Sooke Hills: Parks, Peaks, and Rain Forest

Trees on rock, roots on rock, moss on rock

One of my favourite stretches of forest can be found along the Galloping Goose Trail from Sooke to the trail's northern terminus at the gold mining ghost town called Leechtown. The Goose runs along the western edge of a 12, 000 hectare protected wilderness.

In the vast expanse of wilderness covered by a patchwork of parks, one can find pockets of old growth, as well as individual old growth trees. Along the old rail right of way is no different, plus the access is excellent on the wide, flat, gently sloping trail.

In the area one can also find Roosevelt elk, wolves, black bears, bald eagles, and cougars.

Cedar, Douglas-fir, and Hemlock are major rain forest trees

"The Sea to Sea Green Blue Belt is a corridor of protected wilderness and parkland stretching from Saanich Inlet in the east to the Sooke Basin in the southwest. 

Lands extend from Saanich and Tod Inlets to Sooke Basin (north to south), and from the Sooke Hills Wilderness Regional Park Reserve to the Sooke River (east to west). The protected area covers approximately 11,500 hectares, making it the largest protected area in the CRD. 

It includes provincial, regional and municipal park land, including Gowlland Tod Provincial Park, Goldstream Provincial Park, Sooke Mountain Provincial Park, Sooke Potholes Park, and Sooke Hills Wilderness Regional Park Reserve."

There are many amazing moss species that live here

A variety of peaks, such as Mount Manuel Quimper, afford the energetic hiker amazing 360 degree views of the huge protected area, plus out over the ocean. Mt. Quimper has an old forest fire lookout structure at the summit. It can be handy on a windy or rainy day.

This beautiful hike can be accessed from the Harbourview Road parking lot.

View from Mt. Quimper looking south east over the park and Juan de Fuca Strait

In the early days the rail line went all the way through to the Lake Cowichan area. It hauled equipment and supplies from Victoria in to towns and lumber camps, then turned around and hauled huge logs out.

In spring seasonal brooks are full, as is the thick, spongy moss

Along this route there are many individual old growth trees that escaped the saws that took most of their contemporaries years ago.

While there are no record-breaking trees here that I know of, there are some nice sized Douglas-fir, Western red-cedar, and Western Hemlock. Sitka spruce can be found along the ocean, and along valley bottoms closer to the sea.

Moss and lichen cling to everything, including a Western red-cedar
Any time is a good time to hike or bike into the Sooke Hills Park rain forest. Whether you are cycling the Galloping Goose Trail, or hiking up Harborview Road, there are enough parks, peaks, and rain forest areas to keep you exploring for a lifetime.


The People Save The Forests From The Timber Pirates - Again

Beware the timber pirates - they want the trees... and the land as well. 

Beware the timber pirates - they are coming for our trees. How much of them do they want? 100%, and no less. Oh, they want the land the trees are on as well, and they are willing to wage an epic battle to get all the booty and plunder that they are after.

However, as might and muscle always does, they underestimate the power of the little people, the every day citizens that are willing to fight back and halt the pillaging of our public resources.

Yes, the forest-loving people of British Columbia have successfully defended the trees once again.

The biggest, most recent battle was over who controls our coveted public forest lands. The government would love to give (yes, give) the land to pirate companies to use as they wish in tree farm licence roll overs. The people said, "No", and for good reason.

There was nothing in the proposed land grab that would benefit the pubic interest, ecological integrity, or a move to a sustainable forest industry.

Thousands responded to a call for action and contacted their elected representatives in the legislature to tell them that the forest give-away was a bad idea that would not be tolerated.

The provincial Liberals, currently the official representatives of a variety of unsustainable resource extraction industries, were forced to back down.

Their disappointed pals sailing along in their New York ghost towers must have had to drink copious amounts of rum and sing raucous songs to deal with their disappointment.

Lamenting their failed plans of corporate pirate domination of Vancouver Island's last wild places, they dry their tears with extra-plush, pillowy soft, pirate-strength tissues made from 100% old growth trees.

The little people have joined together to win yet another battle in the ongoing war in our woods. But beware! The pirates are only regrouping, and will again sail into theses harbours with more lobbying, more bribe money, and more lame promises.

We are the only thing standing between the pirates and the treasure chest full of timber and land doubloons. We will win future battles, and ultimately, we will win the war.

We will end the logging of old growth, the degradation and takeover of our public lands, raw log exports, and disappearing jobs.

I celebrate the current victory, while preparing for the next battle.


Pre-Election Rally for Ancient Forests and BC Forestry Jobs

WE are the government - let's tell our employees to care for OUR forests

Save the Old-Growth, Sustainably Log Second-Growth, and End Raw Log Exports

Ancient Forest Alliance, February 21, 2013


Join this “Families for Our Forests” event in Victoria:   Small Animals Parade!  Ring-Around-the-Legislature! Speeches! Masala Marching Band!

“Save the Old-Growth, Sustainably Log Second-Growth, and End Raw Log Exports”

11:30 am      Meet at Centennial Square, then begin march with drumming band
12:00 noon   Rally begins at BC Legislative Buildings
1:00  pm      Thousands join hands to encircle government in “Ring-Around-the-Legislature” end to        rally

Two months before a BC election, join THOUSANDS of conservationists, forestry workers, First Nations, business owners, children, parents, seniors, students, and concerned citizens in demanding that the BC Liberal government and the NDP opposition commit to a plan that will protect BC’s endangered old-growth forests and forestry jobs - and finally bring an end to BC’s “War in the Woods”.

The continued support of the BC government for the status quo of unsustainable resource depletion and raw log exports has caused the increasing collapse of native ecosystems and rural communities.

75% of Vancouver Island’s original ancient forests have already been logged, including 90% of the valley bottoms where the largest trees grow. BC’s old-growth forests are vital to support endangered species, tourism, the climate, clean water, wild salmon, and many First Nations cultures. See spectacular images and videos of BC’s old-growth forests at:  www.AncientForestAlliance.org

Help ensure a sustainable, value-added, second-growth forest industry that keeps the logs in the province to support BC forestry jobs!  Support First Nations land use plans calling for the protection of old-growth forests!

Speak up against the BC Liberal government's attempts to increase the privatization of our public forest lands for major logging companies by proposing to empower the Minister of Forests to expand Tree Farm Licences through ministerial fiat (policy decree) instead of democratic legislative vote!

KIDS! Take part in the “Small Animals Parade” dressed as Marmots, Owls, Murrelets, Bears, Wolves, Cougars, Salmon, or mini-Sasquatch! Get your face painted as a small animal at the rally!

Speakers include:

Robert Morales – Chief Treaty Negotiator, Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group
Joe Martin – Tla-o-qui-aht canoe carver, band councillor, original Meares Island protest organizer
Gisele Martin – Tla-o-qui-aht business operator and cultural educator
Jon Cash - Vice-President, Chamber of Commerce of Port Renfrew
Arnold Bercov – President, Pulp, Paper, and Woodworkers of Canada (PPWC) union - Local 8
Ken James - President, Youbou TimberLess Society
Valerie Langer – BC Forest Campaign Director, ForestEthics
Jens Wieting – Coastal Forest Campaigner, Sierra Club of BC
Vicky Husband – BC Conservationist, Order of BC and Canada recipient
TJ Watt – Forest Campaigner, Ancient Forest Alliance
Ken Wu – Executive Director, Ancient Forest Alliance
Help hold BC’s politicians responsible for the future of beautiful British Columbia!

Sign our online petition at:  www.AncientForestPetition.com

Organized by the Ancient Forest Alliance www.AncientForestAlliance.org


Sooke Sitka Spruce

A Sitka spruce framed by Western red-cedars

Sitka spruce is the largest spruce variety in the world, growing up to 100 meters tall in places like Vancouver Island's Carmanah Valley where Canada's tallest spruce trees live.

However, it is not a dominant tree in the Sooke region and over most of Vancouver Island away from the wild west coast.

In fact, the easterly-most concentration of Sitka spruce trees in this area can be found in the Royal Roads old growth forest in Colwood, about 25 minutes from Sooke. Although the spruce trees get by in the Royal Roads forest, they are dominated by the more plentiful (and larger) Douglas firs.

Dark green = prime habitat, light green = marginal habitat.

Sooke lies in a transition zone between the dryer Douglas-fir ecozone to the east, and the wetter Western hemlock zone to the west (where the salt-tolerant Sitka are common along the coast). While Sitka spruce are not plentiful here, but some nice specimens can be found, often up river valleys or fringing beaches on the ocean.

Sitka spruce bark is reddish-brown and forms large, loose scales

Sitka spruce are the fastest growing trees in the coastal forest, and can live up to 800 years. Some nice specimens can be found up the Sooke River, as well as in the Muir Creek old growth forest.

Sitka spruce have a beautiful shape


Rolling Over Crown Forests

BY BRIONY PENN, MARCH 2013 Focus on Line http://www.focusonline.ca/?q=node/513BC

Liberals go ahead with another giveaway of publicly-owned land to corporations.

Three years ago, in a feature report entitled “The Big Burn,” Focus revealed the findings of a dozen retired forest service professionals about BC Liberal plans to privatize BC’s forests under pressure from what are called “distressed asset managers.” These are the mega-corporations like BAM (Brookfield Asset Management; now the top performing company in Canada) and TAM (Third Avenue Management) that buy up majority interests in distressed logging companies (including Canfor, Weyerhauser, Catalyst, Western Forest Products, TimberWest, Island Timberlands etc).

Through political pressure for deregulation (eg lobbying to get rid of riparian zone and watershed regulations), they manage to enhance their lands’ value. Then they strip off the timber and rationalize the lands into categories of real estate, bioenergy plantations, etc. Then they flip them. They’ve been incredibly successful in liquidating hundreds of thousands of hectares of heavily-subsidized private forests on Vancouver Island.

Now the BC Liberal government is amending the Forest Act in ways that will help such companies gain more control over public forestlands.

Distressed asset companies have been lobbying behind the scenes for a decade for their ideal tenure reform: changing volume licences—where they just get the trees, to the more lucrative area licences—where they get everything, including the underlying land.

The aftermath of a tragic fire at a Burns Lake sawmill and the perceived need to leverage money for a new sawmill to restore jobs in a distressed community—with an election looming—was just the prompt the Liberals needed to introduce “area-based tree farm licences at the minister’s invitation.”

Of course this legislative change may also open up a Pandora’s box for the Liberals just before an election. In 1988, the Socreds tried sneaking in this form of privatization—which is called “rollover”—and failed.

Forest licences were originally set up with checks and balances to limit companies from creating excessive “shareholder value” and to ensure some benefits came back to the public—either in the form of royalties or leaving the forest standing to provide all the ecosystem services that we enjoy. In the last 10 years, however, regulations governing licence holders have been eroded to such an extent that those checks and balances just aren’t there anymore.

With forest legislation and regulations gutted, licence holders don’t even have to provide management plans anymore. The natural next step for an aggressive, corporate-friendly government has now been taken: allowing companies to roll over their volume-based licences into area-based Tree Farm Licences. Many see this process as de facto privatization of public forests. Anthony Britneff, a retired government forester, says, “These tenures are like the granting of fiefdoms in which the company can strip and sell whatever they want without any requirement to invest in local infrastructure and to manufacture timber locally as a condition of holding tenure. There is no social contract in the public interest.”

A leaked Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations document dated April 7, 2012 revealed the Liberals were considering tenure reform back then to address an apparent request from Hampton Affiliates, the American company that owns 89 percent of Babine Forest Products, for government assurance of an adequate, secure timber supply before it would rebuild the mill at Burns Lake.

The memo suggests the annual allowable cut to feed the mill could be expanded far beyond what the region can sustain, leaving it decimated even by Ministry of Forests’ own internal accounts. The document also posits reducing the rules around old-growth timber, wildlife management and viewscapes. It notes that it may be necessary to suspend the chief forester’s authority to set the annual allowable cut and have those decisions made by the cabinet instead, without any public consultation. And it warns that such a dramatic policy change could trigger legal challenges.

Bob Simpson, independent MLA for Cariboo, first drew attention to the leaked document and correctly predicted new legislation would consist of “a few short paragraphs that will enable a designated politician to set the rules by which a private corporation can be given exclusive rights over areas of our public forests.”

Hampton Affiliates has a history of acquiring distressed forestry assets, stripping the timber and later selling the sawmills and underlying land. Their website currently features three sawmill sites in Washington and Oregon, levelled and ready for sale. One wonders how many jobs disappeared with closure of the sawmills in Leavenworth, Fort Hill and Packwood. Hampton also has a relationship with Brookfield Asset Management, having sold 67,700 acres of North Cascade Tree Farm to them in 2008 after it was stripped.

The details of Minister Thomson’s capitulation to Hampton’s demands are confusing. In a September 2012 letter to Hampton Affiliates, Thomson stated: “Based on the recommendations of the Timber Supply Committee regarding conversion of volume-based licenses to area-based licenses, we will bring legislation to the House at the next session.” And the Timber Supply Committee’s “approval” was front and centre again at the February 20 press release announcing the Forest Act amendments.

But the report of the bipartisan Timber Supply Committee, which is made up of sitting MLAs, didn’t make any such recommendations. Instead, it called for maintaining the past, cautious approach under the Forest Act, and if any conversions of tenure are to be made, the Committee suggested they should be towards more community-based tenures with public consultation. There’s also a discrepancy in timing. Thomson claims in the September letter to be listening to the Timber Supply Committee, but the leaked document from April suggests his mind was already made up a month before that committee was even struck.

But problems with the Liberals’ plan go deeper than the bad optics of misrepresenting the facts. No proper inventory of forest resources has been done in the last ten years in BC, so the Liberal government has no idea of the value of the forest being traded. As well, Thomson seems to be guaranteeing Hampton Affiliates—in addition to an increased annual allowable cut of saw logs—virtually every standing stick or shrub for their bioenergy plant. That kind of scorch-and-burn policy doesn’t leave any room for climate and biodiversity protection. And Thomson is offering this to a company that has a record of consolidating assets, dismantling sawmills and flogging the underlying land for higher earning ventures. Hampton will also be eligible for what such companies refer to as “entitlements in progress,” including potential compensation from First Nations’ claims, having say over other resource uses, and, of course, selling their TFL to whomever they want.

The worst-case scenario sees Hampton getting its TFL, decimating the region in search of fibre, not finding enough, coming up against legal challenges from everyone, launching a few of its own by claiming the fibre supply was misrepresented to get them to invest in the mill, and then walking away with compensation from taxpayers. The public would be left with devastated lands and “For Sale” signs for the abandoned sawmill.

There is also this precedent-setting issue: If one corporation gets a more secure forest tenure then what about all the others? And what expensive legal challenges will result if British Columbians vote for a new government in May, one that wants to change course?

Perhaps the most predictable aspect of the Hampton tenure question is that a debate over how Crown land is used was hijacked by the separate issue of how to get Burns Lake millworkers and others in the pine-beetle-impacted areas back to work. It’s a typical “shock doctrine” maneuver in which an important debate gets suppressed because of the urgent necessity of dealing with an emergency. Who wants to get between a man and the prospect of a return to his job?

But if we continue to carve up and lose our forests to short-term, private interests, our ability to fight climate change and keep functioning ecosystems that sustain life will be gone forever.

Briony Penn has been reporting on Crown land issues for many years; she believes a public forum on how we value our Crown lands is long overdue.See “The Big Burn” (August 2010) at http://www.focusonline.ca/?q=node/71.