The war in the Wal­bran

Canadian Geographic - - DISCOVERY - By An­drew Find­lay

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.

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