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.