Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Monday August 18 at 6:45 am I pulled on my steel-toed cork boots, buttoned up my timber-cruising vest, and put a hard hat on my head. With a firm grip on my video camera I climbed up a steep embankment following two fallers headed for the timberline. Hiking through the debris of the slash-cut we followed a ribboned route, which they had cleared of many branches, by balancing along logs bucked to length. We regrouped at the edge of the old-growth forest and discussed the practicalities of my videotaping them at work.

While the 24-year old, with 5 years falling experience, cut away the huckleberry bushes and small saplings, the older faller talked with me about the reality of his industry. According to him Weyerhaeuser and TimberWest had left workers out to dry and couldn’t care less about the local communities. He blamed the downturn in forestry on the greed of those same corporations who continue to flip Tree Farm Licenses with the help of government to turn a profit.

He was outraged by land deals being made by Western Forest Products and TimberWest that are to turning timberland into real estate. His thoughts were that the land belongs to the people of this province and it should be illegal for multinational investment corporations, backed by banks, to sell it out from under the public for profit. Sounds a lot like what I’ve been writing about for years.

I was placed in a safe zone and the older faller stood behind me ready to pull me out if there was trouble. First the young faller determined the lean of the tree, then he cut out a wedge of wood with an undercut, and then he moved to the other side of the tree for the back-cut. With the help of a wedge he tipped over the 4-foot-in-diameter Western Hemlock, pulled out the chainsaw, and walked back 10 feet where he watched the tall tree crash to the ground with a thundering boom. Then he cut down 3 more trees. Two giant Sitka Spruce trees towered over us but it would take these men most of the day to clear the smaller trees in the area before tackling them. However, they did want me to videotape the Sitka being felled and asked me to return the next morning.

The rest of the day would take a novel to describe in detail. On the way down to sea level I drove past several excavators building new roads and a blasting crew preparing their drilling machine. At the log dump I watched a massive log boom of prime old-growth cedar logs being loaded onto a barge, which can hold 16,000 cubic meters of wood. Two giant towers dropped gargantuan claws into the water and pulled up massive bundles of logs while sidewinder tugs pushed more wood into their range. You’ll have to wait for the film to get the full effect.

In the afternoon I climbed into the cab of a Super Snorkel about 15 feet off the ground and watched the operator swing the massive claw out into the clear-cut and grab a log. With ease, he manipulated the levers so that long cables pulled the massive timber down the steep slope onto the road where he threw it onto a pile. A Hoe-chuck excavator crawled through the slash across the steep slope in search of logs, which he could toss down the hill to the claw of the Super Snorkel.

That evening, in the loggers’ bunk house, as I gathered signatures on release forms for my film entitled “Such Great Heights”, the men were very intrigued by my production. The Hoe-Chuck operator, sitting on his cot beside a laptop computer, copied down my website: promising to check up on me right away.

I decided that I had to leave without videotaping the giant Sitka Spruce being felled because it was no longer safe for me to be there. Today we live in a world where local residents from different walks of life may have very similar convictions about the fact that multinational corporations are destroying our world, but we are separated by the spin created by those very same corporations. Government and big business continue to pit the workingman against environmentalists, First Nations, and the general public, while they run away with the cash.

Together we need to create the future for our communities, island, province, country, and planet. We can’t leave it up to greed. We must unite to demand an end to corporate control of our forests. I have left the people and places in this article anonymous out of respect for the men who showed me their work, up close and personal. To them I am grateful. Let us dispel the myths.

Thursday, August 07, 2008



One of my favourite places to hike has always been Mount Arrowsmith. The first time that I ventured up the mountain I was eleven years old and hiked up to the ‘Saddle’ between Mt. Cokley and Mt. Arrowsmith, with 2 friends and one adult. We tried to hike up to the main massif but snow made it too difficult so we resorted to sliding down the steep slopes, which was lots of fun.

Since then I have hiked every approach to the mountain that I know, including up and over Mt. Cokeley starting at the ski slopes, the saddle route, the Judge’s route, and several others that you’ll have to find on your own. The views of the many peaks of the mountain from the ‘saddle’ are extraordinary with steep cliffs falling off to an emerald coloured lake, which hold ice until well into summer.

The hike up to the alpine ridges is through forests that are shadowed by the steep mountain slopes, have extremely short growing seasons, and are covered by snow through much of the year. Yellow Cedar (Cypress), Mountain Hemlock, and Alpine Fir are the dominant tree species. At higher elevations the rocky ridges are dotted with very old trees that take on the appearance of Bonsai, due to the extreme conditions and short growing season.

In spring and summer the alpine meadows and slopes are covered with a multitude of flowers of every colour imaginable. These include blue listed endangered species like: Olympic mountain aster, Lance fruited draba, Sand dwelling wallflower, Woodland Penstemon, and White wintergreen. Heather and flowering berry shrubs grow in abundance along the trails.

On one of my first hikes I watched a pair of young marmots browsing along the slopes near the lake. This colony of the most endangered species in Canada has now disappeared, likely due to logging on the slopes all around Mt. Arrowsmith. The value of Yellow Cedar for export to foreign markets is now so great that logging companies are clear-cutting the alpine forests. Yellow cedar is usually only found at higher elevations and is the oldest tree species in our region growing with documented living trees dating back 1500 years.

A small park exists with the name of Mt. Arrowsmith Regional Park, but it is located on Mt. Cokeley and does not protect any of Mt. Arrowsmith. The entire forest surrounding these two mountains is privately owned by Island Timberlands who continue to log higher up the slopes each year. In 2006 senior management from Island Timberlands assured the public that they would buffer the important hiking routes to Mt. Arrowsmith. Since then they have heavily logged the areas in question with no regard for preservation of the trails.

The slopes beside the Judge’s route have been clear-cut extensively in the past year and the slopes of Mt. Cokeley, beside a small lake on the road to the old alpine ski lodge, have also been heavily logged. Almost half of the trees that were cut down appear to have been left behind. Much of the wood debris that is being left to rot has suffered the fate of long butting, a logging practice where only the prime part of the trees is taken, leaving the rest behind in order to save on transportation costs. This practice is not allowed on publicly owned land but there are no penalties for this type of waste on private land.

The European Union has stipulated that they will only buy lumber that is certified as meeting with environmental standards. Island Timberlands claims they are meeting these standards but do the buyers really know what is happening on the slope of Vancouver Island’s mountains? Trees being cut on Mt. Arrowsmith are over 4000 feet above sea level, with a growing season so short that it takes hundreds of years for a tree to reach only 18 inches in diameter.

These sub-alpine forests are extremely important for our local aquifers and streams because they slow the melting of snow and prevent evaporation. The shade from these trees allows for a slower run off from the mountain and extends the flow of water into the lands below well into the dry months.

For more information and to support the preservation of Mt. Arrowsmith check out: