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Big Trees: Pictures & Politics

  From Sacred Symbol to Industrial Stumpage Big Trees as Recreation
  Big Trees as Natural Monuments   Big Trees as Curiosities
  Big Trees as Cathedrals of Nature   Big Trees as Commercial Products  
  Big Trees as Trophies   On the Wrong Side of Environmental History  
  Big Trees as Objects of Science Greenwashing Weyerhaeuser

Big Trees as Commercial Products

The logging industry always dominated the ecomomy of British Columbia (BC) and continues to do so today under the cover of the "spin" given it by the government. BC has entered an era when old growth cedar trees are about to vanish. The same thing already happened in Washington and Oregon, and in California with the giant redwoods. Hundreds of cedar dealers in BC are ignoring the ecological catastrophe that will shut down their lucrative commerical trade in ancient trees. They continue to openly flaunt their wares, as done by CDS Lumber Products (right). Such ancient cedar products are being snapped up for cheap by the global lumber industry. The public seems not to be concerned, perhaps because the extermination of the trees is taking place out of view, in remote wilderness areas.


Old growth cedar dealer
Vancouver, British Columbia


Weyerhaeuser CedarOne display, 2006
Home Depot, Brandon, Manitoba

Log Booms and Barges A ban on all old growth cedar products in BC is urgently needed; but politicians continue to short sightedly cater to the forest destruction corps. As a result, we are witnessing not only the tragic vanishing of the grand trees, but also of Northwest Coast carving traditions and an indigenous way of life based on the once abundant ancient cedar resource known as the "Tree of Life." Evidence of the massive export of raw logs is everywhere in BC, such as endless log booms being driven south to the US (right).

Shingle bolts boom on Skagit River, Washington
Old postcard


Virtually all Northwest cedar lumber comes from old growth trees: hence no ethical trade in cedar is possible. Europe has banned the import of old growth timber, yet unscrupulous corporations like Weyerhaeuser and Western Forest Products continue to sell cedar openly. Left is an ad for Weyerhaeuser's "CedarOne" product line sold at Home Depot and other building supply chains.

Log boom, Vancouver, 2006
Photo: Tony Hisgett

Not long ago, the enormous ancient cedar trees native to Oregon and Washington provided the logging industry with a seemingly endless supply of shakes and shingles. The rush to profit resulted in many rivers being blocked by the vast booms of timber and shingle bolts that were floated to the coastal mills (left). But as entire watersheds were deforested, the resource quickly vanished.


Instead of stewarding the grand native forests of the West, the US Forest Services (which was established in 1905 as an agency of the US Department of Agriculture), increasingly followed the principle "conservation equals development" laid out by its first chief, Giffort Pinchot. Thus photos taken under the auspices of the US Forest Services were used for commercial lumber promotion. An example is the photo of six log drivers working on an enormous log boom (right). This photo appeared in vol. V, "The Epic of Industry," in the encyclopedic 15 volume pictorial history "The Pageant of America," published by Yale University from 1925 to 1929.

Edited by the Yale history professor Ralph H. Gabriel, the "Pageant" was designed to commemorate the nation's sesquicentennial in 1926 and it began with his essay "The Lure of the Frontier, a Story of Race Conflict." This was a euphemism for caucasian race hegemony pulling the rug from under the existance of Native Americans by devastating their land and waters, in a process of racist nation building based on shortsighted industrial greed, like clearcutting.


"A Log Boom," c. 1926 (click to enlarge)
US Forest Services, "Epic of Industry"


"Among the Redwoods" (A. W. Ericson)
Photo: Humboldt State University Library

The "Berlin Illustrated News" (1 September 1895) described the California Product Exhibit in Berlin and noted that the bark of giant redwood trees 24 ft in diameter could be used for manufacturing paper. Some 26 redwood sawmills operated in Humboldt County at the end of the century. Officials of the Vance Redwood Mill & Lumber Company are seen posed with a large redwood log in a promotional photo taken by Ericson in 1885 (right). The Vance Redwood Mill was purchased in 1900 by Little River Redwood Company which merged with Hammond Lumber Company in 1931.


The discovery of high quality wood fiber in the coastal redwood tree resulted in the voracious clearcut logging of California's primaeval forests. The Swedish settler and photographer A. W. Ericson (1848 – 1927) of Arcata, Humboldt County, provided 126 photos in 1893 to illustrate the Humboldt Chamber of Commerce publication "Among the Redwoods," including well stocked lumberyard scenes (left). Often commissioned by logging companies, Ericson provided photos for displays that promoted Californian "products and manufactures" at expositions in Berlin, Paris, Brussels, London and Copenhagen.

Vance Redwood Mill, 1885
Photo: Humboldt State University Library


"Big stump at Freshwater," Humboldt County
Photo: A. W. Ericson

During his most prolific decades, from 1890 to 1910, Ericson provided a detailed record of redwood logging in Humboldt County. One of the rare photos which is thought to be a self portrait included an enormous stump (above). Ericson provided some 200 photos for the Humboldt County forestry displays at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, which were resold afterwards and appeared in many publications in the US and abroad without attribution. Another well known photographer who recorded the demise of the giant trees of the Northwest Coast was Darius Kinsey (1869 – 1945). He lived in Whatcom County in Washington State, and a picture postcard tributes him and a large old growth Douglas fir log as being "Two Washington Venerables" (right).


"Two Washington Venerables"
Old postcard


Big tree lumber, St. Louis Exposition, 1904
Photo: University of Washington

The lumber industry promoted its products at fairs across the US, such as by the display shown at the St. Louis Exposition in 1904. The photo is captioned "Making a house out of a stump, 13 ft in diam., 10 ft high at the Larson Lumber Co. mills, Bellingham, Washington. Right is a photo of the timber resources in Mason County, published in the 1909 "Review of the Resources and Industries of the State of Washington" by I. Howell which was aimed at increasing the resource extraction, especially forestry, in conjuction with the 1909 Alaska – Yukon Pacific Exposition in Seattle.


Mason County timber, Washington
Review of the Resources, 1909


"Giant Fir Logs Ready for the Mill, Oregon"
Old postcard

On the right is a commercial lantern slide of a logging company boss (in black) asserting his ownership over a giant fir corpse while two loggers demonstrate the power of the saw. This is typical of images used to advertise the lumber industry at the turn of the century, in which the saw represents civilization and economic development.


The giant Douglas firs on the Northwest Coast were the first to be decimated by the forest products industry. About 600 miles long and 200 miles wide, the native fir forests originally extended from northern BC down through Washington and Oregon (left) into California.

Douglas fir log. Lantern slide
Photo: University of Washington


Fir pillars, Forestry Building, Portland, 1905
Photo: University of Washington


Lumbermen calculated that because the coastal fir forests were the thickest and tallest forests in North America, they would provide ten times the board footage to the acre as those in the south. To advertise the commercial profits to be made from this abundant resource, a Forestry Building was constructed at the Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition held in Portland in 1905. About 300 old growth fir logs 6 ft or more in diameter and 54 ft long were used to build the 206 ft by 102 ft structure, described as the largest log cabin in the world. Inside this "Timber Temple" were towering firs complete with bark (left). Note the two men as the base of the pillars for scale. Exhibits were primarily of Oregon forest products but included also wildlife dioramas and a display of 300 photos of North American Indians by Edward S. Curtis.

A similar Forestry Building was erected at the 1909 Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition in Seattle (below). It was designed to showcase the chief source of the wealth of the state. Promotional advertising claimed that the fir timber resources still standing were estimated to be enough to make 120 billion feet of lumber and so on.


Right: Hoo Hoo members in front of the Forestry Building during its construction in 1909. Hoo Hoos were originally called the Fraternal Order of Lumbermen, an international organization of men engaged in the lumber trade who planned and financed the Forestry Building in Seattle to promote the wood products industry. Many visitors to the Exposition were Hoo Hoo members and to serve them, an exclusively male clubhouse, the Hoo Hoo House, was designed and built next to the Forestry Building.

Above: Forestry Building, 1909 Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition, Seattle, Washington State. Offical postcard. Left: Colonnade of monumental Douglas firs, Forestry Building. Intended to awe visitors by its dramatic size, the Forestry Building's colonnade of firs was designed in the Grecian temple style with marble columns like the White House and US Capitol in Washington DC.


Cedar stump, Forestry Building, Seattle, 1909
Old postcard (University of Washington)


The silly sounding Hoo Hoo organization was behind the tragic extermination of the native forests of Washington State, and Hoo Hoo associated lumbermen continue to exact a crippling toll on the surviving ancient trees in BC and Alaska through their related lumber lobby organizations such as the American Forest Foundation. Ancient trees were hailed in Europe as natural monuments and by 1909 legislation was enacted to protect them. In North America, by contrast, such heritage trees continued to be ruthlessly destroyed by lumber companies. An 1909 Expo postcard (left) depicts a cedar stump display; for scale, note the man peeping out of the trunk. The ancient cedar having been sacrificed to commercial greed, its remaining stump is testimony to the timber industry's savagery.


The logging industry in BC has its origins in corporate land grabs and environmental plundering at the cost of the indigenous peoples. Lumberman's Arch (right), erected in 1913 in Vancouver's Stanley Park, reflects the arrogance of settler society. In its early colonial years, BC was most known in Europe as an exporter of poles. The straight tall Douglas firs were highly valued for ship masts and the British acquired huge numbers of them. To tribute this resource, a pretentious arch was built of Douglas fir in the style of an ancient Greek temple. Erected on the site of an ancient Salish village, called Khwaykhway that had been inhabited for thousands of years, the construction of the Lumberman's Arch desecrated an indigenous graveyard.

Lumberman's Arch, Stanley Park, BC, 1950
Photo: Vancouver Archives


Lumberman's Arch, Vancouver, 1930
Photo: Vancouver Archives

The Lumberman's Arch survived until 1947 when a road overpass required the ludicrous structure to be dismantled. But remarkably, it was replaced at another location in Stanley Park by an equally bizarre monument, this time constructed of ancient red cedar trees (left). The sponsors of the new Lumberman's Arch were the Board of BC Park Commissioner and the BC Lumber Manufacturers Association and the inappropriate arch remains till this day. The values it proclaims continue, too, apparent from the Canada BC Pavillion at the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics. Sponsored by the BC wood products lobby organization, it featured a Bella Coola mask that was presented in a manner degrading of Nuxalk culture and identity.


Giant Douglas fir logs continued to be hauled out of western Washington until the 1970s. A c. 1950 postcard depicts a procession of trucks, each carrying a single section of a single tree (right). The fir was promoted as limitless: "The majestic fir trees, which, as small evergreens, adorn the lawns of other climes, here stretch their ancient heads 300 feet heavenward and give the logger a chance to stand upon his springboard and, leaving a fifteen foot stump, cut off a log 100 feet in length and 7 feet in diameter free from limbs or knots. Side by side with these giants of fir are other giants of cedar, hemlock and spruce crowded in groups, sometimes all alike and sometimes promiscuously mingled, which offer to the logger often 50,000 feet of lumber from an acre of ground" Ithamar Howell, A Review of the Resources and Industries of the State of Washington (1909).


"Giant Fir Logs," western Washington
Old postcard


"Pacific Northwest Toothpick"
12 ft diameter, 17,000 board ft

"Toothpicks – Western Style"
Douglas fir log, Oregon

"Giant Fir Log," Washington
11 ft diameter, 13.700 board ft

"Giant Fir Log," Washington
13,000 board ft

"Five Houses on Route to the Sawmill"
Redwood log, 14,000 board ft

"Giant Log on Route to Mill"
9 ft 11 in diameter, 6980 board ft


"Tons of Toothpicks." Ancient logs, Oregon, c. 1950
Old postcard


Giant fir log, North Bend, Wa, 1943
Photo: University of Washington

The industrial deforestation that occurred in the coastal watersheds of Washington State is the cause today of environmental problems such as flooding, most recently in 2007 when the Chehalis River burst its banks. Vast numbers of Douglas fir trees were stripped from mountainsides and floated down the rivers to be sold at the boomyards of Puget Sound (right). By the late 1950s, when this Weyerhaeuser photo was taken, the big timber resource was gone; logging companies had reached the end of the coastal rainforest bounty that had made them rich.

There is today so little left of the intact forests in California, Oregon and Washington that American companies have been forced to turn to BC and Alaska to continue their profitable big tree extermination. Raw log export has reached new heights as old growth timber prices rise on the global market due to the increased demand for a vanishing resource. This commercial frenzy has led to the deplorable helicopter logging of difficult to reach big tree survivors.


Why can we not learn from the destructive history of industrial logging on the Northwest Coast? In both the US and Canada, railway robber barons stole the land from the indigenous peoples and passed it on to the lumber kingpins who lost no time in destroying the native forests. It wasn't long ago that enormous trees were still being cut in Washington. In 1943, a 200 ft Douglas fir taken from the Snoqualmie Watershed was paraded by lumbermen through town in four sections (left). They boasted that the fir tree contained some 35,000 board feet of lumber or enough plywood for four to six houses. No thought was given to the environmental damage done to the watershed or to the wasteful plundering of natural heritage.

Weyerhaeuser log pond, Snoqualmie, 1950
Photo: University of Washington


Forks Timber Museum "Welcome to Forks. Logging Capital of the World. This Sitka Spruce log came from a tree which was 8' 8' in diameter, 37' in circumberence, and 256' tall. The tree was already 259 years old win 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was signed. Sitka Sprue is native to the fog belt of North America's West Coast. "


Ancient Forest Destruction
Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, BC

Clearcut old growth forest near Port Alberni

Log booms of old growth trees at Port Alberni

Old growth cedar logs for export at Port Alberni

Old growth logs pulled by tug to Port Alberni

Raw logs loaded on transporter at Port Alberni

Raw logs export blockade and protest at Port Alberni


Not long ago the largest trees on the Northwest Coast grew on Vancouver Island, but within the past 50 years almost all of them have been destroyed by industrial logging. Not far from Cathedral Grove is the pulp and paper town of Port Alberni, where some of the worst old growth forest crimes continue to take place (left). The big environmental groups have been silent about this outrage due to a muzzle put on them during negotiations with the logging industry and the government over the Great Bear Rainforest on the mainland BC coast which resulted in protection of a paltry one third of the negotiated area.

Following the 1886 Dunsmuir Land Grab, much of the forest land on southern Vancouver Island, including the area around Port Alberni, came under the ownership of logging companies. The BC government exerts no environmental control of any consequence over private forest lands. The resulting devastation is evident to all and yet it continues, right to the edge of Cathedral Grove, endangering its ancient ecological integrity.

Western Forest Products log boom, 2007
Photo: Tim Gage

When the public outcry becomes too loud, the companies merely restructure and change their names, as in 2005 when Weyerhaeuser sold its forest lands around Port Alberni to Brascan for US$2.4 billion following a scandal whereby the BC government handed over a big chunk of publicly owned land to the disreputable American logging corporation. Within a couple of years, these lands were again redistributed so that now, in 2008, they belong to Western Forest Products, the largest logging corporation in BC and a primary destroyer of old growth. See a snapshot of its log boom at Gold River on Vancouver Island (above).


Log trucks and clearcut forest

Eight log trucks and log dump

Pulp and paper mill

Truck with old growth logs

Truck with old growth logs

Truck with old growth logs

Truck with old growth cedar lumber

Truck with old growth cedar lumber

Industrial barge with old growth logs