On their continual treasure hunt for the region’s largest trees, two Victoria conservationists have found what could be one of the largest Douglas-firs measured in Canada.
“Basically, it’s one giant Douglas-fir in a sea of enormous stumps,” said the Ancient Forest Alliance’s Ken Wu of the tree dubbed Big Lonely Doug. “The largest branch, the size of a second-growth tree, was torn off in a recent wind storm. Its days might be numbered.”
Wu thinks the tree was likely left as a seed tree or so the area could not be deemed a complete clearcut. The Crown land was logged by Teal-Jones in 2012 under tree farm licence 46. The company could not be reached for comment.
Big Lonely Doug was spotted by Wu’s co-worker T.J. Watt a few months ago in a logged area outside of Port Renfrew. Watt and Wu drove 45 minutes down a rough road outside the west coast town on Thursday to measure it.
“You don’t get how big it is until you get close and see the scale,” Wu said. The Douglas-fir stands 69 metres tall and has a 12-metre circumference. Watt described it as big around as a living room and as tall as most skyscrapers.
Judging from the rings on nearby stumps, Wu said, the tree could be nearly 1,000 years old.
“These types of colossal growth trees historically built B.C.’s logging industry. Now they’re just about gone,” Wu said. The group is calling for legislation to protect old-growth ecosystems and the big trees they contain.
Douglas-firs grow along the west coast of North America from southern B.C. to California and in the Rocky Mountains toward Mexico. The Interior variety of the Douglas-fir tends to grow only to about 42 metres in height.
Wu noted the area where Big Lonely Doug was found now has even greater claim as the tall tree capital. The world’s largest recorded Douglas-fir stands in the nearby San Juan River Valley and is measured to be 73.8 metres tall and 13.28 metres in circumference.
“The biggest spruce is also there, there’s the biggest cedar in Cheewhat Lake, and then there’s Avatar Grove,” Wu said. “A hundred years ago, southwestern Vancouver Island was the land of the giants.”
Andy MacKinnon, a research ecologist for the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, said the discovery of the giant Douglas-fir is exciting.
He manages a Big Tree Registry through the University of British Columbia that tracks the 10 largest trees of each species in the province, and plans to measure Big Lonely Doug next month.
“There’s no legal protection for trees on the list, but it is a way to highlight and champion them,” said MacKinnon, citing the advocacy for a giant Sitka spruce that led to protection of the Carmanah Valley as an example.
Of the 1.9 million hectares of Crown forest on Vancouver Island, 840,125 hectares are considered old growth and 313,000 hectares are available for timber harvesting.