Thursday, May 14, 2009


Endangered Wetland Forest ecosystem flourishes
Wetland Forest dominated by Sitka Spruce, Douglas fir, and Western Red Cedar

Last Thursday I watched a group of 12 men in Timber Cruising Vests walk into the woods at the edge of the highway between the Inland Highway and the Coombs Junction, very close to the railway tracks. The next day I hiked into the same forest to see what they were up to and noticed a series of florescent pink flagging tape with the words Timber Cruise. These plastic markers surrounded a particularly large Douglas fir tree but I wasn’t able to find any more anywhere else in that portion of the forest.

Hiking towards the open water of Hamilton Marsh I discovered a lush wetland forest, completely different from the 2nd growth Douglas fir forest on the other side of the marsh, where the public accesses the viewing dock. The area I walked through has an abundance of water pools, many of which are connected by slow moving trickles of water, which seeped through out the uneven ground. Thousands of Skunk Cabbage, with bright yellow blooms surrounded by bright green leaves, thrust out of the rich soil, along with a wide array of wetland plants.

I found man Western Red Cedar, with a ‘Diameter at Breast Height’ (DBH), exceeding 1 meter. I was surprised to find a significant number of Sitka Spruce trees, which are rare and endangered on the east coast of Vancouver Island according to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Many of these tall trees also had a DBH greater than 1 meter.

Somewhat to my astonishment, I found many large old growth Douglas fir trees, despite the fact that this species generally likes to keep its roots dry. These ancients flourish on mounds of soil surrounded by pools of water. Through out the forest Hemlock trees of every size grow in abundance along with Creek Dogwood, Ninebark, Salmonberry, and wild Cherry. This wetland forest has many of the characteristics of an old growth forest with multi-layered canopy; multi-aged trees, and multiple species of trees.

As I neared the open waters of Hamilton Marsh the ground became wetter, and the trees became much smaller, and appeared stunted in their growth. They were clustered together in very dense clumps, and the Douglas fir disappeared entirely. A few pine trees appeared, and the Creek Dogwood became so dense that I turned back and headed for the railway following an old logging track, as indicated by the parallel ruts that weave through the forest. I came upon many giant stumps from a time when the trees were hand cut with a straight saw, using planks to elevate the loggers above the flared butt of the trees.

As I walked back along the railway tracks I was reminded of the root cause of the private ownership of this magnificent forest. After all, it was the provincial and federal government who gave Robert Dunsmuir, a coal baron and the richest man in British Columbia at the time, 2 million acres of land in exchange for building a railway on Vancouver Island back in 1884. The land was sold off and as a direct result the southeast coast of Vancouver Island has practically no public land. Today parks make up less than 3% of the landmass on the south east of Vancouver Island, despite claims by the BC government that 12% of the province is park, equally distributed throughout the province.

Brookfield Asset Management now owns the land around Hamilton Marsh. It plans to log and flog this land as real estate through Island Timberlands. However, the railway is dilapidated and does not serve the public, which was the reason for the land gift in the first place. Island Timberlands’ Public Relations Director, McKensie Leine responded to inquiries by stating: “There is a Wildlife Danger Tree Assessor course going on right now. The class was doing the practical portion of the training and using the area to learn to assess danger trees.” Meanwhile negotiations with conservation groups and the Regional District of Nanaimo have reached an impasse and Island Timberlands logging and development plans stand ready to move into action.