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%