Big Trees, Not Big Stumps

We want big trees, not big stumps!

...unless after we log we replant, then let the forest grow unmolested for the next 250 - 1000 years.

Instead, "crop" rotations are in the span of a few short decades, ensuring that bleak mono-culture tree plantations replace vibrant, ecologically diverse old growth.

We want big trees, not big stumps.


BC Government Planning Huge Forest Giveaway

You will be seeing a lot more Vancouver Island clear cuts if the BC government has its way. 
Carmanah Contrasts, 1989, Robert Bateman

The BC Liberal government has never seen a tree that it didn't want to cut or give away to their business buddies. Now, the bad news for our forests continues.

With our provincial government's continued giveaway of our public forests to corporate entities, how does a dedicated tree-lover find the time to enjoy what is obviously slipping out of our control? 

If we could get a break from this relentless assault on public forests we might be able to actually get out there and enjoy them before they are gone. 

Recently revealed is that our nefarious government plans, according to Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives analyst Ben Parfitt writing in Sunday's Province, to:

"introduce a scant two-paragraph bill granting it powers to fundamentally alter the course of forestry in B.C.

"...the bill would give the provincial cabinet powers to grant forest companies de facto private control over public forestlands without first having to notify or consult with the public.

Instead of companies enjoying rights to log set volumes of trees on public forestlands, companies would gain dramatically expanded powers to log trees on defined areas that in effect become their own semi-private fiefdoms.

"...the provincial cabinet could grant forest companies the rights to roll over numerous volume-based forest licences into area-based Tree Farm Licences. TFLs bestow by far the most secure rights of access to publicly owned trees of any arrangement with the provincial government. The new legislation could massively expand their use, beyond the limited number now issued.

"...various government documents were leaked indicating that the provincial government was revisiting a controversial “rollover” idea first pursued 25 years ago. At that time it met with such a groundswell of political and public opposition that the initiative was scuttled.

Then-provincial forest critic and MLA for Prince Rupert, Dan Miller, called it “privatization on a massive scale” and warned: “Never before in the history of the province has this kind of giveaway been contemplated.”

The policy as then envisioned is precisely the one now being contemplated by the... Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Steve Thomson.

"...giving what remains of our forests away is lunacy. A responsible government would delay implementing such contentious legislation and give the public time to digest the implications of such a move. Or the Opposition could signal now that should such a bill pass it would be immediately repealed upon a change in government."

Read more here.

Enough! It is time to let our pro-corporate, anti-environmental 'leaders' that we want responsible stewardship of our resources NOW!

Stop the further privatization of our public forestry resources. Everything is linked and interdependent. When trees die, people die. 


Services Provided By Intact Old Growth Forests

We convert high quality old growth forests into low quality, over-sized houses

It is true that different people see the same tree in quite different ways.

The logging industry views old growth trees as a cheap source of valuable timber that will maximize their profits. From a business point of view it would be best to log 100% of old growth, then when the low cost, high grade timber is gone, move on to younger forests.

While investors and the BC government may prefer this view, it is one that fails in all other regards. What about those that see the forest as pristine nature to be protected for all time? What about all the creatures that see the forest as home?

Never calculated in the decision whether to cut or not cut our degraded primal forests, are the valuable services provided by healthy, intact trees and forests. The price of the trees from a clear cut can be accurately calculated, but what price tag do we put on the services provided by leaving the old growth standing?

We know the price of the trees, but know very little about their value.

Services Provided By Intact Old Growth Forests
William J. Reed, 1992

"The value of standing old-growth forest comprises many components. Old-growth forest can provide positive amenity services such as one or more of the following:

  1. a locus for recreational and tourism activities
  2. a habitat for wildlife
  3. a generator of oxygen
  4. an environmental sink for carbon
  5. a regulator of water flow
  6. a repository of genetic diversity
  7. a regulator of local and even possibly global climate

In addition many people are coming to recognize that old-growth has an intrinsic existence value (apart from the 'use' values listed above), simply because it is a part of a vanishing pristine Nature. Like diamonds or any other economic good it has value simply because it is simultaneously wanted and scarce."

Because of our massive miscalculation of the value of protected primal forests, we end up liquidating a high value resource that could continue delivering services we need, in a self-sustaining manner for centuries. 

We trade these irreplaceable services for low value products like cheap homes unlikely to last longer than a few decades.

If we continue on our present path we will fail to appreciate the true value of old growth until it is gone.  The price we will pay is too high.

Everyone will suffer, including the logging industry, governments, and investors. 


Money Maple Mishap

Left - Norway maple, Right - North American sugar maple

There mustn't be any botanists left still in the service of the people in this wonderful, forested country of ours. If there was, we surely would have avoided our country's recent money maple mishap.

When the Bank of Canada released the new $20.00 dollar bill, it could be seen by some that it shows a leaf of the Norway maple rather than the native North American Sugar maple leaf. What is going on in this country of ours?

First we lose the theme song for Hockey Night In Canada, and now foreign maples are invading not only our streets, but our currency as well.

Invasive Norway maple leaf is above the 20 on left

The maple leaf has been a symbol of the vast treed wilderness of what is now Canada since the 18th century. In all that time the sugar maple has been one of Canada's most important trees. I am no flag waver, but I do like trees. And maple syrup.

While the sugar maple only grows in the east, our west coast Bigleaf maples are closely related. Both varieties produce sap that can be made into syrup, but the eastern varieties produce a higher quality.

But what our western maple lacks in sap sugars it makes up for in leaf size. It has the largest leaves of any maple tree.

Leaf from Canadian flag

So important is the maple tree that its leaf also shows up on the Canadian flag. The leaf depicted is of a stylized variety. However, compared with the two leaves in the top photo, one can see it is more like the Sugar maple than the Norway variety.

The BOC says the leaf on the $20 is also of the 'stylized' variety, and that its appearance doesn't matter.

There are probably a few botanists (and a bunch of Canadians, including this one) that would beg to differ.

Bigleaf maple can be found on the west coast
and leaves can be as large as 30cm +


Sunriver Nature Park Trail

Sunriver Trail runs alongside the beautiful, salmon-bearing Sooke River

One of my favourite easy big tree get-aways close to home is the Sunriver Nature Park Trail which runs along the west bank of the Sooke River in the Sunriver neighbourhood in Sooke, BC.

Ancient Western red cedar

Even after the early years of resource extraction, and now with a residential development spreading across previously forested lands all along Phillips Road and the river, it is still possible to find the odd gigantic, ancient tree, and some peace and quiet.

Sun sets on a small patch of older forest

I took these photographs on a recent late afternoon hike along the Sunriver Trail which leaves Phillips Rd and extends along the river for about a kilometre. Even though I have been hiking here dozens of times, I see something new each time.

The area has the faint whiff of the primeval forest, and it is only a short bike ride from home.

Big moss and lichen covered maples populate the forest along with Douglas-fir, cedar, hemlock, and Grand fir

There may be houses encroaching on this beautiful spot, but for now it thankfully remains a semi-wild sanctuary for lovers of nature, big trees, and quiet. When you go, watch for bear, cougar, and other wildlife. 


Big Trees In The City

These huge Sitka spruce rounds are from the removal of an urban old growth tree 
I don't know why people choose to cut significant urban trees down - I am not an arborist or a professional forester, nor do I think that trees 'get in the way'. However, there are justifiable reasons for the removal of an oversized giant or sick tree as they can be a safety hazard.

A letter to the city of Langford from a resident living under the large Douglas-fir heritage trees that line Humpback Road, highlights the potential danger.
"Last Friday, April 2nd, we had a terrific windstorm; with wind-gusts approaching 110 kmh. The result of that was a rather frightening experience for ALL the residents that live in the part of Humpback with the old, gigantic trees lining this portion of the road. Once again, for the umpteenth time, a powerful hail of tree debris came battering at the homes next to the trees."
It is a bummer when significant trees do need to be removed, but it is even worse when no sane reason exists. Like when the infamous developer Len Barry had workers cut some large trees on the other side of his property line, on The Royal Colwood Golf Course. The course is covered in an urban forest that contains many significant older trees. Barry had the trees removed to improve the view from his mansion.

Sam, a Vancouver Island Big Trees reader, recently commented on my post about Gulf View Picnic Area in North Saanich. He described how a landowner started the new year by falling a big Grand fir hundred of years old right on the border of this public space. Large, old Grand fir are not a long lived species.

Sam's comment about the unfortunate demise of another one of our large urban trees reminded me of an urban giant brought down in the ex-logging town of Sooke a few years back.

I spotted the huge Sitka spruce rounds in the photos at a residence in 2005. This old growth tree predated European settlement in the area, by a hundred years or more.

The tree's removal must have been an operation as big as the old Sitka itself. It is a challenge to bring these giants down without squishing anyone or anything.

When I happened by on a bike ride, the deed was done. I was puzzled - the wood looked sound. I wondered why this apparently healthy survivor had to be destroyed.

But then again, I didn't have to live next to it during a winter gale. As it was, it might have made a lot of beautiful guitars.

Today's luthiers are vexed by a dwindling supply of the old spruce (300 years+) that produce the best quality instrument wood. Guitar builder Bob Taylor said, "We are only a few short years away, using current logging practices, from seeing the end of any guitar-sized trees."

The massive spruce that was cut in Sooke is, years later, still providing the homeowner with fire wood.


Vandalizing Old Growth Forests

It is sad that those who would drive old growth forests to extinction for personal profit are lauded as leaders, while those who fight to protect the trees (with no personal gain), are derided as 'eco-terrorists'.

Really? Are we insane? This is vandalism on a grand scale.

The profit-terrorists are the ones of which we should be wary.


Timber Baron Wanted To Cut Cathedral Grove

Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park is an old growth wonder near Port Alberni, BC
It is a west coast old growth wonder that attracts a million visitors a year, and is known to bring experienced foresters to tears with the sheer grandeur of the setting. And yet, if British Columbia's first Chief Forester had his way, Cathedral Grove would have been cut for lumber and profit long ago.

History of Cathedral Grove

Just like George Hearst ruthlessly mined mountains for gold in the U.S., Canada's H.R. MacMillan was an opportunist that mined early Vancouver Island's primeval forests for giant Douglas firs, Western red cedar, and Hemlock.

Cathedral Grove in 1941
Despite a popular local conservationist sentiment in the early 1900s, MacMillan refused to set aside the big trees of Cathedral Grove through 15 years of constant pressure from the public.

The big tree entrepreneur acquired the logging rights to the generously forested area east of Port Alberni where the Cameron River empties into Cameron Lake. Possession was obtained through a Timber Berth, an early form of temporary forestry tenure. The seller of big trees held fast against public opinion, saying that the cutting of the grove was necessary for his company's stability.

Finally in 1944 at a meeting in Port Alberni, after a public browbeating by the gathered crowd, MacMillan relented and turned the ownership of the trees back to the province for the establishment of the park.

While many accounts attest to the 'fact' that the 136 hectares was generously donated by the timber baron, at least one account has him storming out of the public meeting in a huff while shouting, "All right, you can have the god-damn grove!"

By 1947 a park was in place, preserving these irreplaceable trees for future generations, if that is, they can endure the predations of the present.

800 year old Douglas-fir in Cathedral Grove
The Park Today

The old growth forest surrounding Cameron Lake has been a tourist attraction since the 1920s for a good reason - it is some of the most magnificent forest to be found anywhere on Earth. Here, in the Coastal Douglas-fir ecozone, ancient trees up to 9 meters in circumference and 76 meters tall grace the park. The oldest of the trees in this area are pushing 1000 years, and the forest is dripping with antiquity.

Today Cathedral Grove lies within 301 hectare Macmillan Provincial Park. The park is bisected by Hiway 4, and what remains of the old growth is deeply affected by the ongoing logging in the area.

Fallen trees are left in place in the MacMillan Park old growth forest
People Power

When we think of the majesty of Cathedral Grove we should give credit where credit is due. I give no thanks to rapacious timber barons for tossing us a few crumbs of our own forest while continuing to decimate dwindling old growth ecosystems behind the scenes. Profit pumping suits step aside.

The real heroes in this story are the forward-thinking conservationists that could see where BC's forests were headed over 100 years ago. Regular people recognizing the madness of destroying 1500 year old trees for what it is, and taking action to push for change and preservation.

There is more to be saved
Resistance is not futile! Thanks to people power, Cathedral Grove and many, many places like it over the years, have been spared from clear cutting.

Successful fights have been, and continue to be fought over unsustainable practices that benefit a few greedy folks at the expense of plant, animal, and human communities.

But even at MacMillan Park more could be done, ensuring that the fight for the remaining .1% of the old growth Douglas-fir ecozone will continue.

There are hundreds of hectares in the area, including Cathedral Canyon, that still contain ancient and mature forests, but are slated for clearcutting.

Thanks to the power of the people in the past, areas of old growth, including Cathedral Grove, can continue to inspire, and perhaps even move to tears, tree lovers from around the world. However, more work needs to be done by todays forward-thinking defenders of ancient ecosystems.

Getting There

You don't really need directions to Vancouver Island's Cathedral Grove. All you need to do is get on Hwy. #4 west of Qualicum Beach and drive until you are surrounded by giant trees and swarming tourists. You can't miss either.

MacMillan Provincial Park is on Hiway 4 next to Cameron Lake

From Port Alberni take Highway 4 East.

From Victoria or Nanaimo take Highway 19, then exit west on Highway 4 towards Port Alberni.

From Nanaimo it is about a half hour drive.