The war in the Walbran
Controversy over logging has returned to the old-growth forests of Vancouver Island
HIGH IN THE BRANCHES of the oldgrowth forest in the Walbran Valley on Vancouver Island’s west coast exists a world few have ever seen — one that more than 20 years after it was first studied has once again caught the interest of conservationists as a long-dormant battle reignites over logging in the region. In the early 1990s, Neville Winchester, a University of Victoria entomologist, logged hundreds of hours studying insects in the forest canopy of the Carmanah and Walbran valleys and Clayoquot Sound, where soils often accumulate over hundreds of years to depths of one metre. While logging protests raged below, Winchester and his colleagues identified roughly 15,000 insects, including 300 new to science. Winchester says this hidden ecosystem plays a vital role in forest decomposition and nutrient cycling, a littleseen part of what is lost when old-growth trees are cut. These lush valleys of centuries-old giant trees have a tumultuous past. In 1995, following years of logging blockades and protests, the provincial government added the upper Carmanah and lower Walbran valleys to Carmanah Provincial Park (which had been created in 1990 to protect the lower Carmanah valley), establishing today’s Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park. The central Walbran, however, was given over to logging interests, although it was designated a special management zone, putting environmental, cultural and recreational values at the core of harvesting plans and requiring more old-growth tree retention and smaller cut blocks. The threat of logging in this valley was put on hold until 2014, when environmentalists found flagging tape near the legendary but unprotected Castle Grove and alerted the public to harvesting plans by the forest licensee, Surrey, B.c.-based Teal-jones Group, which claims that accessing this valuable old-growth timber is key to its future operations. But conservationists say one more tree cut in the Walbran Valley, where logging crews have already felled trees to build roads, is one too many. Un-logged coastal valleys on Vancouver Island are increasingly rare. Of the 89 primary valleys (valleys greater than 5,000 hectares emptying directly into the ocean) on Vancouver Island, only six remain undeveloped, or less than two per cent logged. “Old-growth forest has almost been eliminated on southern Vancouver Island,” says Joe Foy, national campaign director for the Vancouver-based environmental group the Wilderness Committee. “This southern area produces the biggest trees and most lush rainforests, and it is critical that what remains be protected. The central Walbran is contiguous with Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park, and its trees are spectacular in size, abundance and structure. Anyone who visits the area and walks amongst the giants understands that this is a place that should not be cut down.” Neville Winchester’s canopy research helped chart new ecological territory in the island’s old-growth forest, but its conservation impact is unclear. “Did the research make a difference?” he asks. “Well, the central Walbran was made a special management zone, but it’s just old-growth logging by a different name.”
A hiker gazes up at towering old-growth trees in Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park.