The Giants of the Forest

Ancient Forest Alliance

Full disclosure, I’m writing this on the final stopover of my 33 hour journey to New Zealand, incredibly tired and full of coffee. That may have had an emotional impact; I’m feeling pretty homesick for the Discovery Islands right now. I miss a lot of things about lush, green, quiet Maurelle, but first in my mind as I was walking, bleary eyed, through the overcrowded tube system in London and the duty free hell that is Dubai’s international airport, was the grandmother tree and how to keep her safe.

Grandmother Tree

Just up the Okisollo Channel from our basecamp, on the Quadra shore, there is a beach. It faces south so catches the morning sun while being sheltered from the prevalent north westerly winds which bring good weather to the Discovery Islands all summer long. The beach is steep and made of what Brody likes to call ‘large grain sand’; small pebbles that turn into a soft carpet of pine needles when you duck beneath the branches that come nearly to the water. Up a winding trail through the forest, which swallows the sound of the surf and leaves you walking in silence, there is a tree. Cristina named her ‘the grandmother.’ She’s probably over a thousand years old.
Visiting this tree is one of the highlights of my week. Standing next to a tree that takes, from experience, 8 people holding hands to fully encompass it, leaves me, and many of our guests, awestruck. We take a moment up there in the forest to think about all the people she would have seen, all the historic events she has lived through, all the storms weathered and sunlight soaked up. Equally amazing is the fact that while the grandmother tree is undoubtedly special, she’s far from unique along the BC coastline.

Radical Rainforest

Vancouver Island is uniquely placed to provide the perfect environment for coniferous trees to grow and thrive for hundreds of years. This specific ecosystem, known as temperate coastal rainforest, is a result of high moisture levels and a relatively warm climate that allows the trees to grow quickly all year round. The coastal rainforest stretches all the way from the redwoods of north California to the sitka spruce of Alaska, and typically receives around 10 feet of rain a year. Within these magnificent forests the old growth trees support huge curtains of hanging lichen, and their wide branches are draped in such deep layers of moss that scientists have discovered entire species of plants and birds that can only live up there; laying their eggs and raising their young without building a nest, instead bedding down on the moss itself.

Sadly, these huge trees are not just ecologically valuable. Over the last 150 years, huge amounts of old growth douglas fir has been logged; the trees’ great height and straight grained wood made for the perfect structural lumber for the demands of a growing Canada. With the accessible douglas fir gone, loggers turned to old growth cedars, like the grandmother tree, as the next source of lengthy, high quality lumber. All over Quadra and Maurelle there’s evidence of this activity; our own site has some massive douglas fir stumps, one now in the form of an outhouse, that were hand logged in the early 1900s. These once huge structures, which pushed up towards the sun for hundred of years, hosting flora and fauna and dropping needles and limbs to sustain the plants around them, stand now only as scarred nursery stumps, haunting reminders of what could become of the remaining old growth cedars on our island. With ever more efficient means of logging, our ability to cut down trees far outstrips their ability to grow, and this makes the old growth that remains incredibly valuable lumber, especially where it is easily accessible. In our corner of the world, the cedars only remain because the twentieth century loggers didn’t want them, favouring douglas fir instead. With supplies of old growth lumber dwindling, our magnificent cedars won’t be overlooked for much longer.

Changing Times

The tide of popular opinion is turning. In a province still heavily reliant on the timber industry, the impact of the tourism dollar is growing year by year. More and more BC businesses are recognising that our old growth forests are worth more standing than they are milled into lumber. The Ancient Forest Alliance has been instrumental in this shift in attitude. A small not for profit organisation that’s been running since 2010, the AFA was started by a few Vancouver Islanders determined to save the ancient old growth stands near Port Renfrew. They have gone on to prevent logging all over the island and southern BC as a whole. Their work to save ‘Avatar Grove’, a stand of old growth outside Port Renfrew which contains ‘Canada’s gnarliest tree,’ brought so many tourists to the area that the chamber of commerce in the town recently put a moratorium on all old growth logging in the area choosing to save the trees to be admired by visitors for the long term rather than chop them down for a quick buck.

I’m proud that Go With The Flow is supporting the Ancient Forest Alliance’s continued efforts to save British Columbian old growth. Brody has been in contact with them recently as changing timber rights on Quadra means the grandmother tree could be at risk of logging. The AFA works tirelessly to promote sustainable logging practice and prevent the logging of old growth trees, and it’s an honour to be involved in that cause. Because just up the Okisollo Channel there is a tree, worth so much more as a testament to the enduring power of nature, as a rich and rare habitat, and as a reminder of how fleeting our time here is, than as a splintered stump and a pile of planks.

Written by: Kat Osei-Mensah