Friday, November 18, 2005


I have been privileged to walk in one of the rarest and sensitive ecosystems on the planet, an ancient wetland forest growing on the active floodplain of a meandering river. This Douglas Fir/Sword Fern plant community is red-listed as endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and is made even more rare because these giant trees grow in a wetland that is flooded by seasonal rains.

The fact is, Douglas Fir trees do not like their roots to be wet and require drainage in order to survive. Yet some of these trees have been able to survive for over 800 years despite frequent flooding of the entire area. Walking through the forest of Cathedral Grove along the Cameron River, I was impressed by Douglas Fir trees, 6-8 feet across at the butt, perched on mounds and ridges that kept them out of the numerous channels filled by flood waters.

I have given tours of this wetland forest to biologists, forest technicians, silvaculturelists, the BC Minister of WLAP, and BC Parks managers. All but the bureaucrats agreed that disturbing the ground water with gravel, roadways, and an extensive trail system may kill ancient trees that are growing so delicately throughout the wetland forest. When I asked about the kilometer-wide area between the proposed parking area and the present day viewing area the reply from BC Parks managers was that they haven’t done an impact study, environmental study, hydrological study, or vegetation study specific to that site. They did agree that the public tends to stray off designated trails, trampling new paths through the forest.

I have counted seven species of ferns growing amongst Salmon Berry, Cascara, Thimble Berry, and Nootka Rose. Thickets of Devil’s Club grow out of the rich black soil of the bottomlands surrounded by fragrant Stink Current and Red Elderberry. Lichens and mosses hang from the lower branches and trunks of every tree. The variety of tree species, age, thickness, and height creates a living forest that is truly diverse. Standing dead trees provide life to thousands of organisms from fungi and insects to birds.

Massive trees, leveled by the Qualicum Wind of New Year’s Day 1997, lie with their rootballs exposed and covered with a thick forest of seedling trees, Bog Cranberry, Huckleberry, and Trailing Blackberry. Beneath these fallen giants is a reservoir of moisture that endures the drought of summer and provides sanctuary for newts, salamanders, and frogs. A remnant herd of Roosevelt Elk, blue-listed as threatened on Vancouver Island by COSEWIC, winters in the wetland portion of Cathedral Grove. Red-Legged frogs, red-listed as endangered by COSEWIC, live in a pond directly adjacent to the proposed parking lot area. I have also encountered owls, hawks, bear, bats, trout, and many song birds in the wetland forest where BC parks plans to put a parking lot and trail system.

I attended an exclusive power point show where 10 of 11 proposals for parking lots were summarily rejected by the same 7 BC Parks managers making the presentation. This leaves only a version of the original parking lot proposal from 2001 that was rejected by strong public opposition causing years of public protests. I personally handed a petition, with over 10,000 signatures, opposing that very same parking lot location to former Minister Bill Barisoff, yet today it is the only proposal that BC Parks is truly considering.

At the Ministry of Environment’s Port Alberni open house loggers, truck drivers, local government, biologists, and citizens voiced one strong united view point. Don’t touch the park! Resolve issues of safety with an alternate route for the main highway. BC Parks manager Chris Kissinger made it clear that his staff would not be taking notes and that safety issues must be addressed to the Ministry of Transportation, who have ignored numerous requests to present their plans to the public over the past four years. In order to document options from many perspectives, Friends of Cathedral Grove will be holding a round table public meeting, mediated by MLA Scott Fraser. Everyone is welcome on Tuesday December 6 at 7 pm in the Qualicum Civic Centre.