Cathedral Grove
British Columbia

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Cathedral Grove, British Columbia

  Our Big Tree Heritage   Ancient Forest Extermination  
  Linking Two Biospheres   Protecting Park Values  

Ancient Forest Extermination

The big trees in Cathedral Grove, British Columbia (BC) belong to an ancient Douglas fir ecosystem that was widespread until the advent of industrial clearcut logging on Vancouver Island in the 20th century. Within the last 50 years, the deforestation has been catastrophic. Cathedral Grove is one of the last surviving repositories of its kind yet commercial plundering has not stopped: Weyerhaeuser's logging road built in 2000 in the critical buffer zone to the big trees was a vicious attack on the much loved park (right). The Cathedral Grove Watershed is imperiled by the same greed that causes ancient forest extermination worldwide. Powerful international wood products corporations control valuable forest lands and ruin the longterm environmental health and economic prospects of local communities.


Weyerhaeuser, Cathedral Grove, 2000.
Photo: Richard Boyce


Forest industry ad promoting ancient BC fir logs.
Governnment of Canada, 20 February 2009


The corporations are aided in their actions by the governments of Canada and BC which offer incentives to kill the last big tree survivors for export markets, to supply cedar window and door components. Evidence of government complicity is an ad showing a logging truck with old growth Douglas fir carcasses (left) which appeared in BC newspapers on 20 February 2009 to announce a new "Economic Action Plan."

Canada's blatant endorsement of the destruction of the last stands of BC's vanishing giant trees is like Japan's advertising of blue whale killing to spur its ecconomy or South Africa's promotion of trophy hunting by using a rhino corpse. It is shocking that Canada – supposedly a leading western nation – openly condones ancient forest extermination. In 2008 the European Union (EU) banned the import of old growth timber from Asian, African and South American countries. Canada must be added to the EU boycott to expose its shameful sell out to the rapacious international wood products industry.


Weyerhaeuser logging road and ancient forest destruction, Cathedral Grove, 2000.
Photo: Times Colonist Newspaper, Victoria, British Columbia (text added)


Cedar stump, Vancouver Island, 18 July 2007.
Photo: Ground Truth Trekking

The photo above, taken in a clearcut forest in 2007, shows the cut notches in the gigantic cedar stump. These are evidence that the ancient big tree was felled using springboards and cross saws, most likely well before the use of power saws from the 1940s on. Big stumps like these were usually dynamited to prepare the land for agriculture, so few remain today. This stump became a "nurse tree" for a new tree, part of a naturally regenerated "second growth" forest which was also cut down, after only 40 years. Despite the remarkable resiliency of cedar, as seen in the new green sprout from the second stump, it will take many centuries of growth before it becomes a "big tree."


Without regulatory enforcement by the government, the logging industry is able to wreack havoc on BC forests with impunity. Above: an example is the eco crime in Cathedral Grove committed in 2000 by Weyerhaeuser. Note the size of the huge stump in the foreground in comparison to the circled figure walking along the logging road bulldozed by Weyerhaeuser into the primeaval forest tract. Huge stumps in clearcuts are increasingly all that is left of the ancient temperate rainforest in BC (left).

"Giants like this will not be seen again
for five or ten centuries, perhaps never"
Randy Stoltman, Big Trees (1987)


"Road near New Westminster" (white text added).
Engraving in Canadian Pictures, 1888


Big Trees Destroyed mmmmmmmmmmmm





Mammoth Douglas firs, c. 1900.
Vancouver, British Columbia


Wood engraving in "Silvicultura Oeconomia."
Book by H. C. Carlowiz, 1713 (Göttingen Library)


Right: frontispiece from "Silvicultura Oeconomia" by Carl von Carlowiz

Published by Braun in Leipzig, 1713

Left: Title page from the book "Silvicultura Oeconomia" by Carl von Carlowiz. Published by Braun in Leipzig, 1713

One strategy by the logging industry to help legitamize its extermination of the big trees has been the appropriation of the science of forestry. Forestry began as a scientific discipline at the beginning of the 18th century in Germany, when the principles of sustainable management were first applied. "Silvicultura Oeconomia" (1713) by Carl von Carlowitz (above) includes an engraving: "Urwaldeiche wird gefaellt: Erste Darstellung einer Urwald szene in Deutschland" (left). It shows a giant oak tree being felled in a primaeval forest landscape. Carlowitz wrote his book after he had observed the positive results of the French forest inventory during a period when many forests in central Europe were devastated as a result of uncontrolled big tree harvesting and intensive grazing activities. Silviculture helped prevent over exploitation by quantifying wood production.


Ingmar Lee, Göttingen Library, 22 December 2008.
Photo: Karen Wonders

Ingmer Lee is seen in a recent BC clearcut (right): circled to show the huge size of the stump in the foreground. This example of clearcut logging by International Forest Products (Interfor) is from the primaeval mid coastal forest area, popularly known as the Great Bear Rainforest, which has been the focus of a vigorous protection battle for years. See a Nuxalk commentary: On the Great Bear Rainforest.


BC forest activist Ingmar Lee studied the Carlowitz book at Göttingen University (left), which had one of the first institutes of forestry in Europe. He questions why the science of forestry with its principle of sustainability has resulted in such devastation of the primaeval coastal forests of North America. Departments of forestry exist at universities in California, Oregon, Washington and BC, yet the scientific research that they produce has not prevented the irreplaceable loss of big trees and old growth biodiversity.

Clearcut logging, 23 October 2008.
Photo: Ian McAllister


"Falling a Douglas fir," BC, 1920.
Photo: BC Archives

Chainsaw artist Glenn Greensides created an exhibit entitled "Tribute To The Forest" at Grouse Mountain near Vancouver. It features larger than life carvings from old growth timber such as a logger (right). The powersaw he holds began to be used for industrial logging in the 1940s in BC and had devastating effect on the big trees. The exhibit was funded by Forest Renewal BC, a government silviculture initiative. BC's Ministry of Forestry boasts that with the 1994 Forest Practices Code a new "era of sustainability" was launched, but there has never been evidence that this is anything other than yet another greenwashing slogan.


Coastal BC was considered "A Logger's Eden" by immigrants from northern Europe who had experience in the forest industries of Germany, Sweden and Finland where the primaeval forests had long ago been cut down. The abundant native Douglas fir species, for example, is the tallest conifer in the world. To fell a giant fir, loggers made a deep undercut in the heartwood of the tree using cross cut saws and axes (right). Felling big trees was dangerous and loggers were seen as heroic figures in an industry plagued by frequent death and maiming caused by rolling logs, falling trees, heavy cables and machinery.

Chainsaw carving of a logger.
Grouse Mountain, Vancouver, British Columbia


Cutting down an ancient cedar tree, c. 1980.
Vancouver Island, British Columbia

When the German born American logging baron Frederick Weyerhaeuser and his Canadian counterpart H. R. MacMillan made their fortunes in the early 20th century, there were plenty of big trees in the still largely unexploited primaeval forests of Washington State and BC. The sorriful demise of the big trees under the onslaught of industrial logging within a half a century has been amply documented by trophy style archival photos. A promotional photo for MacMillan Bloedel taken in 1961 is entitled "Making an undercut in a large Douglas fir with a chainsaw" (right). Forest management in BC has never had a longterm vision but rather is crudely designed to serve the quarterly profit expectations of corporate shareholders. In many instances the BC government is one of the largest shareholder in the logging industry, such as in the case of Island Timberlands, owned by the offshore Brookfield Asset Management Ltd.


Phoney Manliness and Big Tree Felling Scenes of big tree felling (left) no longer have the heroic quality of an earlier era. Old growth big trees such as red and yellow cedar, spruce, Douglas fir, hemlock are on the verge of extinction today, leaving remnant primaeval forests in BC and Alaska as the last places in the world where they can still be found. As these trees vanish and the timber supply shrinks, the international demand for wood products, pulp and paper intensifies. Unless the ancient trees are protected by law, their extermination will leave future generations with an impoverished inheritance of tree farms.

MacMillan Bloedel logger, 1961 (by Jean Andre).
Photo: British Columbia Archives


Today most of the big trees and ancient forests have vanished from the accessible areas of BC. Land protected in parks often consists of second growth forests where the only trace of the arboreal inhabitants who lived here for a thousand years and more are stumps that survived the slash burning fires and dynamiting (below). Instead of declaring an end to the big tree killing (right), BC's colonial mindset continues the liquidating the native forests.

Cedar stump, Lynn Valley, Vancouver, 2004.
Photo: Mike Range


Ancient cedar, Vancouver Island, 1987.
Photo: IWA

The Vanishing of Totem Trees BC's official tree is the western red cedar, yet the government sanctions the industrial slaughter of trees that have lived to over a thousand years in age and grow to over six meters in diameter. Cedars are aboriginal heritage trees – an inextricable part of the culture and identity of many First Nations – as well as a vital medium for Northwest Coast carving traditions that include the ubiquitous and much loved totem pole, a cultural ambassador for Canada in countries across the world.


"Sitka Spruce Tree and Logger, Vancouver Island."
British Columbia postcard, 2006


A typical postcard promoting the logging industry shows a faller with his powersaw beside his big tree victim, a rare ancient Sitka spruce (left). The caption reads: "The Faller is one of the many highly skilled workers in the forest industry on Vancouver Island. He must fell the tree in a way to avoid all possible damage to himself and the surroundings. This 227 ft [69 m] Sitka Spruce, 15 ft [4.57 m] in diameter will yield some 30,000 board feet of lumber."

H. R. MacMillan more than any other individual ensured that the remarkable big trees of BC would fall victim to industrial logging. Yet in BC MacMillan and the like are still upheld in BC as exemplary leaders and philanthropists rather than as plunderers and thieves whose legacy is one of eco crimes and biodiversity destruction.


Deforestation of Vancouver Island 1860 to 2004.
Sierra Club British Columbia

Big Trees as Commercial Products The industrial clearcutting of the temperate rainforests of Clayoquot Sound on the West Coast of Vancouver Island began in the 1960s. Entire watersheds were brutally destroyed by MacMillan Bloedel and International Forest Products (Interfor) to supply the sawmills and pulp and paper industries of Port Alberni. During the early 1990s, a widespread popular uprising against the logging coporations took place that resulted in a market campaign to boycott old growth imports from BC. In 1998, to combat this campaign, MacMillan Bloedel devised a new strategy: MB to Phase Out Clearcutting. The next year, in 1999, Weyerhaeuser bought MacMillan Bloedel. All prior promises of sustainable eco forestry were ignored and clearcutting continued.

Right: Rolling Stone Valley was clearcut by Interfor in 1996. The photo shows how ancient trees are slaughtered for commercial greed, and salmon bearing streams obliterated. Even Catface Mountain, a site of great sacred significance to the Ahousaht indigenous people was clearcut in 2001. To conceal their unethical acts, the corps and the BC government hired PR firms to churn out greenwash.


The dramatic loss of ancient forest biodiversity on Vancouver Island is illustrated on two comparative maps created partly by satellite composites (left). Productive old growth forests (dark green) are shown to cover the Island in 1860. Full scale industrial logging, which did not begin in BC until the 1940s, resulted in the virtual disappearance of the ancient forest cover by 2004.

Clayoquot Sound clearcut, 1996.
Photo: Friends of Clayoquot Sound


Ancient forest, Cowichan Valley, 1910.
Photo: Vancouver Public Library

The size of the largest and tallest big trees in BC will never be known as most were cut down by loggers who had no interest in acquiring this information. Among the record breaking Douglas firs to be measured was the famous "Big Tree at Westholme" (right), located near the town of Duncan in Cowichan Valley, known locally as the "Old Guardsman." It attained five m (17 ft) in diameter and its height (before its top was blown off) was 107 m (350 ft). That is 30 m (100 ft) taller than the highest tree in Cathedral Grove. Henry Croft, a lumber and mining magnate, considered sending a cross section of the "Big Tree" to the 1886 British Colonial Exhibition in London, but the tree was spared and remained a living landmark next to the old Island Highway.


Cowichan Valley on the east coast of Vancouver Island is the traditional territory of the Cowichan First Peoples. Not long ago, some of the most magnificent ancient forests and largest trees in the world flourished here, including Douglas fir groves similar to Cathedral Grove (left).

"Big Tree at Westholme," c. 1910.
Photo: British Columbia Archives


"The Big Tree, Westholme," 1913.
Photo: British Columbia Archives


The primaeval forests around the Westholme were cut down by settlers to supply the sawmills and to clear the land for agricultural purposes. Although a few token giant trees were spared, without the forest buffer to protect them from gale force wind, these were vulnerable to blowdown. When finally the "Big Tree" collapsed on 24 November 1913, nearby residents thought it was an earthquake (left). A count of the growth rings of the downed giant indicated an age of 1,500 years. Some of the wood was milled into lumber, the rest was used for firewood. Another nearby giant tree on Big Sicker Mountain was so tall that it served as a landmark to guide ships on the Inside Passage. Loggers cut it down c. 1940, then abandoned it as too large to transport.


The European colonizers who invaded Cowichan Valley carried with them a deeply engrained attitude that glorified the cutting down of big trees. The stumps that remained, too massive to burn as forest slash, were dynamited. One cedar stump, marked by deep springboard cuts made by the loggers who felled the ancient tree, was photographed by the BC Forest Service in 1940 (right). It is cited in connection with "wood harvesting" that entails "clearing the felling site" and the "disposal of snags and stumps."

"Logging Douglas fir near Cowichan Lake," 1950.
Photo: British Columbia Forest Service


Cedar stump, Cowichan Valley, 1940.
Photo: British Columbia Forest Service

The BC Forest Service cites the oldest tree on its records as a giant Douglas fir felled in the Cowichan Valley in 1959 that was "born" 1,266 years ago – seven centuries before the birth of Christ and almost 800 years before Christopher Columbus sailed for America. No concern was ever shown towards preserving the vanishing big trees, in fact the Forest Service existed to promote their extermination by the logging industry (left). As a result, today there are no surviving big tree groves in Cowichan Valley.


BC Forest Service Silviculture, Clearcut
& Seed Trees, Cowichan Lake, 1931

BC Forest Products Sawmill & Booms
Youbou, Cowichan Lake, 1957

BC Forest Service Aboriculture & Nursery
Duncan, Cowichan Valley, 1959


"Over mature trees," Olympic National Timberland, 1973.
Photo: Smithsonian Institute


To advance its "forest engineering" programme, BC Forest Service established the Cowichan Lake Forest Research Station in 1929 and imported over 200 specimens of trees from all over the world to study forest genetics and tree physiology. The photos above show how forest "science" is used to serve the logging industry and results in the destruction of biodiversity.

Forest science teaches that old growth trees such as the cedar and hemlock (left), in the "Simpson Sustained Yield Unit" of the Olympic National Timberland in Washington State, are "over mature" and "stagnated." Once the lucrative old growth timber resources of Washington had been "harvested," the American lumber magnates turned to BC's Crown land. In 1911 Julius Harold Bloedel and his partners began acquiring huge blocks of "virgin timber" on Vancouver Island.


Cedar felled for shingles, Franklin Division, 1942.
Photo: University of British Columbia


Bloedel's Franklin River logging camp became one of the world's largest logging operations, and continued after Bloedel, Stewart and Welch Ltd. merged with H. R. MacMillan in 1951, and again after MacMillan Bloedel was sold to Weyerhaeuser in 1999. The Franklin River Watershed is located in the traditional territory of the Nuu chah nulth People. Surveyed into timber cutblocks by the BC government, it was called the "Franklin Division." It is adjacent to the "Cameron Division" in which Cathedral Grove is located. Archival photos of the Franklin Division operations show how ancient cedars were felled for shingles; the photo (left) is entitled: "a lot of Red Band Shingles [a mill in Port Alberni] were produced from this tree."


Rigging on spar tree, Franklin Division, 1945.
Photo: University of British Columbia

A photo taken in the Franklin Division shows how specialized loggers known as "high riggers" climbed the tallest trees and topped off their upper most branches, in this case an ancient Douglas fir (right). Franklin Division was an example of a scientific "maximum productivity" clearcutting operation engineered by industrial corporations to produce the highest sustained yield from the vanishing primaeval forests.


The Franklin Division was noted for introducing new forest destruction technology including powersaws and steel spar yarders. A traditional "spar" was the tallest tree in a cutblock which was topped off and rigged to move around the enormous logs with the help of a so called donkey engine. A Franklin Divisio spar tree (left) shows how this method deforested entire landscapes.

"High rigger, Franklin River," 1947.
Photo: British Columbia Forest Service


Logged spar tree, Franklin Division, 1942.
Photo: University of British Columbia

An archival photo taken in the Franklin Division is entitled "Fallers at work with power saw in virgin growth" (right). This term is no longer politically correct to describe a forest which is still wild and has never been disturbed by commerical extraction. There are innumerable seedlings of different ages within a primaeval forest such as existed in the Franklin River Watershed. Also in the first generation of clearcut forests one could find 120 year old to 50 year old trees that regenerated naturally. This is no longer the case: today even 30 year old stands are "harvested" as the voracious logging industry cuts down even "pecker poles."

A log section in the Franklin Division bears the deep scars of spar tree rigging (left). The background landscape is a typical clearcut. Had this c. 400 year old Douglas fir been left standing, it may well have lived another 1,100 years.

"Fallers at work," Franklin Division, 1947.
Photo: University of British Columbia


Beaufort Tree Farm, Franklin Division, 1958.
Photo: British Columbia Forest Service

Sloan was on the 1945 Royal Commission that inquired into forest policy and endorsed the concept of "sustained yield forestry," defined as the "perpetual yield of timber to the fullest extent of its productive capacity." This seductive sounding lie was legislated by the government as a "Tree Farm Licences" system, a virtual gift to the lumber industry and big corporations to manage BC's publicly owned forests. The predictable outcome has been an ecological disaster.


The mantra of Gifford Pinchot (the first US Forest Service chief): "Wood is a Crop. Forestry is Tree Farming" became the basis of scientific forestry in BC. It was pioneered in the Franklin Division, the showpiece of which was the Beaufort Tree Farm. A dedication ceremony on 3 June 1952 (right) was presided over by Chief Justice Gordon McG. Sloan (speaking) and B. M. Hoffmeister, president of MacMillan Bloedel and a prominent henchman of the lumber industry. The sign reads that the farm consists of 24,762 acres of timber land converted to "continuous forest production."

Franklin River Division, 1958.
Photo: MacMillan Bloedel Fonds


Franklin Division - MacMillan Bloedel clearcut, 1980s.
Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The first Royal Commission on Forest Policy resulted in the BC Forest Act in 1912. The Commission also set up Timber Sale Licences by which government surveyors converted the forests into cutblocks and sold the cutting rights: "Provincial policy has made the government a sleeping partner in forest exploitation, a sharer in the profits of the lumbering industry" Forest Policy (1912). This system of legislated deforestation has continued ever since, resulting in the mass killing of big trees for commercial gain (right).


How Dare They Do This The last ancient stand of big trees in the Franklin Division was destroyed in 2006. Today residents in the Franklin and Beaufort Watersheds know that MacMillan Bloedel's slogan "Here Today and Here Tomorrow" (above) has resulted in severely degraded landscapes with eroded soils, landslides and trashed salmon streams. An 1980s photo of the logging roads and clearcuts in the Franklin Division (left) shows that sustained yield forestry is nothing more than unregulated corporate grabbing.

Nitinaht Valley, Franklin Division.
Vancouver Island, British Columbia


The "Columbus" Tree, Port Alberni.
Photo: Timo Ilmari Merioe

Located in the lumbering town of Port Alberni, where most of the forest resources of the Franklin Division were milled, exported as raw logs or turned into pulp and paper (right), is a memorial to the "Columbus" Tree (above). The plaque reads: "A section from a Douglas fir tree which grew for 501 years in the Nitinat Valley, attaining a height of 238 feet. When felled in 1957 the tree contained 32,533 board feet of merchantable wood. Growth started in 1456, 36 years before Columbus discovered America. Presented to the City of Port Alberni by MacMillan & Bloedel Ltd on July 1957."

Today the community is trying to reinvent itself as a centre for ecotourism but the old growth forests and wild salmon are gone and the Alberni Canal is contaminated by decades of toxic waste from the pulp and paper industry.


Plaque for the "Columbus" Tree.
Photo: Timo Ilmari Merioe

Catalyst Pulp and Paper Mill, 2007.
Port Alberni, Vancouver Island


Clearcut forest, Nitinat, 2 September 2004.
Photo: Don Bain


A panorama (left) of a second growth forest near Nitinat Valley in the Franklin Division shows how industrial destruction continues: Clearcut Forest.

Almost a century ago, the BC Minister of Lands spoke on the need for a new Forest Policy: "Without such a policy, the cutting of the present crop of timber would ruin and lay waste our timber lands. The young growth would be burned, inferior species would replace the Douglas fir; by the denudation of our watersheds soil erosion would take place on mountain slopes, irrigation would be endangered, the lumbering industry would gradually decline, and BC would sink into the stagnant insignificance that has overtaken other worked out forest regions. That dismal fate, however, should never overtake this Province, because we nowadays know how to avert it. . ."


In his 1912 speech, the Lands Minister described in detail the "dismal fate" that would occur if the "necessary and essential measures" were not taken to prevent the ecological and economic collapse of BC's forest resources. He praised the Forest Act of 1905 which ensured the "public ownership of forests" and spoke of the "learned wisdom" from "countries such as Germany France and Austria [which] are spending millions to recover forest lands from private ownership. . . The universal experience of modern times, added to the experience of centuries, has been that forests are best kept in public ownership, the chief reason being that forestry, or, in other words, the perpetuation of the timber supply, requires an investment stretching over generations, and that sort of investment has hitherto been too long for private owners." Furthermore the Lands Minister of BC decreed that: "timber must be manufactured within the province, not cut and shipped to a foreign country leaving in the province of its origin only the small profit coming from the sale of raw material" Forest Policy. Exposing the failure of the 1912 Forest Policy are countless BC Forest Service photos showing the slaughter of big trees. Cut ancient cedars were typically burned as waste (right).


Cedar stump, Cowichan Valley, 1945.
Photo: British Columbia Forest Service


Heli Logging Hell Today virtually all large tracts of primaeval rainforest on the southern coastal areas of BC have been annihilated. The trashing of ancient forest biodiversity and watersheds has resulted in the collapse of salmon fisheries. Lumber and pulp and paper mills are going bankrupt, causing a massive job loss. Meanwhile the trees still being harvested at ever shorter rotations are exported as raw logs to Asia and the US. Corporations and government are making dirty deals to convert logged off both private and public forestlands into lucrative real estate developments. A scathing report on the failure of the government to protect public interests, "The Removal of Private Land from Tree Farm Licences," was released in 2008 by the Auditor General of BC. Rare ancient tree stands not easily accessible by logging road are today "highgraded" by helicopters (right). This usually involves felling all of the timber in an area for a bed and then felling only targeted high value timber on top of the bed to break its fall. The bed timber is smashed and wasted. Only the best grade logs are removed by Skycrane helicopters and the rest of the timber is abandoned.


Helicopter logging, Sproat Lake, 20 July 2008.
Port Alberni, Vancouver Island


The Corporate Exterminating of
Vancouver Island's
Last Big Trees

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Heli logging old growth forests with Skycranes.
Vancouver Island, British Columbia


Heli logging, Walbran, 2006.
Photo: RIchard Boyce


Weyerhaeuser log dump, Upper Walbran, 2003.
Photo: Karen Wonders


A new international law to preserve the world's last remaining primaeval forests is desperately needed. The fragmentation, degradation, and loss of BC's temperate rainforest ecosystems results in the permanent destruction of biological diversity. In 1992 world leaders at the United Nations "Earth Summit" on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil signed the Convention on Biological Diversity, the first global agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. The Secretariat for this Convention is based in Montreal, yet Canada has done little to curtail its forest industry, which is the world's largest. Sickening scenes of ancient forest pillaging by greedy logging corporations continue to be seen in BC, a few hours from the Legislature in the Upper Walbran (left). Google Earth makes such shameful evidence easily visible (below).

Walbran clearcuts, 5 January 2009.
Photo: Google Earth


Endangered ancient Douglas fir forest ecosystem, Cathedral Grove.
Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada