Above: This Sitka Spruce in the Port Renfrew area represents one of the top 10 largest of its kind. Measuring 62.5 metres high and 11.6 metres in diametre, this specimen was originally documented in 1984 by Registry founder Randy Stoltmann. Photo by TJ Watts.
By contributor Chantelle Spicer
Every day I ascend the stairs to class, I always take a moment to enjoy the trees that are part of our campus. As small as this group of trees may be, it’s a habitat for many bird species, a source of beauty, and, of course, the fresh crisp air of the season. Humanity is so lucky to share the planet with these incredible beings, the trees, and I always try to keep this in the forefront of my mind.
Some of my most vivid memories take place in the presence of ancient Cedar giants, like those in Cathedral Grove, or alongside the warped Sitka Spruce along the Juan de Fuca Trail beaches, or under the spreading arms of the willow tree we had in the yard when I was a child. It’s amazing to stand in the presence of these trees and imagine how Vancouver Island would have looked a century ago when they were everywhere. Though some still persevere in the wild, most of these monumental trees now stand under the protection of provincial parks, or on private land safe from the encroachment of the forestry industry.
I’m not alone in my love of these relics of times past. Beginning in the ‘80s, an outdoorsman by the name of Randy Stoltmann began to keep a record of the ancient trees he came across in his wanderings. This eventually became the BC BigTree Registry. He and a few fellow adventurers maintained the registry until his death in 1994, when it became defunct, sitting in a stack of bankers’ boxes in a private residence. With the increased interest in protecting the remaining giant trees from ever-expanding forestry licenses, the UBC Forestry department unearthed these records in 2010 and developed them into an online resource.
The BC BigTree Registry identifies the oldest and largest trees by species all across the province. The records include a Sitka Spruce near Youbou that measures 13.3 metres in diametre; an impressive Arbutus specimen, which is distinct to our coast, that towers 35.5 metres above the ocean; and a Cedar in the Great Bear Rainforest which has been dated at 1800 years of age. UBC Professor of Conservation Science, Sally Aitken says, “In just the past six months, the second-largest Douglas fir has been identified [near Port Renfrew], and the third-largest Sitka spruce was just found and measured on Haida Gwaii. So there are big trees out there.”
Transforming the registry into a website means that it is available to the public, and also allows wider participation. The public is invited to nominate big trees that they find in their own wanderings and send them to the registry committee. Volunteers verify the submissions and then place them on the interactive map and record. This public involvement encourages people to connect with the fact that we are surrounded by these biological legacies of centuries ago. They are the largest living beings in our natural world that we can walk up to, explore, and touch. Fostering the relationship we have with them creates the foundation for ongoing conservation.
The Ancient Forest Alliance (AFA), based out of Victoria, has been trying to do just that since their inception in 2010. Working to protect ancient forests all over British Columbia, they’ve identified many at-risk old growth forests, which include many of the province’s biggest trees, like the second largest Douglas fir in Canada, standing 70 metres high and named “Big Lonely Doug.” Ken Wu, one of the founders of the organization, says that 99 percent of the province’s old-growth Douglas fir trees, and 75 percent of the original old-growth forests, have already been logged. The situation is urgent. To protect those that remain, AFA is calling on the BC government to take action and encouraging the harvest of second-growth forests in logging, as well as informing residents in the areas around the forests about how to take part in their protection. One of the most important jobs for this organization is identifying and exploring the ancient forests tucked into all corners of the lower mainland and Vancouver Island. Through the BC BigTree Registry, and its professional and public users, the AFA can more successfully locate the trees that need to be saved.
There are many cyclic relationships in a natural ecosystem, which is echoed by this partnership between the public, the AVA, and the BC BigTree Registry. At the basis of this relationship is us—the public—and how we relate to our ancient trees and the rest of the natural environment. Ken Wu underlines the importance of this relationship: “The BC BigTree Registry is a vital way not only to record the most iconic components of our ancient forest ecosystems—the breathtaking, unbelievably giant trees—but is a precursor for their protection. More importantly, it helps to highlight and engage the public about our endangered old-growth forests. That is, a focus on the largest trees eventually becomes a springboard for greater awareness on the need for protecting old-growth ecosystems on a larger scale.”
With our ongoing support of organizations like the AFA, the BC BigTree Registry, and others like the Raincoast Society, we provide the foundation from which all generations of ecosystems and humans will work. It can be as simple as donating time or money, nominating a large tree you stumble across, discussing the issue with your friends, or just stopping and allowing yourself to be awestruck by the magnificence of nature, starting right here at VIU.