Cathedral Grove
British Columbia

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The Protest

  Big Trees Destroyed   The Treesit  
  The Parking Lot   FROG "Ribbits"  
  Friends of Cathedral Grove (FROG)   Habitat Encroachment  

The Treesit

Efforts to preserve Cathedral Grove on Vancouver Island in British Columbia (BC) began in 1901 and have continued ever since. Protecting the endangered big trees from the clearcut fate of the surrounding ancient forests by taking to task the powerful logging companies and their government cronies has been a rough battle for environmentalism. Dedicated community members and citizens have collected biological data, prepared reports and made posters, conducted tours and given presentations, held meetings and organized protests, written letters, signed petitions and initiated court challenges. In response to the government's 2004 parking lot plan, a treesit and base camp were founded (right). The treesit continued for over two years until the plan to encroach on the big trees was abandoned.


Treesit base camp, Cathedral Grove, 2004
Photo: Ingmar Lee


View down from the treesit platform, 2005
Photo: Ingmar Lee (Click to enlarge)

The treesit was established in October 2004 to defend the frontline at Cathedral Grove by direct action and non violent civil disobedience. This was the only way that forest activists were able to prevent the BC government from going ahead with its short-sighted scheme to build a huge parking lot for visitors to the park in the middle of a sensitive floodplain on Cameron River that is home to one of the last remaining stands of ancient fir forest on Vancouver Island.


World's Highest Treesit The Cathedral Grove Treesit involved a series of platforms erected in the big trees from which the climbers could keep vigil over any incursions into the area intended to be razed for a parking lot. The height of one platform is seen in a photo taken from above looking down (left). A tiny figure with raised up arms (white circle) is scarcely discernable. A photo from the platform shows the photographer's shoe and a view down to the base camp (below).

View down from the treesit platform
Photo: Ingmar Lee (Click to enlarge)


The forest is a peculiar organism of unlimited kindness and benevolence that makes
no demands for its sustenance and extends generously the products of its life
and activity; it affords protection to all beings – Buddhist Sutra


Cathedral Grove Treesit and Procyon Lotar Base Camp at dusk with anti Weyerhaeuser banner, July 2004
Photo: Ingmar Lee


The Cathedral Grove treesitters chose the nocturnal black – masked racoon, named "Procyon Lotor" by Linnaeus, as their mascot. Racoons typically live in wet forested areas and although they spend most of their time on the ground, they are excellent climbers. The Procyon Lotor Base Camp was set up beside the Cameron River, which runs through Cathedral Grove (above). Marking the camp was a large banner covered with a mugshot of the BC premier, a convicted drunk driver and a logging industry lackey. The provocative banner was made by the well known BC forest activist Ingmar Lee (right). As a veteran tree planter of 21 years, Ingmar Lee has seen first hand the rapacious destruction of old growth forests across the province.

Ingmar Lee climbing an ancient cedar tree with banner
Photo: Karen Wonders

Irreplaceable record sized big trees in the Upper Walbran have been massacred by the wood products industry. Weyerhaeuser, a primary culprit, was challenged by forest defenders in 2004: "Over the past several months, people have been quietly laying out an infrastructure to defend the forest. We are ready, and we are prepared to fight hard to save the forest, and are willing to risk arrest in doing so. We will fight the Campbell [BC premier] wilderness wreckers using direct action, non violent civil disobedience tactics, and it will be a great challenge for them to extract us from the forest and arrest us. A core of very determined and conscientious forest defenders have thus far heroically staved off the destruction of the forest, and many of them have incurred considerable personal expense in doing so" Cathedral Grove Treesit Chronicle.


Ingmar Lee, forest activist, 2004
Photo: Karen Wonders

To draw public attention to the destruction of the last ancient forest remnants on Vancouver Island, Ingmar Lee and other forest activists hold tree climbing workshops. In the photo on the left, Lee is seen hoisting his protest banner up a huge cedar tree in the Upper Walbran Forest, an area a few hours from Victoria (the capital city of BC) that is being clearcut. Below, a novice female climber is instructed by Lee on the same unprotected cedar tree, a specimen of some 1,000 years in age.

Forest activist climbing cedar, 2004
Photo: Karen Wonders


Ingmar Lee on a treesit platform, 2005
Photo: Richard Boyce

Treesitting has become widespread on the West Coast as a defense tactic to prevent the felling of ancient big trees, the vanishing hallmarks of the native wild forest. It is a desperate measure made necessary by the logging industry's eagerness to grab the very last, lucrative old growth resources as part of their liquidation scheme.


World's Highest Treesit The photo on the left is from the video filmed by FROG climber Richard Boyce (see his boot) on the 60 meter (180 ft) high treesit platform. Ingmar Lee is seen eating his lunch while enjoying the lofty view over the ancient temperate rainforest canopy.

Ingmar Lee on rappel down from treesit
Photo: Richard Boyce

  I get solace in the notion that every good action, even the most seemingly insignificant action, seems to keep on bearing fruit. I try to do what action I find it fun and empowering to do, and not get worn out by tedious, stressful avenues that don't jive with whatever limited skill-set I'm stuck with. I've found that I need to spend a lot of time every year immersed in primaeval wilderness if I want to be able to argue persuasively for its value and to activate persuasively for its protection. I enjoy and love the activist community and love the heartfelt passion, energy and creativity that abounds, but I feel compelled to denounce, expose and identify the compromise and greenwash that keeps infiltrating the global movement. Given the extent and momentum of the BAU damage being done, and given the inertia and paralysis in its repair, I am pretty much certain that humans are doomed to destroy and befoul this beautiful planet. With this understanding that we are truly the final generation which can experience immersion in primaeval wilderness, that maximal glory of evolution, I feel that we are each of us obliged to go out there and enjoy it, until, -just as we witness the final extinction of the Coastal douglas fir ecosystem right now, before our eyes, it is gone. I don't see any paradox between having an expectation of oblivion, yet meanwhile working as much as possible to protect what is beautiful in the world...Ingmar       

Procyon Lotor Base Camp, 2005
Photo: Ingmar Lee

Part of the Cathedral Grove tree protection strategy was to put the blame for the ongoing diminishment of the small park squarely on logging companies such as Weyerhaeuser. Activists wore t-shirts emblazoned with "BC Forest Crimes Unit" (right), as done by Greenpeace to focus on the real perpetrators of environmental crimes. Not only is the BC Forest Practices Code designed to serve logging companies, but its forest protection clauses are rarely enforced by the industry's government handmaidens.


"BC Forest Crimes Unit," Cathedral Grove
Photo: Janette Briere


Forest activists, Cathedral Grove, July 2004
Photo: Janette Briere (Click to enlarge)

The Friends of Cathedral Grove (FROG) posed for a group photo in 2004 beneath the banner that proclaimed their dedication to "Protecting Park Values" (right and above). Spokesperson Ingmar Lee made sure that the goals of FROG were clearly articulated: "We want the world to know that industrial logging is behind the destruction of the primaeval Douglas fir ecosystem of Vancouver Island. We have decided that as citizens of British Columbia, it is our duty to protect the Cathedral Grove forest. Our infrastructure of defense for the big trees includes eight treesitting platforms, all interconnected by an extensive traverse network of ropes through the canopy of the ancient forest. We are prepared to fight to save the forest and risk arrest in doing so."


Forest activists, July 2004
Photo: Janette Briere


"Cathedral Grove: Protecting Park Values"
Photo: Ingmar Lee

Media attention to the Cathedral Grove Treesit was mostly positive (right). "Part of our ongoing defense infrastructure work has been to continue randomly expanding out our spiders web of traverses throughout the threatened forest. As we have been working at the canopy level, most of these ropes cannot be seen from the ground, but we're not worried if some of them can be seen, and have even flagged a few" Cathedral Grove Treesit Chronicle.


"Soldiers of Cathedral Grove"
Photo: John McKay (Times Colonist)


Friends of Cathedral Grove, 2005 (Click to enlarge)
Cathedral Grove, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The Friends of Cathedral Grove (FROG) is a diverse group of individuals (above) who share a dedication to protecting the big trees from government mismanagement and corporate logging unscrupulousness. FROG was not fooled by the bogus PR public process meetings staged by the government as a last ditch attempt to save face. Trying to squelch widespread community opposition, on 15 November 2005 the BC Minister of Environment threatened to shut down Cathedral Grove. Given that the popular park attracts international tourism to BC and was voted one of Canada's natural wonders, this represented a form of blackmail.


Forest defenders, Cathedral Grove
Photo: Ingmar Lee


Treesit kitchen, Cathedral Grove, August 2004
Photo: Karen Wonders


Treesit activist Nick, Cathedral Grove
Photo: Karen Wonders


An invitation to forest lovers from around the world: "Come visit the Procyon Lotor Base Camp at Cathedral Grove and help defend the Big Trees. Regular tree climbing, platform-building and banner–making workshops are being conducted. This is a great opportunity to conduct a personal retreat while protecting forests. There are dedicated tent and cooking platforms with radio commmunication . . . "

Winter Solstice, 21 December 2005
Photo: Richard Boyce


Treesit activists, 26 July 2005
Photo: Karen Wonders

Ingmar Lee continues his invitation: "We even offer hot showers in the trees. Of course, if you want privacy during your retreat, just pull up the rope! This is a lean, efficient, unorganized, grassroots effort with people working together across a wide variety of skill sets. We embrace the widest diversity to accomplish our goal of protecting this ancient forest once and for all" Cathedral Grove Treesit Chronicle.


Anti-Weyerhaeuser sentiment is widespread in the local communities who are dependent on the sustainable harvesting of the quickly diminishing forest resources. They have seen how massive clearcutting by the American logging corporation has violated the spiritual sites of First Nations, devasted prime salmon streams through sedimentation and disrupted the hydrology of their drinking watersheds, contaminating their water with toxic industrial chemicals.

A Cathedral Grove Treesit poster (right) calls for direct action and non violent civil disobedience to continue the grass roots defense of the big trees that began in March 2004 and continued for more than 24 months until the BC government back down from its planned encroachment. The sentiment of the treesitters is expressed on a t–shirt (below).

Treesit activist T-shirt, 2005
Photo: Ingmar Lee


Please Help Defend This Forest!
Treesit Poster (Click to enlarge)

Logging corps change names to pass the buck and avoid public condemnation while continuing business as usual. Since 2005 Weyerhaeuser's "incarnation" on Vancouver Island was variously maneuvered, the latest being Island Timberlands, a Bermuda based subsidiary of the transnational corporation Brookfield Assets Management.


"Weyerhaeuser: Go Home," anti logging banner, Cathedral Grove, July 2004
Photo: Richard Boyce


Cathedral Grove Treesit climbers, 2005
Photo: Ingmar Lee

"We've made comprehensive public announcements about the traverse networks, to make it clear to all parties that if anyone insists on cutting Cathedral Groves trees, they will need to climb every tree to see whether there's a rope on it before a single one is cut down. These are huge trees and to climb each one will require a lengthy operation conducted by an expensive team of professional climbers. In the event of forced removal, the rope clearing effort buys significant extra time, even after the sitters have been removed" Cathedral Grove Treesit Chronicle.


Treesit platform, Cathedral Grove, 2005
Photo: Ingmar Lee


Looking down from treesit platform, 2005
Photo: Richard Boyce

The spectacular view down from one of the Cathedral Grove Treesit platforms gives an impression of the great height of the Douglas fir tree (above). The blue tarp covered platform seen in the photo on the right was installed at about 50 meters up the branchless trunk of another ancient Douglas fir nicknamed the "Minaret" by the treesitters (right). According to Ingmar Lee, "This is one of the highest treesits in the world and requires a breath taking climb with no comforting branches to dispell the vertigo."


View up at the "Minaret" treesit platform
Photo: Richard Boyce


Anti-Weyerhaeuser banner, July 2004
Photo: Ingmar Lee


Kick Weyerhaeuser off the World!
World's Worst Wilderness Destroyer
Everything's Wrong with 'W'
Destroyer of Ancient Forests
Extinction of the Vancouver Island Marmot
Massive Raw Log Export
Ruination of the Nanaimo Drinking Watershed
Log & Flog of Valdes Island
Trasher of East Creek & the Walbran

When the American tree killing company Weyerhaeuser abandoned its coastal logging operations in BC in May 2005, there was a sense of relief among the Cathedral Grove activists, although voracious clearcutting continues.


Cathedral Grove Treesit Trail, 2005
Photo: Richard Boyce

To help educate people visiting Cathedral Grove, the treesitters conducted walking tours through the unprotected areas adjacent to the park. Preferably people walked along the trail in barefeet so that the thick spongy biomass of the ancient forest floor on the floodplain of Cameron River could be experienced firsthand (above and right).


Sunshine Goldberry, a FROG and community member expressed her frustration: "I'm mad at the logging companies for endangering the Park, mad at the government in charge of cutting rights. And, I'm really upset at the Parks guys who let this happen on their watch. No way will they put a Parking lot in what is left of protection for the old growth behind them. Visitors along the highway have no idea what is going on here!"

Cathedral Grove, "Barefeet Please"
Photo: Richard Boyce


On 5 April 2006, the BC Ministry of Environment announced that it would not be proceeding with its planned parking lot for Cathedral Grove. In response, a spokesperson for FROG reported: "As a sign of good faith FROG has removed the 24 hour vigil that has protected the area from destruction for the past two years. We hope that these steps forward will provide the atmosphere to implement a transparent public process that will address many of the concerns that were brought to the forefront when parking lot plans were unveiled in 2001 after minimal public consultation."

Cathedral Grove Treesit tent, 2005
Photo: Ingmar Lee

In addition to the unethical destruction of ancient termperate rainforest biodiversity, the forest industry has ruined countless sites of irreplaceable aboriginal heritage and deprived the indigenous peoples who have stewarded the forests for thousands of years of economic benefits from their harvesting. With all that has been lost – in many instances due to illegal land grabs – it is unacceptable that today the clearcutting continues in the forests adjacent to Cathedral Grove, which are full of culturally modified trees such as the two bark stripped cedars (right).

Weyerhaeuser secretively engineered the removal of 70,300 hectares from Tree Farm Licence 44 in 2004. Most of this land, which includes the Cathedral Grove Watershed, is in the traditional territory of the Hupacasath First Nation. In 2005 and again in 2008 Hupacasath Chief Councillor Judith Sayers launched legal action against the BC Ministry of Forests and Weyerhaeuser – Brascan – Island Timberlands. In two groundbreaking decisions, the court ruled that the Crown had a duty to consult with and accommodate the Hupacasath. Sayers explained why the Hupacasath took action: "The forests are our cathedrals and our interest is to protect that which most sacred and precious to us" 4 November 2008, Hupacasath First Nation: Press Release.


Cathedral Grove Treesit Camp, 2005
Photo: Ingmar Lee

Once again the encroachment of Cathedral Grove was thwarted by dedicated forest activists and community members. The long and tortuous history of park protection that characterizes this type of rare and vanishing old growth ecosystem in BC was caused by its relentless commercial exploitation by the greedy forest industry.

Culturally modified trees, Cathedral Grove
Photo: Ingmar Lee


FROG Phil Carson, Cameron River, 3 May 2006
Photo: Scott Tanner

To celebrate the Cathedral Grove Treesit victory and the closing of the Procyon Lotar Base Camp, on site festivities were held on 26 April 2006 (right). Forest activists and community members attended, including the legislative representative for Alberni Qualicum, Scott Fraser (centre), who is working with Phil Carson and others to condemn the current logging of Cathedral Canyon by Island Timberlands.


FROG worked respectfully with First Nations, with Hupacasath Chief Councillor Sayers and with Qualicum Chief Recalma – Clutesi and obtained their support for the Cathedral Grove Treesit. Phil Carson (left), a founding FROG, remains a vigilant observer of the logging industry's continued plundering of the Cathedral Grove Watershed.

Victory party, 26 April 2006
Photo: Phil Carson


Procyon Lotor Base Camp, Cathedral Grove, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, 2004
Photo: Ingmar Lee