My first encounter with B.C.’s old growth forests occurred in the mid 1960’s. I was employed by John Motherwell, a B.C. land surveyor and engineer. We were working on a project in Holberg, B.C. a logging community on northern Vancouver Island.
I distinctly remember the size of the ‘off road’ logging trucks that plied the gravel roads we travelled to access our job site. They were huge. One morning a loaded logging truck approached us. It was carrying just one log, a section of an ancient old growth tree.
A few years later in the spring of 1968, Ellen and I packed our Volkswagen Beetle and headed off to Long Beach for a long weekend camping trip. Now, it is a very popular tourist destination located between Tofino and Ukuelet on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Back then the road to the coast was fairly new and rough. In poor weather conditions the trip was difficult. Now, it is part of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and easily accessible.
Passing Kennedy Lake on our way to the coast we were stunned by a devastated forest. What had been an ancient old growth forest was gone. It had been clear cut. Stumps and logging rubble littered the landscape. Protests by indigenous and environmental groups eventually lead to an outright ban in some areas of cutting old growth trees and certainly a more sustainable forest practices code. But, the damage had been done.
Fifty years later, those clear cut areas look refreshed. Seedling that were planted to replace the old trees have grown into a vibrant ‘second growth’ forest. Interestingly, hikes through these renewed forests reveal the huge stumps left behind by the loggers who felled the old growth giants half a century or more ago. Today, they are just rotting relics but serve as a reminder of what had once been a magnificent ancient forest.
In the last year, I’ve made two trips to Port Renfrew, B.C. and to sections of the wild west coast that reflect the reality of today’s coastal forests. There are several areas where blocks of second growth forest have been logged. Even here, the stumps of the original ancient forest remain in start contrast the most recent cut.
For the most part though the forest, right down to the ocean edge, is thriving. Streams bubble through small valleys and cuts bringing the essence of life through the forest and down to the ocean.
It is interesting to witness how ‘Mother Nature’ heals the land after it had been reduced to rubble. Slowly, the old stumps are being returned to the earth. New growth finds small nooks and crannies even in the bark of an ‘ancient, to find life sustaining nourishment.
I remember the hike to Sombrio Beach where the second growth trees are flourishing. But just before the beach the path passes through a campsite and a grove of ancient trees. They seem to reach to the sky. Magnificent!
Avitar Grove, about a half hour’s drive from Port Renfrew is an example of an Ancient Old Growth forest that has been preserved. Huge ancient old trees, new trees, deciduous and evergreen as well as some that have fallen cover the landscape. Here the presence of the ‘Ancients’ is felt. Its almost mystical and to my eye, beautiful.