Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Grove of giant trees attracts growing attention

Judith Lavoie, Times Colonist
Monday, May 28, 2007

old growth grove on the Koksilah River
Darren Stone, Times Colonist

Environmentalist Jessi Junkin in an old growth grove on the Koksilah River surrounded by areas where selected logging is slated to occur

Dwarfed by two giants, Austrian tourist Markus Czizek looked skyward in awe.

"Not at all do we have trees like this in Austria. Maybe one third the size," he said, his arms stretched between two 80 metre old-growth Douglas firs.

The grove of massive Douglas firs and cedars, beside the Koksilah River, is attracting increasing attention, despite its remote location and the fact that it is on private land owned by TimberWest.

"You should preserve the whole area. That's my position. It's just awesome," said Czizek, who hiked into the area with a group organized by Midnight Sun Adventure Travel.

International demand to see big trees, big mountains and nature in the raw is growing and Vancouver Island needs to protect such areas, said Scott Bonner, Midnight Sun managing director.

"People want to get away from noise pollution and sight pollution," Bonner said. "What do we hear in the woods? We hear nature."

Czizek's view of Vancouver Island was coloured by his trip to the big trees.

"There's so much nature here and no one knows about Vancouver Island. I came here almost by accident and now I have found out what kind of nature you have here," he said, perched on a huge fallen tree.

The stand of old-growth trees, almost two decades ago, inspired a group of Fletcher Challenge loggers to put down their chainsaws, risking their jobs in an effort to persuade the company to preserve the area.

The grove was eventually put into a land reserve by the company.

But work is likely to start within two or three weeks on rebuilding the logging road in the area and, once that work starts, TimberWest does not want tree tourists in the area.

"It's a public safety issue," said spokesman Steve Lorimer, from the company which is now owner of the area.

The idea of companies taking tourists onto private land also rankles him. "If they are conducting a commercial operation on our private land, without consulting the landowner, I think that's very disrespectful," Lorimer said.

TimberWest is planning to save four hectares of the biggest trees, but selectively helicopter log around the outside of the area and conventionally harvest areas beyond the protective fringe.

That is not good enough, said Don Hughes, the retired logger who led the 1989 revolt.

Hughes, looking at pink ribbons, marking where the deer trail, with soft shale and scree, will be turned into a logging road, said landslides are inevitable. "Before, the road slid down and then they opened it up and it slid again. The ground is unstable," he said.

Lorimer said specialists are dealing with the road building. "The road will be constructed accordingly."

But, it is the logging marks on the old-growth trees which incense Hughes and he does not believe reserving four hectares will be any use, once wind and storms sweep through the grove.

"I just keep praying that it will be saved. If these people are willing to walk this far on a goat trail, it has public interest," he said.

Jessi Junkin, Western Canada Wilderness Committee campaign assistant, who made the trek Monday, said government should legislate protection for the remaining one per cent of coastal Douglas fir on Vancouver Island, whether it is on Crown or private land.

Forests Minister Rich Coleman, who announced last week that the province will be shifting away from harvesting coastal old growth forests, was planning to ask TimberWest executives about the area at a meeting last night.

However, the province has no jurisdiction over private land, and new forest policies, coming shortly, apply to Crown land, Coleman said.

Lorimer said there have been inquiries about the area from a provincial ministry, but no offer to buy it as park. "Right now, it seems to be fair to let government agencies take a look at it," he said.

Times Colonist
giant Douglas Firs

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