Episode 12: 'Old Growth'

This was my first trip to Carmanah, Dominik had been there before and was so impressed by it he thought it should be included in the series, so it was. From Salt Spring we ferried back to Crofton, rode up to Lake Cowichan, then hit gravel for 85 kms. The trip up was in the dry which was a blessing, the only thing worse than logging roads on a big bike are wet logging roads. The ride was very telling with regards the forestry industry on Vancouver Island. I still don’t understand the industry if I’m to be honest. Obviously I understand the harvesting of lumber and the replanting practices but the overall ‘cycle’ of the industry in a sustainable light still escapes me. I found it quite ironic that to get to Carmanah we had to ride through some obvious clearcuts where no replanting had taken place. At least that's how it looked to my untrained eye.

Boardwalk at Carmanah

A very special place

Meares Island...an incredible place

Extensive logging has taken place throughout Vancouver Island for years and continues to do so and when I’m safely ensconced in my home on Gabriola I’m oblivious to the scale of logging that continues to take place. That changes though when I board the ferry for a trip to Nanaimo. Sailing into the harbour quite often we’ll pass along side raw logs being loaded onto ships for export. It is a sight that bothers me immensely, and one that was replayed just down the coast at Crofton where we boarded the ferry to Salt Spring. The fact that these logs are being sold and shipped overseas is direct evidence of jobs going overseas, and when one considers the size of the payloads of these 'logging tankers' I have to ask the question, 'how long can they keep doing that before there’s none left?' Ships come and go from Nanaimo on a frequent basis, as I’m sure they do in Crofton, and how many other ports around the island?

Crofton, Raw Log Exports-Logging tanker on the left with full load, tanker on right waiting to be loaded. Look at the different freeboard on each vessel...how many trees to fill a tanker I wonder?

Corralling logs

Big wood

Hard at work

The scale of the operation is mind boggling and when one considers the size of Vancouver Island I find it very hard to believe it’s a sustainable industry, the volume of raw log exports is just too great, and this is where ‘Old Growth’ comes into play. With dwindling good wood available eyes turn to trees that will pay. Put a one foot diametre tree next to an eight foot diametre tree and the choice is obvious. Many of us will always take the path of least resistance, it’s human nature, but when does our need for profit usurp social responsibility. Just because we have something, does that give us the right to do with it as we will. In my opinion, yes it does…to a point. There has to be a modicum of restraint shown when much of what we have has already been taken, there should always be something left in reserve. According to an article by Ancient Forest Alliance estimates of old growth logging on Vancouver Island lie around 75% of original old growth forest, and as high as 90% in the fertile valley bottoms, that's the good news. The bad news is it's estimated that 99% of coastal BC Douglas Fir has already been logged, 99%, and yet these stands of Old Growth are still eyed by logging companies. Walking into Carmanah was an incredible experience, as was Meares Island and Avatar Grove by Port Renfrew. To think that conservationists have to fight as hard as they do to try and save what little is left astounds me, and the fact the government seems to continue to allow certain kinds of logging seems plain irresponsible. There are obviously legalities involved, private vs crown land, employment considerations, lobby groups and many other factors that I am ignorant of that effect policies. But while policies are shuffled about logging continues.

As nature intended

During our stays at various locations around the island we had many conversations with locals over the plight of Old Growth forests and raw log exports. It was interesting listening to their opinions. Raw log exports is a real sore spot for many, myself included, but there was one comment by a woman in Port Renfrew that really stuck. When I happened to mention another person's comment regarding the Clayoquot Sound protests of the early 90s and how that person believed the loggers had been caught between corporate policy makers and conservationists she had snorted; “for many loggers as far as they’re concerned the trees will grow back.” Simple enough, and that is the basic premise of many of the arguments. And they are right, they will grow back, but they will never grow back the way the exist today. Those trees have taken centuries to attain their size and the only reason that happened in the first place was because of ideal circumstances, and by that I mean the perfect environment. One thing that clearcuts illustrate more than anything else is how these environments are altered during the logging process. Water courses are diverted, soil is disrupted and a great deal of erosion takes place. Then, once the logs are loaded onto trucks and taken to the mill or the ships for export, trees are replanted with a future harvest already in sight. That piece of land that was once old growth has been put into the logging cycle for future harvesting. The problem with all this is that even if policies change in the future and tracts of land are given back to nature they will never regrow in the same manner because of the disturbance to their habitat. Once these trees are gone, they are gone forever, there is no going back. It’s not a blame thing, it’s a basic perception of how we see the forests. For many they equate to profit, for others they equate to our natural heritage. Logging should continue, I firmly believe that, but in a socially responsible manner. There has to be a moratorium on old growth logging. If trees have been replanted in decades past, as they have, to sustain an industry then those same trees should be harvested. The days of turning to old growth to fill quotas or increase profit margins should be abolished. If an industry proclaims itself to be self sustaining then it should indeed sustain itself, but on that which has already been replanted. The remaining Old Growth should be left the way nature intended.

Randy Stoltmann, what a story

Replanted 1963

'Old Growth'