Last week, the Tourism Industry Association of British Columbia hosted a webinar in which Ancient Forest Alliance co-founder, photographer, and promoter TJ Watt, led those in attendance on a compelling journey through the politics and landscapes associated with BC’s endangered ancient forests.
Watt revealed, as many may know, that B.C. is home to some of the most magnificent, ancient, temperate rainforests on all of planet Earth. In B.C., if left to grow, trees can reach epic proportions.
Watt proceeded to introduce Canada’s largest tree, the Cheewhat Giant, which thankfully grows protected within the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve on Southwestern Vancouver Island. Cheewhat is not only Canada’s largest tree but the largest Western Red Cedar in the world.
“Thanks to a 12-month growing season here [on Vancouver Island], annual high rainfall, mild winters, warm summers, and lack of large-scale disturbances, trees can get very big and very old with time,” said Watt.
He went on to identify one of Canada’s largest Sitka Spruces and the world’s largest Douglas Fir which both resides near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island.
“It’s pretty amazing that right here in our own backyard, our claim to fame is some of the world’s largest trees.”
Although Vancouver Island is home to these trees and has the incredible ability to support such giants and their surrounding ecosystems, Watt explained that there are now substantially less productive forests remaining on Vancouver Island due to logging.
“After 150 years of logging, we have made a significant impact on the landscape. Today, over 80 per cent of productive forests in the region have been cut, including well over 90 per cent of the valley bottoms where the biggest trees grow, and the richest biodiversity resides. All that logging has had huge impacts on both the environment and economy.”
“Many ask what’s the issue if we replant trees? As industry says, ‘we plant two trees for every one we cut down, so what’s wrong?’… but the question is, do the ensuing second-growth tree plantations adequately replace the old-growth forests that resided there before them?”
“The answer is no, they do not. We are not facing a tree issue, but an ecosystem issue.”
“Old-growth forests are very structurally complex and diverse ecosystems. You have trees of varied ages from day-old trees to 100-year-old trees and even 1000-year-old trees. When big trees get old and fall down, their role within the forest is not yet finished.”
Fallen trees transform into ‘nurse logs’ once on the forest floor and act as starting beds for many plants within the forest and provide shelter and habitat for smaller creatures.
“When those big trees fall down, they also let more light into the forest floor through gaps that are then created in the canopy. This allows for a more luxurious and diverse understory of berry bushes, ferns and other species that are often lacking in younger second-growth forests below.”
The trees within second-growth forests, in contrast, are all roughly the same age, are planted close together, and characteristically lack in open canopies. Closed canopies may look nice and green from the outside but are often brown and barren on the inside because of a lack of structural diversity.
Watt went on to explain that in terms of biodiversity and healthy forests, “the key ingredient here is really time.”
“It takes time for old-growth forests to be created on the coast… old-growth forests are considered as any forest that is 250 years old or older but in reality, are any forest that has yet to be industrially logged.”
Second growth forests on the coast are sadly relogged every 50 to 60 years and never have the chance to become old-growth again. So, old-growth forests are irreplaceable ecosystems, given that it would take many lifetimes for them to redevelop even if they were allowed to do so.
Old-growth forests are also very important for our environment and store up to two to three times more carbon per hectare than the ensuing second-growth tree plantations and do so in light of the global climate emergency we have found ourselves in.
“One of the very best things we can do is to simply leave our major carbon storehouses [old growth forests] standing.”
Further, Watt revealed that through an economic evaluation commissioned by the Ancient Forest Alliance of old-growth forests on Vancouver Island with a specific look at Port Renfrew it was found that over the long term, old-growth forests are worth more standing when you factor in carbon sequestration, tourism, recreation, salmon habitat, and real-estate values in comparison to the short-term profits gained from cutting them down.
Because of this, Ancient Forest Alliance has pledged to continually work to build relationships with forestry workers in order to protect endangered old-growth forests as well as with indigenous communities who have advocated for the trees since time immemorial.
If interested in the full webinar, head on over to tiabc.ca. There you will find recordings of not only the Ancient Forest Alliance webinar but others in which important topics are discussed. Do also check out Ancient Forest Alliance’s website if you wish to donate to the cause and for updates on projects and initiatives.