Along the rugged south shores of Vancouver Island lies the ancient old growth forests of Port Renfrew. Discover these gentle giants and why they need your help.

“A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.”
– Franklin D. Roosevelt

Ancient Forests of Port Renfrew

Port Renfrew is a small village on the rugged shores of the souther Vancouver Island looking out into the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. It is rich in its ecological and cultural diversity from the ancient forests and powerful waters to the Pacheedaht first nations who have lived on this land for centuries.

Port Renfrew in the last 200 years grew as a fishing and logging community but today is promoting the vision of leaving ancient forests standing to help sustain the local economy.

With the protection of the Avatar Grove in 2012, Port Renfrew has seen tremendous boom in ‘big tree tourism’, and now markets itself as the Tall Trees Capital of Canada. However, many of the region’s remnant old-growth forests still remain at risk of being logged, or are being logged today.

Driving to Port Renfrew is done so from Victoria by travelling highway 14 through Sooke winding along the coast of the Strait of Juna de Fuca. It has a travelling time of nearly 2 hours and a distance of 111 kms.

Port Renfrew can also be accessed driving from Nanaimo via highway 1 and then turning onto highway 18 to Lake Cowichan. From here it is a forested mountain drive on the Pacific Marine road. This route has a travelling time of nearly 2 hours 15 minutes and is roughly 135 kms.

The Tall Trees of Port Renfrew

This past Spring I was able to bring my friend Mick Bailey, a fellow outdoor enthusiast. He is most notably known for his writing and documenting of the tall, rare, unique and often ancient trees of BC on his website, BC Treehunter.

Ancient Old Growth Forests Port Renfrew Vancouver Island Avatar Grove
BC Treehunter Mick Bailey in awe of a giant western red cedar in lower Avatar Grove

The most detailed information for spending a day touring the trees is by utilizing the map and directions on the Ancient Forest Alliance website. (Please consider making a small donation on their website if you utilize their map or support their cause)

Ancient Old Growth Trees of Port Renfrew big tree map vancouver island
Ancient Forest Alliance Port Renfrew Big Tree Map
Ancient Old Growth Forests of Port Renfrew Avatar Grove TJ Watt Ancient Forest Alliance
One of my photos of lead Ancient Forest Alliance campaigner TJ Watt hard at work building trails and photographing the forest in is efforts to protect the forests.

Our day of exploring Port Renfrew from the coastline to the ancient old growth forests was beautiful. We hiked Juan De Fuca Provincial Park from Botany Bay to Botanical Beach. This was the start our day and we explored the coastline as well as the gnarled and steadfast forest that line the shore.

From there we drove to the renowned Avatar Grove, taking in both the upper and lower Grove. This spot is 100% thanks to the hard work and dedication of Ancient Forest Alliance. Avatar Grove is home to a unique western red cedar dubbed “Canada’s Gnarliest Tree”.

Next we ventured out to famous Big Lonely Doug, Canada’s second largest Douglas Fir, sitting in the middle of a clear cut all by itself. I have been here a great deal of times and it is something to witness the reactions of people witnessing the tree for the first time. It is a sense of awe, love, anger and sadness all wrapped into one.

On our drive home to via the Pacific Marine road route we stopped to visit the Harris Creek Spruce and the San Juan Sitka. The giant Red Creek Fir will have to wait until another visit.

Protecting our Ancient Forests

It is so incredibly important to visualize why protecting the ancient old growth temperate rainforests of Vancouver Island. The orange on this map represents how much of the island has been logged. The purple is protected by provincial and national parks.

Ancient Old Growth Forests of Vancouver Island
Remaining Ancient Old Growth Forests of Vancouver Island

I have been outspoken about asking the government to protect those last remaining green slivers on intact forest, they are all we have left. Seventy-nine per cent of productive old-growth forests on Vancouver Island have already been logged, including more than 90% of the valley bottoms where the largest trees grow. Only eight per cent are protected in parks and Old-Growth Management areas.

I want to make a very clear statement also, that swath of protected land in Strathcona Provincial Park is absolutely not the same type of land and forest. That is all high alpine with the majority being small slow growing unproductive trees stunted by the harshness of the alpine. 

These aren’t the valley floors like we are seeing harvested in the Walbran, Juan De Fuca or Nahmint that we are fighting for.

We need to sign up and support efforts by the likes of the BC Green Party with their Old Growth Logging Moratorium campaign. This is a forest issue, this is non-partisan and the forests don’t care what party you belong to or believe in. This should unite us all.

The BC Greens are calling for an immediate moratorium on old-growth logging in hotspots on Vancouver Island. This moratorium must be paired with investment in mill retrofits so we transition to a sustainable second-growth industry.

Here are a few excerpts of the Old Growth campaign from the BC Greens.

This involves a shift in management practices, meaningful collaboration with Indigenous nations, consultation with impacted communities, and retrofitting mills that currently only process old-growth. These changes are essential: we cannot continue to cut down old-growth hotspots on the Island.

Forestry jobs are of critical importance to BC. Last year they accounted for 65,500 jobs. But this number is far less than the amount of jobs forestry once supported. That’s because our forests have not been managed sustainably.

We want high-paying jobs that are not vulnerable to boom-bust economics. Right now there are mills on Vancouver Island that can only process old growth. But old-growth is a finite resource, and most of it is already gone. That means those forestry jobs are at risk.

By investing in mill retrofits we can set up these forestry workers to thrive in the long-term. Plus, if we focus on value-added manufacturing rather than raw-log exports, those jobs will be more reliable and better paying.

It’s a win-win for British Columbians and the forests we cherish.

How Can you Protect Old Growth Forests

There are many ways to help and can be done through the following groups. They campaign on the same premise to protect ancient old growth forests and work to help our communities develop diversity and resiliency for the future.

I am also locally working to shift the future usage of our Cowichan Valley forests, and in my ongoing efforts to support Where Do We Stand.

I leave you with my final thoughts, the guiding ideas that come to my mind every time I visit the ancient old growth forests of Vancouver Island.

“It is not a resource of dollars and cents but a resource of culture, family, life and spirituality….protect our forests and be stewards of them, not extractors and takers. Be mindful of our relationships with the world around us, not to see it as economic drivers or revenue for taxes. Until we shift this mindset I fear we won’t be able to truly manage and respect our natural world. “

– Chris

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