Worlds Largest Douglas Fir Under Threat from Logging

The lone sentinel of the Red Creek Fir epitomizes all the social and environmental woes faced by the proud citizens of BC’s rural towns like Port Renfrew and Cowichan.

Twenty six hearty souls from the Wilderness Committee’s Victoria and Vancouver offices made an epic drive to the ravaged mountains above Port Renfrew on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island last weekend to view the largest Douglas fir tree in the world, the “Red Creek Fir.” 

This magnificent tree is endangered by a new clear cut planned by Timber West, a notorious logging company known by some for their lack of environmental concern. Wilderness Committee staffer Joan Varley, found flagging tape indicating logging, within a few metres of the Red Creek Fir on a trip with her husband in January, and subsequently organized a trip for Wilderness Committee supporters to witness the tree, the threat to its existence, and then develop a plan of action to defend it. 

Last Saturday, we started our day at the home of Wilderness Committee Victoria, staffer Joan Varley, where we poured over maps, planned out our many stops, and made sure our 2-way radio’s and satellite phone were in working order. Six 4x4’s loaded with Wilderness Committee members and supporters then began a 4 hour long caravan trip to the Red Creek Fir.

En route we stopped for a brief tour of the Jordon River lands near Sooke recently acquired by The Land Conservancy and Victoria’s Capital Regional District from Western Forest Products. The 2350 hectares of lands acquired by TLC are important areas for recreation, conservation and watershed protection. The land acquisition, which includes over 3.5 km of shoreline from Jordan River to Sandcut Beach, will require the assistance of the public to help fund the purchase.

Several more stops were made to view giant lone sentinel trees that are virtually all that remain of the original low elevation ancient forest that once dominated the landscape of southwestern Vancouver Island near Port Renfrew. Although numerous pockets of old growth forest remain, they are virtually all located in areas to high up, steep or remote to log. The logging that wiped out the old growth forests in this region are as clear an example as any of industrial greed and government acquiescence. Although the forests are growing back, the scars from river shore to mountain-top remain. The scale of the logging that took place here is almost unbelievable. Entire landscapes as far as the eye can see were clear cut.

From Port Renfrew the trip got really interesting. The steep clear cut mountains are riddled with crazy zig-zag networks of mostly abandoned logging roads that are characterized by giant potholes and jagged rocks just waiting to shred your tires. An hour of slow motion swerving to avoid these vehicle destroying obstacles led us to the base of the ½ km long trail leading to the largest Douglas fir tree in the world. The 500 plus year old tree, although battered by the 2008 wind storms that leveled much of Vancouver’s Stanley Park, still stands tall and straight.

The giant fir is all that remains of the many that were left behind in the vicinity by logging companies to provide seed to re-grow trees in the expansive clear cuts. Most forests surrounding the Red Creek Fir were long ago clearcut so that the fir now stands out alone in a sea of re-growing trees. One small patch of forest remains next to the giant.

On a recent trip to their area, Wilderness Committee staffer Joan Varley discovered ribbons and paint adorning the trees in this last patch of forest protecting the Red Creek Fir from winter storms. A little research revealed that the culprit was Timber West. Although the fir, only metres away from the planned clear cut is on public land, the logging site is private land and thus much more difficult to control. Media and community outcry, and defense from prominent forest defender Ken Wu of the Ancient Forest Alliance led the company to temporarily shelve plans to log, but no commitment was made to stay away from the Red Creek Fir.

The Wilderness Committee mounted this expedition to draw attention to the plight of the world’s largest Douglas fir, in hopes that our efforts, and those of others will convince the company to stay away. Meanwhile, others are working hard to get the few remaining sentinel trees like the Red Creek Fir, and surrounding buffer forests, that remain on southern Vancouver Island protected. Also, the BC government needs to acquire the private lands that surround gems like the Red Creek Fir so they can live out their lives, finally, in peace.

A sad conclusion to the day was the return drive on the paved logging road from Port Renfrew to Cowichan Lake. This is private land, given over to the clear cutters in exchange for the construction of the Vancouver Island railway over a century ago. This landscape was not subject to even the minimal protections offered on public land. Here, the clear cutters erased every living thing. It is an industrial landscape and now, 100 years later, they are back at it, prematurely cutting the spindly trees a second time, and at record speed.

Why don’t the companies honour their social commitment to the beautiful little communities that dot this region by letting the trees grow longer, harvesting them slower, and building specialty mills in the small towns for high end manufacturing of fine wood products. Instead they seem to prefer the boom bust economic model that has left these communities with a history of instability. The citizens of BC deserve better. 

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