Friday, September 28, 2007


Today society struggles to strike a balance in watersheds that have been battered for the past 150 years by logging, development, gravel mining, and road building. Despite this, and the fact that water is a precious resource, the destruction continues.

For many years now the Englishman River has been considered one of the top most threatened rivers in BC according to the Outdoor Recreation Council of British Columbia, with a total of 120,000 members. ( Englishman River is considered to be an example all of the rivers on the east coast of Vancouver Island, that flow into the Strait of Georgia Basin. All of these rivers are in a serious state of stress and decline.

The indicator species used by many biologists to determine the health of these rivers is the Steelhead Salmon, a species that returns to spawn many years in a lifetime. Snorkel teams counted 471 adults in February 1985, which was cause for alarm at the time since the returns once numbered in the thousands. By the year 2000 the winter count was 15, a count that went up to 43 in 2006.

A lot of attention has been directed at the Englishman River to try to bring the salmon back. A ‘salmon enhancement’ program has involved diverting water into excavated channels, ditching, egg and milk extraction, incubation pens, and fry release.

Multinational logging companies, TimberWest and Island Timberlands, continue to destroy the banks of local rivers with tree removal and road building. The resulting landslides, land erosion, and surface disruptions lead to massive amounts of dirt and debris in the flow of water. Heavy rains flush silt, loosened by logging equipment and dragging of logs, into rivers. Buildup of silt is known to suffocate salmon eggs buried in gravel. Channeling of water results in higher floods, which further erode riverbanks and level out pools.

Over the years governments have addressed some of the issues that face the watersheds locally but they tend to avoid drawing attention to the root causes of the damage. Instead, they claim that logging corporations provide valuable money for rehabilitation. These logging companies get massive tax breaks in exchange for money that is put into river restoration projects.

In the case of Englishman River attempts have been made to recreate pools and safe refuge for small salmon fry that get washed away when the river gauges out straight wide expanses between ever widening banks. These projects involved massive excavators, dump trucks, blasted rock, steel cables, logs with rootballs purchased from logging companies, chainsaws, and of course manpower paid with provincial and federal tax dollars.

River restoration, while logging the banks of the very same river, is similar to sticking a knife into your stomach and then trying to cover it over with band-aids rather than pulling out the knife and then attending to the wound.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada manages fish. The BC Ministries of Forests and Environment do not regulate logging on private land. The Regional District of Nanaimo is responsible for the dam at the source. Logging companies, various developers, and private landowners all stake their claim to the land on the banks of the river. Who is looking after the interests of the river and watershed?

On BC and World Rivers Day Sunday, September 30 much attention will be directed at the new Top Bridge Crossing where the Regional District of Nanaimo will be kicking off the grand opening of the new Englishman River Regional Park. Having spent $500,000 on a steel suspension bridge you can be sure to find many politicians.

Meanwhile a group of dedicated volunteers will be providing tours along the floodplain of the Little Qualicum River where Chinook Salmon are currently spawning. Sarah Casley, Education Coordinator for Fisheries and Oceans Canada will be performing a salmon dissection beginning at 11:30am. The largest Sitka Spruce on the east coast of Vancouver Island is hidden inside this jewel of a forest. Access is at the end of Kingkade Road just north of Qualicum along the Island Highway. The Little Qualicum River has received very little attention from local, provincial or federal government and continues to be threatened by development and logging.

Friday, September 14, 2007


On the Labour Day weekend I climbed the largest Douglas fir tree in the world, actually I took the elevator up. In order to operate my video camera I work with a team of professional tree climbers, all of them arborists, who rig the ropes. They hook my harness up to a rope while another climber, who has climbed up the tree beforehand, is attached to the middle of the same rope. A pulley allows him to act as my counterweight and a ground crew uses the rope to pull him down to the ground. I am lifted gentle up into the crown of the tree.

Moving up along the massive trunk of this Fir tree reveals deep grooves woven randomly in the bark, some as deep as 6 inches. Spider webs span these ravines, shimmering in the light. Many species of lichen adorn the brown/grey bark with bright splashes of white, green, and yellow. I float by the remains of a nest made by a tiny bird, perhaps a winter wren, fitted snuggly in a hole bored by a woodpecker.

At about 100 feet a lush aerial garden is wedged into the crotch where the first branch juts out from the trunk. Licorice ferns pock out of the thick mat of moss and lichens that clings to the top of this massive bough. The bright red dots of huckleberries contrast with the various shades of green and yellow moss as 3 huckleberry bushes stand firmly in the breeze. A 4-foot hemlock tree dominates this suspended paradise.

The Red Creek Fir is a ‘World Champion’ tree with the greatest volume of its species in the world. This is according to the Big Tree Registry of British Columbia, which lists the top 10 trees of every species. For some reason this Fir was allowed to stand while the forest around it was completely leveled by clear-cut logging, in fact the old logging road runs past the base of this incredible tree. This giant is 13.28 m (43’7”) in circumference, 73.80 m (242’) tall, with a crown spread of 22.80 m (75’)

I continued up the elevator to approximately 150 feet where the view of the San Juan Valley is incredible. Unfortunately gaping holes in the forest below reveal recent clear-cut logging in second growth forest. The entire valley has been logged and now Western Forest Products (WFP) is logging the area for the second time, faster, with larger machinery, and fewer workers.

We then moved to the other side of the valley where the San Juan Sitka Spruce grows. This is the largest Spruce in Canada with an 11.66 m (31’5”) circumference, height 62.50 m (205’) and 23 m (75’) crown spread. The massive trunk branches into several adjacent trunks, which are larger than many large trees.

Once the ropes were rigged I had to do some work and climbed a rope 200 feet to the top of this tree. Along the way I stopped frequently to admire the many aerial gardens along the way. Many large branches protrude from the trunks of this tree, providing platforms of moss, ferns, and small bushes. These platforms are ideal habitat for Marbled Murrelet, a red listed endangered sea bird which nests only in old growth forests.

Looking down at the San Juan river I am surrounded by many aerial gardens teeming with life. I am astounded to see two 3 foot tall ‘bonzai’ Douglas Fir trees growing out of the top of the main trunk which was blasted off by lightening many years ago. A 14 foot tall hemlock grows off another trunk, along with many smaller trees, bushes, ferns, moss, and lichens.

I’ve been climbing trees for a few years, pulling together a team that is allowing me to shoot a film about the canopy of the ancient rainforest of Vancouver Island. The climbing system we use allows me to move into the canopy with the least amount of damage to the tree since the gigging ropes are what my team and I climb on with only a few points of contact with the tree itself.

I have climbed with several researchers, including a team of Entomologists from UVIC who have been climbing into the canopy where they have discovered no less than 125 species of insect that were previously unknown. For more information:

This abundance of evidence proves that we know very little about the ancient rainforests. 85 of 91 watersheds on Vancouver Island have been heavily logged and less than 5% of the low valley bottom forest remains intact.