It might surprise you to learn that there is a place just a few hours from Victoria, B.C. that is home to Canada's version of the American redwoods. It's a place where you can walk amongst groves of centuries-old trees, some with trunks as wide as your living room; where you can swim in pools of emerald-green water by the base of cascading waterfalls; where bears, cougars, and wolves still roam the wild, rugged, temperate rainforest as they have for millennia. And it may come as more of surprise to learn that its days could now be numbered unless something is done to finally protect it.
The place I'm referring to is the Upper Walbran Valley. It doesn't have the catchiest name (it sounds like a type of muffin), but it is a most magnificent place. It is located on Crown (public) land west of Lake Cowichan in the unceded territory of the Pacheedaht Nuu-Cha-Nulth people. The Walbran is home to Canada's most incredible remaining stand of unprotected old-growth redcedar trees, the Castle Grove, as well as the at-risk Central Walbran Ancient Forest, a largely intact, valley-bottom-to-mountain-top forest filled with giant old-growth cedars, delicate limestone creeks, and abundant wildlife. Thanks to the ideal growing conditions in the region, it is here that Canada's temperate rainforests reach their most magnificent proportions.
And it was here in 2004 that I first experienced their true grandeur and witnessed what really constitutes a BIG tree in B.C. -- a giant redcedar that is 16 feet (five metres) wide. It was also here where I first learned that not all is well in the woods; that old-growth logging continues relentlessly in many regions of this province, including on Vancouver Island.
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That first visit inspired a decade-long passion for exploring wilderness and the backroads of Vancouver Island, hunting for the last pockets of lowland ancient forests and the mammoth trees that lurk within them. One quickly discovers, however, that these seemingly indomitable forests have now sadly been reduced to a tiny fraction of their former extent. Outside of parks on southern Vancouver Island, a century of industrial logging has left us mostly with tattered patches of lowland old-growth forests, poking up above the monotonous tree plantations like tufts of grass missed when mowing the lawn.
In the early '90s, when the nearby Carmanah/Walbran Provincial Park was established, the Upper Walbran Valley and its finest stands of ancient redcedars was left out like a bite from the side of the park, and the best bite at that. The timber industry, with its voracious appetite for giant trees, continued for the next two decades to fragment a large portion of the upper valley, moving ever closer each year to the unprotected central core.
Thankfully, the Central Walbran has, until now, remained mostly intact; when compared to the surrounding area, it truly is the region's largest tract of unprotected, lowland old-growth forest left. On southern Vancouver Island the landscapes are largely clearcuts, big stumps, or tree plantations; where unprotected old-growth forests do remain, they're typically at the high elevations or in scrubby bogs along the outer coast.
You can see, then, why local conservationists became concerned upon the recent discovery of survey tape marked "Falling Boundary" and "Road Location" in the Central Walbran Ancient Forest. I recently visited the valley with AFA activist Jackie Korn to document the survey tape and the surrounding endangered forest with photos and video for the public to see.
In an email from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations to my old-growth tree protection organization Ancient Forest Alliance, the B.C. government stated that the Teal Jones Group, the logging licencee with tenure in this area of the Walbran Valley, has not applied for any cutting or road building permits there yet. However, the flagging tape clearly denotes the company's interest in potentially logging the ancient forest. In response, conservationists have renewed their call for the company halt any logging plans and for the B.C. government to protect the Upper Walbran through a new provincial conservancy designation.
Ecological surveys done in the Upper Walbran have revealed the presence of species at risk including marbled murrelets, Queen Charlotte goshawks, red-legged frogs, Vaux's swifts, and Keen's long-eared myotis, as well as cougars, wolves, black bears, elk, black-tailed deer, steelhead, and coho salmon.
The old-growth forests of B.C. are vital to sustaining endangered species, climate stability, tourism, clean water, wild salmon, and the cultures of many First Nations who use the old-growth redcedars to build canoes, long houses, masks, and to meet numerous other needs. Yet on the province's southern coast, satellite photos show that at least 75 per cent of the original, productive old-growth forests have been logged, including over 90 per cent of the valley bottoms where the largest trees grow (see recent maps and stats here).
The Ancient Forest Alliance is therefore calling on the B.C. government to implement a comprehensive science-based plan to protect the province's endangered old-growth forests, and to also ensure a sustainable, value-added second-growth forest industry.
Allowing B.C.'s finest ancient forests to be logged is akin to the destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria. The rich ecological and cultural histories stored over millennia in our old-growth forests provide records and are part of B.C.'s identity and support endangered species, clean water, wild salmon, tourism, recreation, and an exceptional quality of life for future generations.
Do we need wood products? Yes. But do we need to cut down one of nature's last cathedrals for more two-by-fours and pulp? No. There is a viable second-growth forest alternative that dominates most of the landscapes of southern B.C. now, and if used sustainably, it can allow for a prosperous forest industry. If we've learned anything from the widespread loss of this planet's grandest ancient ecosystems, it's that when they're gone, they're gone. You have but one chance to protect them.
Now is that chance to protect the Central Walbran Ancient Forest, the Castle Grove, and the Upper Walbran Valley -- before it's too late.