Friday, February 24, 2006


Most of us living in Oceanside know what a Douglas-fir looks like, after all they are the most common tree species found in this area.Trees support entire plant communities, and only mature trees provide the complexity needed for the full range and diversity of plants. The simple fact is that these massive trees were strong, abundant, close to the sea, and therefore they were logged to the brink of extinction along with the vegetation they support. As a result the Douglas-fir/Salal and Douglas-fir/Sword Fern are both red listed as rare and endangered plant communities on Vancouver Island.

The British Columbia Ministry of Forests references forest types by designating them into specific biogeoclimatic zone. Identification is base on three points of reference: “Bio” indicates the biological nature of the ecosystem based on the vegetation, “Geo” indicates the use of soils and geology, and “climatic” refers to the climate. The entire province has been classified into 14 biogeoclimatic zones. This system should not be confused with the scientific identification of all ecosystem in British Columbia because these terms have been established by foresters, working for the BC government, who are primarily interested in identification of trees for logging by private corporations.

The Coastal Douglas-fir biogeoclimatic zone is limited to a very small region of BC. A thin strip along the east coast of Vancouver Island from Deep Bay south to Victoria, several of the Gulf Islands, and small patches around Powell River and the Sunshine Coast. The rest of Vancouver Island is designated as Coastal Western Hemlock or Mountain Hemlock. These forests are completely different with regard to tree types, ground cover, and most notable moisture. The most extreme rainfall is found along the north west coast of the Island where the annual average is 4.5 meters according to statistics Canada. The Oceanside area, being in the rain shadow of the Vancouver Island Mountain Range, is usually much dryer with annual rainfall less than 1 meter. Most of Vancouver Island maintains some moisture through the summer with early morning fog that rolls in off the Pacific and the occasional rainfall but in the Coastal Douglas-fir zone there are long periods of drought .

Take a look around at the limited number of old-growth Douglas Fir trees in Oceanside and you will likely notice that the bark is blacken like charcoal. Older Douglas-fir are able to survive fires because they have very thick bark which helps to protect them from the heat and flames. Thin barked trees such as cedar, hemlock and most deciduous trees burnt to the ground in naturally occurring fires during past centuries. The cones from Douglas-fir that remained standing in a blackened and charred landscape would colonize the surrounding area which was devoid of competition. It would take many millenia for the process of succession to allow shade tolerant trees like hemlock and cedar to become dominant. Then fire would start the process over again leaving only a few remnant Douglas-fir giants as seed trees.

With the exception of a few remnant old-growth Douglas-fir, most of the trees that surround us in Oceanside are in the very early stages of their lives, anywhere from seedlings to 80 years old. Considering that a Douglas-fir reaches it climax at approximately 800 to 1000 year, then the trees around here are not even ready to attend kindergarten. The Coastal Douglas-fir zone is one of the smallest of British Columbia’s 14 biogeoclimatic zones yet it contains some of the province’s rarest vegetation with a diversity of ecosystems that is unparalleled. This fragile environment is seriously threatened by continuing human development.

The rest of BC has 12% of the land base set aside as protected and/or park thanks to the hard work of many dedicated citizens who convinced the NDP government of the 1990s that this was a priority. Granted much of this land is mountain tops, rock, and ice but it far exceeds the protection for land on Vancouver Island. Please write to Gordon Campbell and let him know that 6% forest protection is NOT ENOUGH for Vancouver Island! The BC Liberals require that you include your full mailing address so they know you are a voter.

Friday, February 10, 2006


Several times a day for the past week I have found myself jumping up with joy to shout that the Great Bear Rainforest (GBR) has been protected, then I sit back down and remember all of the practical implications. A lot has changed over the past 15 years when the social-environmental struggle was dubbed ‘the war in the woods’ by the media. The struggle of the people to protect the environment of this planet has changed, as have the rules, lets hope the results change too.

1.8 million hectares of land along B.C.'s Central and North Coast will be preserved to protect the largest intact temperate rainforests in the world. The GBR is home to the Kermode or "Spirit" bear, a rare, white variation of the black bear as well as one of the world's last large populations of grizzly bears.

This initiative was spearheaded by First Nations and environmentalists who have been in negotiations for the past 10 years with the forest industry and the BC government. After large well organized public protests at Clayoquot Sound the government and multinational logging corporations refused to attend the negotiations for the GBR until environmental groups signed onto a list of very stringent rules. The non-profit groups agreed that they would not make demands for land protection anywhere else in the province or the other parties would walk away from the GBR table forever. This meant no lobbying for public support, no public relations campaigns, no advertising, no boycotts, no rallies, and definitely no roadblocks. As a result the groups with the largest public support, best organizational skills, and the biggest political clout did nothing about the many atrocities being perpetrated upon the environment in British Columbia. All the eggs were in one basket, the Great Bear Rainforest.

Limited’ logging will be allowed in the GBR under the new land-use plan. I have heard the words limited, selective, and special management used by foresters to describe their methods of logging. I have seen what the BC Ministry of Forests allows logging companies to do out in the wilderness. Variable retention logging is flaunted as being different from clear-cutting. I have witnessed ‘new age’ logging that goes on today in some the most sensitive forests, managed under strict government supervision. The results include: steep slopes with all the trees cut down except a few left on the top of the ridge to blow down in the first winter, river banks exposed by log-yarding and road building that forces silt into Salmon bearing streams, patches of trees left as wildlife corridors that blow down and are then ‘salvaged’ a few years later, and devastation beyond the imagination left behind in the ‘unclear-cuts.’

Today, with the change from the Forest Practices Code to the Results Based Code implemented by the BC Liberal government, logging corporations are expected to monitor their own adherence to environmental policies.

Environmental organizations will contribute $60 million in the hope of changing the economic focus of communities located around the GBR, from resource extraction to eco-tourism. The province will add $30 million and ask Ottawa to match it. This financial shift is very significant because it means that nonprofit organizations will be paying half the cost while tax-payers take the back seat in the preservation of parks. The question is who will set the rules? For example the rules of protection have been modified repeatedly in Strathcona, established in 1911 as the first BC Provincial Park, when government allowed mines, logging, road building, private resorts, and dams to alter the environment inside the park.

At the end of last year, environmentalists spent $1.35 million to buy the trophy-hunting rights in an area now known as the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary. The most valuable guide outfitting territories in B.C. transformed into eco-tourism overnight. Foreign hunters are no longer welcome to shoot bears and wolves in a 20,000 square kilometre area of B.C.'s Central Coast, they are now encouraged to bring cameras instead. Sounds great, but in the GBR all BC residents with a regular hunting license can still shoot bears, wolves, cougar, deer, moose, elk, grouse, ducks, and just about any creature they like within the proper hunting season. This is also the sad fact in most provincial parks in BC.

Today I rejoice that a significant park has been established. This may mean that I can see a white black bear someday. I also know that all those places that have been left out of these negotiations are still worth fighting for and must be protected. On Vancouver Island: Cathedral Grove, East Creek, Upper Walbran Valley, Little Qualicum Floodplain, Hamilton Marsh, and the Nahmint Douglas-fir just to name a few. Lets make sure that the public does not get PRed into thinking that saving the GBR means the moratorium on off-shore oil explorations can be lifted or the 'working forest' legislation can be implemented to limit the amount of land protected as parks. I feel that we must take this opportunity to move forward and at the same time start anew to protect what we can of this delicate environment we call earth.