grove, proposed pipelines, dwindling salmon in our ocean, damaging run of the river private power providers, and renewed threats of logging in Clayoquot virtually ensure that mass acts of civil disobedience are sure to occur once again.

When they do, the victorious protests in Clayoquot Sound will be used as both a guideline and inspiration.


Mapping The Giant Sequoias Of Victoria, BC

This map is interactive - click on the tree icons and get more information about specific sequoias. View a larger version of the map here: "Giant Sequoias In Victoria".

The same mild climate that grows the fattest, tallest native trees in Canada, also nurtures some amazing exotic trees on south Vancouver Island. A case in point are the Giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum), many of which were transported here as seedlings over 100 years ago by settlers from California.

So loved were these California native trees that many made the journey north, and many were successfully planted. In just over a century some of these seedlings have reached, well, giant proportions.

The tallest and widest trees in Victoria are both sequoias which is not surprising considering this tree species is the largest in the world. Also not surprising is the fact that people are still loving these trees after 150 years of occupying their new home.

They are among the most photographed single trees in the area. My post on The Giant Sequoias Of Beacon Hill Park is the most viewed of all time on this blog. They are unique in this region and are far from their traditional range, making them of special interest.

The native range of the Giant sequoia is very restricted,
but they do grow successfully in Victoria, BC.

Giant sequoia occurs naturally only in California in a narrow band of mixed conifer forest, between 5,000-8,000 ft. elevation on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada. Climatically, the Giant sequoia prefers the "Cool Summer Mediterranean" (Csb) climate.

Giant sequoia in its natural California Sierra Nevada range.

Victoria has a Mediterranean climate, and although we are north of their northern limits, the sequoias have done well here.

This Giant sequoia at the residential intersection of Moss and Richardson is the
tallest sequoia in the Victoria area at about 50 meters tall.

I am in the process of mapping the sequoias in the Victoria area that I am familiar with from wandering about town. Many I have found simply by driving around and looking for the tallest trees on the horizon, then navigating to their base for photos. But there are always more trees to be found.

Lately I have been cruising around town using Google Maps instead of my truck to see if I can find more of these big trees. I figure that Google has the cash - let them pay for the gas. I can also get reasonable photos by taking screenshots while on Street View.

A large sequoia on Douglas Street across from Beacon Hill Park.

Using the above map one could set up a walking, cycling, rolling, or driving tour of interesting sequoias in the downtown area.

Not downtown? Chances are there is a Giant sequoia in a neighbourhood near you. Check the map.

This beauty is at the intersection of Jutland and Burnside Rds - I added it to the map
after a reader mentioned it in a comment below.

There is even a small sequoia down the street from where I live in Sooke. It is a mere baby only a few decades old and stands at a tiny 10m (30ft) in height. Eventually it could outlive civilization, and end up the tallest, fattest tree in the new coastal wilderness.

It is a treat to get a feel for the mighty California sequoia forests right here on the south island. If you can't make the 15 hour drive to the Sierra Nevada, this is the next best thing.

Do you know of a Victoria area sequoia that you don't see on the map? Please leave a comment below, like Bernard did, and describe the location of any notable sequoia that you know of. I would like to continue including new trees in this mapping project, and your participation can go a long way to filling in much needed information.

Thank you. Now go enjoy the trees, even if it is on Street View on the map above.


Old Growth Clear Cutting Continues

Example of spectacular temperate rain forest on Vancouver Island
contrasted with nearby logging of old-growth forest.
Photo by TJ Watt
Congratulations BC on voting for fewer old growth trees and forestry jobs in the province's forests during the recent election.

BC now has a new government, same as the old government. Get ready for business as usual in the province's old growth forests, especially since environmentalists in Canada are now seen as "radicals, adversaries, job-killers, foreign funded radicals and ideological extremists".

Definitely not a good time to be a defender of the trees, although during dark days such as these it is the most important time to be a voice in the wilderness.

Instead of bringing such individuals and organizations in from the wild fringes, environmentalists are instead put on the federal government's official "enemies" list. These so-called radical groups could be audited by the CRA in order to muzzle what is seen as a threat rather than evidence of a functioning democracy.

The BC Liberals are good pals with the current pro-business as usual regime in Ottawa, and use many of the same tactics.

Expect more old growth clear cuts, fewer jobs, and more ships laden with old growth whole log shipments to China and other overseas markets.

Clear Cuts

“In clear-cutting, he said, you clear away the natural forest, or what the industrial forester calls "weed trees," and plant all one species of tree in neat straight functional rows like corn, sorghum, sugar beets or any other practical farm crop. 

You then dump on chemical fertilizers to replace the washed-away humus, inject the seedlings with growth-forcing hormones, surround your plot with deer repellents and raise a uniform crop of trees, all identical. 

When the trees reach a certain prespecified height (not maturity; that takes too long) you send in a fleet of tree-harvesting machines and cut the fuckers down. All of them. 

Then burn the slash, and harrow, seed, fertilize all over again, round and round and round again, faster and faster, tighter and tighter until, like the fabled Malaysian Concentric Bird which flies in ever-smaller circles, you disappear up your own asshole.” 

― Edward Abbey

In 2010 Hannah Carpendale wrote "Losing Legacies In The Cut Block" in the Simon Fraser University student newspaper. The article chronicles the sad state of affairs in BC's forests at the time, and things have not improved since.

She states, "Logging of our ancient forests is a luxury that can’t be sustained. Companies are not committed to sustainable jobs or habitats — what they are committed to is short-term corporate profit, and our old-growth forests are the price we are involuntarily paying for that. 

The B.C. Liberal government is continuing to hand over logging rights to large-scale logging companies — basically, the right to convert our public land to tree farms, to devastate our ecosystems and deplete a crucial and unique resource. 

We have seen this happen so many times in history . . . the collapse of the Atlantic cod stocks to name just one instance. 

Will we stand around and watch it happen again?"


Sooke's Ancient Douglas-firs Almost Gone

This 1925 view shows Ed and Jack Phillips with double bitted axes
undercutting a small Douglas-fir.

There used to be big Douglas-fir trees in the Sooke area. Really, really big. Trees 10 feet wide, and 300 feet tall were common. But the big trees have been almost completely removed from the region.

Some ancients still exist in these parts, but they are usually individual lonely trees rather than groves or forests of them. Phillips Road, which runs up the west side of the Sooke River, is one such place that some of the last holdouts remain, so it is an area in which I am interested.

Sooke historian, Elida Peers, recently published an article in the local newspaper about one particularly large Phillips Rd. Douglas-fir that lived just up the bank of the river for hundreds of years. Until about 10 years ago. Peers writes:

"Almost a decade ago, I was one of a group standing watching the falling of the seven-foot diameter Douglas-fir that stood as a sentinel at the entrance into the beginnings of the Sun River development on the old Phillips farm.   
Years ago, a team of fallers would have used a two-man crosscut saw to fell a tree of such a size, but with the use of power saws in recent times, this stately Douglas-fir presented a different sort of challenge. 
Troy Lovbakke was one of the fallers given the task, and he worked in tandem with Lance Lajeunesse and Bud Beam. The men started with 33” bars on their Husqvarna saws, moving on finally to saws with 52” bars. 
The belts of the high riggers could not encircle the bulk of the tree but they managed to get a steadying anchor cable in place to secure it from falling across Phillips Road.   
A pneumatic jack was used as well but could not withstand the weight. Finally two 40-ton screw jacks were required for the tree to be laid down safely in an area so near to a public road and houses. 
It was near nightfall by the time the gigantic tree came down with a resounding crash."

Oh, how many times that "resounding crash" has been heard on the south island. And despite having lived through the European occupation thus far, ancient trees like these continue to fall in Sooke, a town without a big tree policy (unlike some neighbouring communities).

A large Douglas-fir that still stands
up the Sooke River... for now.

Although I arrived in Sooke after the tree in Peers' article was brought down, two other huge, old Douglas-fir trees remained just past the 'new' intersection of Phillips Rd. and Sunriver Way. They stood on either side of the road directly across from each other.

So narrow was the passageway created by these wrinkly-barked woody columns that both trees had large scrapes and gouges in the thick bark, evidence of tussles with passing vehicles. I realized at the time that such beautiful specimens were not compatible with plans for a more modern (but less interesting) roadway through the trees and beyond.

Sure enough, within a few years these two Phillips Rd. holdouts were also removed in the ongoing development of the controversial Sunriver neighbourhood, and newer projects farther up the road.

Areas along the Sooke River on both sides still contain some of the biggest, tallest Douglas-fir trees in town. Most of them grow on private property and are inaccessible to the public. If you currently own some of these big Sooke River trees, I would love to hear about them.

Even the Sooke town centre twin Douglas fir trees, which were over a hundred years old, couldn't escape the fallers chainsaw. The trees were unceremoniously removed and replaced with two Norway spruce, a non-native species.

Considering the considerable contribution that the ancient Douglas-firs have made to the development of Sooke, you would think that we would show them some respect and save a few. Perhaps the time has come for a perspective shift, and the introduction of a tree protection bylaw for this growing community.

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