Wednesday, September 10, 2008


View from a seaplane over the mouth of Klaskish Inlet heading towards East Creek Valley, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

Flying out of Coal Harbour, over Quatsino Inlet on the northwest corner of Vancouver Island, I looked down at a coastline dotted with fish farms, tree farms, and clear-cuts. We headed south along the rugged Pacific coast and flew past Red Stripe Mountain, logged from the waterline up and over its peak at 639 metres (2096 feet).
Back in May I wrote of my journey by logging road into the Upper East Creek Valley where I discovered that the highest standards of logging in the province, much flaunted by government and the logging industry, are nothing short of clear-cuts and environmental destruction on a massive scale.
We flew up Klaskish Inlet and over the estuary of East Creek with its beautiful tidal fields and interwoven channels. The lush forest below carpeted the valley floor and swept up the steep slopes to the tops of the surrounding mountains. It was difficult to keep track of the meandering creek as we soared higher into the watershed and the valley split into several narrow canyons.
Suddenly the thick foliage was ruptured by a gapping hole that ripped open the canopy to reveal bleached stumps and crushed wood debris. The clear-cuts became more recent as we circled the upper valley of East Creek, below I could see a grapple-yarder at work, a fully loaded logging truck driving over a bridge, an excavator building a new road, and vehicles parked at the edge of a cut-block which still contained fresh cut trees. The upper watershed looked like a patchwork quilt of destruction woven together by sparse threads of trees.
I was glad when we finally drifted back down over the pristine rainforest and made our descent towards the ocean. The pilot skillfully landed the Beaver Seaplane behind an island and taxied towards a sandy beach. I jumped into the water and helped position the seaplane while my friend and the pilot unlashed our kayaks. We waded onto shore and the pilot took off, leaving us alone in the wilderness of Klaskish.
Having obtained permission from their descendents, the Quatsino First Nations, we entered the ancient village site of people who lived here for nearly 10,000 years prior to contact with western civilization. We spent the afternoon marveling at culturally modified trees, which had been altered by first nations hundreds of years ago.
The forest was dense from the ground up into the canopy. Life flourished on every surface with diversity that boggled my mind. This feeling continued throughout our trip as we explored the estuary of East Creek, paddled up past the tidal surge, and spent time examining some of the giant trees that grow close to the shoreline.
One of these was a massive Pacific Red Cedar which measures 54 feet in circumference and was hollowed out by fire many years ago, creating a cave which could easily shelter several people. Sitka Spruce, which appeared to be relatively short for this typically tall species, were surprisingly wide and numerous.

We paddled north along 8 km of rugged coast exposed to the Pacific Ocean. Luckily there was little wind but swells and rebounding waves make for a rough ride with chaotic wave patterns that took us 3 hours to navigate. We were impressed by the abundance of healthy kelp gardens along the way. When we reached the safety of Heater Point and entered into Klaskino Inlet, we were greeted by several Sea Otters, and realized they are likely the cause for the healthy kelp.
These rare and endangered species were nearly trapped to extinction for their furs and were completely wiped out along the west coast of Vancouver Island. Sea Urchins are one of the main food sources for this cute furry mammal and the main food for Urchins is kelp.
This is significant because kelp beds are the breading grounds for plankton, as well as many small fish, which provide the base for the entire marine food chain. Biologists were noticing that the kelp beds were disappearing and they acted with an experiment that included transporting Sea Otters from Alaska and releasing them along the west coast of Vancouver Island. This project began in 1969 with 89 adults, which have established a healthy population between Tofino and Cape Scott where approximately 3,000 were counted in 2004.