The Fall issue of British Columbia Magazine has hit the newsstands and it includes a great feature article titled An Old-Growth Battlefield - Can We Save Our Ancient Matriarchs? by Hans Tammemagi. I spent 3 days with Hans, touring him around Port Renfrew to places like the Avatar Grove, Big Lonely Doug, Eden Grove, the San Juan Spruce, and the Central Walbran Valley. Happy to see three of my images featured in print as well! Grab a copy if you can :)
Well, the moment that I've been waiting half my life for finally happened. I saw a cougar. Not just one cougar though, TWO cougars!! After spending over a decade exploring Vancouver Island's old-growth forests (home to the highest concentration of cougars on earth) and driving thousands of kilometers of remote backroads, I was starting to wonder if it would ever happen. Did these giants cats truly even exist? They're so elusive you start to eventually wonder.
On the drive home though from the Walbran Valley Convergence, a celebration organized by the Friends of Carmanah-Walbran of the 1991 environmental protests in the valley, a large female cat bounded directly in front of my van from a small side road. The distance she coverage with casual effort was incredible. After quickly stopping in disbelief, I looked up the side road to see a second smaller cougar slowly sauntering off. After fumbling for my phone and shutting off the vehicle, I managed to capture a short clip of the animal walking away. We then reversed down the road to give them some space while I frantically asked friends in the back seat to pass me my camera bag which, of course, was buried within all of our camping gear. As I scrambled to unpack and assemble my camera and zoom lens as fast as humanly possible, the large female cougar walked back out across the road to follow the juvenile, presumably her cub. I had just enough time to snap a single photo of her through the front window as she looked directly at use before she too was gone.
Though I wish I'd managed to get a clearer shot, I'm so incredibly thankful to have had such an up close and intimate view of these almost mythical creatures. Instead of just catching a brief glimpse of a tail disappearing into the forest at night, we were treated to a nearly minutes-long experience - enough time to make eye contact with one of the most beautiful and powerful creatures to call the island home. It's a moment that I will never forget for the rest of my life!!
Resulting news coverage:
Earlier this week I toured the Port Renfrew region with CHEK News for a video about how old-growth forest tourism at the Avatar Grove, Big Lonely Doug, and other nearby ancient stands has transformed the local economy. Dan Hager, the Chamber of Commerce president, speaks up for a Tall Tree tourism economy, while Ken Wu and myself speak about the importance of saving the remaining old-growth forests. The news clip also features some of my drone footage from the Walbran Valley!
The dense, old-growth rainforests of Vancouver Island harbour unimaginable secrets. But even if you spent every moment of your life exploring them, you'd never unearth them all. That ceaseless mystery of what might lie around the next corner, over the next ridge, or up the next river, consumes my thoughts night and day. So with some time to spare this past Sunday, myself and a friend made the 3.5 hour journey out to visit the Walbran Valley. Arriving late in the day, we took off quickly down river to see a new grove of big trees and an immense log jam that were recently found by others just within the park boundaries. The log jam - which almost defies comprehension - is found in what you'd normally expect to be a small forest creek. This 'creek' however shows clear evidence that it turns into a raging torrent of flood water during intense winter rains. From there, we rock-hopped our way further upstream, and what we stumbled upon here was like nothing I have seen before. As the creek narrowed, the walls rose into a solid limestone canyon, sculpted into fascinating shapes by years of erosion and polished white by the flow of water and logs. Waterfalls gently cascaded into crystal clear pools while logs perched on ledges 20 feet high in the air stood as a subtle reminder of the hidden power of the creek. Visiting this remote area during a giant storm would be an experience to behold. But as the light began to fade we were forced to return home before venturing much further up the valley, leaving the mystery of what lies beyond to the imagination until the next opportunity to explore arises.
On a recent trip to the endangered Central Walbran Valley on southern Vancouver Island, my colleague Ken Wu and I worked to obtain accurate measurements a colossal western redcedar tree known as the Tolkien Giant (GPS: 48.64569, -124.601246). After some scrambling through the thick underbrush, we managed to wrap it with the long tape. Preliminary measurements put the ancient tree at 14.4 metres (47 feet) in circumference or 4.6 meters (15 feet) in diameter, and about 42 meters (138 feet) in height. This makes it the 9th widest western redcedar in BC, according to the BC Big Tree Registry: http://bit.ly/1Iuf9Tv It's often hard to grasp the sheer size of these giants, and even harder that many are still at risk of being cut down. The Tolkien Giant currently stands in a tenuous forest reserve known as an Old-Growth Management Area and is thankfully protected for now however, just a couple hundred meters away lies 1 of 8 cutblocks proposed by logging company Teal-Jones. Here we came across the foreboding orange flagging tape marked "Falling Boundary", as well as more giant trees. We nicknamed one incredible specimen the Karst Giant due to the band of limestone that is prevalent in this area. The Karst Giant has been tentatively measured at 12.1 meters (40 feet) in circumference or 3.9 meters (13 feet) in diameter. Although it doesn't make the top 10, it's still an exceptional tree (photo below).
At almost 500 hectares in size, the Central Walbran Valley is home to one of the largest tracts of contiguous old-growth forest found outside of parks on southern Vancouver Island, a region which has lost 96% of its valley bottom old-growth due to logging. It's an ecological and recreational jewel that must be protected by the BC government from the current logging proposals.
The dense and highly productive ancient forests found here also provide some of the most incredible bushwhacking and exploration opportunities. One truly feels like they've stepped back in time to a prehistoric-like wilderness visited by few to none on Earth. You never quite know what unique tree, karst feature, or creature might by lurking around the next corner.
See some news coverage from our Walbran trip here:
I've been a little absent from posting on here over the last while but I've been out in the field shooting a lot and gathering new work. I'll be playing catch up over the next few weeks, sharing with you images of the large-scale old-growth logging that still continues here on Vancouver Island. About 75% of the original, productive old-growth forests have already been logged on BC’s southern coast, including over 90% of the valley-bottom ancient forests where the largest trees grow - we have very little time left to save what remains. By continuing to capture and share these photos and maps, I hope to put a tangible face to these remote but incredible valleys and groves. Today's post features old-growth logging by Western Forest Products up road W730 in the Walbran Valley.