Jim Hilton pens a column on forestry each week for the Observer.

Jim Hilton pens a column on forestry each week for the Observer.

FOREST INK: Giant tree makes news

Jim Hilton pens a column on forestry each week for the Observer

CBC radio covered a story of a monster tree on a logging truck near Nanaimo. When I looked for the story on the internet it was already being covered by a number of news outlets. The following is the short version:

Lorna Beecroft was headed to Costco in Nanaimo, B.C., on Tuesday when she saw a trailer loaded with a tree so massive it had to be hundreds of years old. Beecroft says she was stunned by the tree’s size so she snapped a photo to show her friends, given the ongoing protests against old-growth logging taking place not far away on southern Vancouver Island. (At the Fairy Creek logging blockade). The photo enraged many who viewed the huge log — likely a cedar or Sitka spruce, according to experts — but it turns out this tree was probably not felled recently.

“It was actually rather mind-boggling … it was so incongruous,” said Beecroft. “I have never seen a tree that big on a truck. It could be 1,000 years old.” Within hours the image of the tree was being shared worldwide. By Thursday more than 15,000 had shared it on Twitter and 18,000 on Facebook. She was getting messages from as far away as Japan, Denmark and Germany.”

Subsequent versions of the story claimed that the tree was not associated with the old growth area where the demonstrations and arrests were taking place but the large spruce tree was cut before (2020) the new regulations came into effect and that cutting a tree of this size now could result in a large fine.

So how long does it take for tree to get this big? I resorted to my 1986 Ministry of Forests Field Handbook. The site index equations and curves showed the following information for coastal Sitka Spruce. On the best site the tree starts to slow its growth at around 100 years at which time it has attained a height of 50 metres. In the next 200 years it may only put on another two metres in height. On a low site index the same species may have only reached a height of six metres in 300 years. The growth tables do not show the trees diameter but it is proportional to the height. Aging a tree by counting tree rings can be a challenge with very old trees because of the slow growth (tight rings are very close together) but it is one of the best ways to determine the trees age.

READ MORE: More soil amendment science needed for degraded soils

One of the concerns about the amount of land set aside for old growth protection is the poor quality growing sites are not capable of producing these giant trees. So how much land needs to be set aside to ensure we have some of the really big old trees for future generations?

I guess the first place to start is an inventory of how much of the medium and good sites are still occupied with the tall (large diameter ) trees. Judging from the public reaction to the large tree on the logging truck it is the size of a tree that gets the attention.

Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.