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Big Lonely Doug: Canada’s loneliest tree still waiting on help

Big Lonely Doug, perhaps the loneliest tree in Canada, stands in the middle of a clear-cut on the west coast of Vancouver Island, surrounded by a field of huge stumps.

The giant red cedars and Douglas firs that once surrounded it were cut down and hauled away by loggers two years ago.

Big Lonely Doug was left standing alone, Ken Wu of the Forest Alliance says, because it was either designated as a wildlife tree, or it was left to provide cones for the reseeding of the forest.

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Either way, it makes a rather sad sight sticking up out of a raw landscape of logging debris – and it serves as a reminder of just how inadequate British Columbia's forest regulations are at protecting old, giant trees.

Recently, Mr. Wu's group, which for years has been campaigning to save old trees like this, teamed up on a climbing expedition with Matthew Beatty of the Arboreal Collective, another organization that works to save trees.

They wanted to get to the top of Big Lonely Doug to see how tall it really was. It had been estimated at 70 metres. And they wanted to get some photographs to highlight the need to protect B.C.'s rapidly disappearing old growth.

Mr. Wu says 99 per cent of the old-growth Douglas fir trees in B.C. have been logged and 75 per cent of the original old growth forests on B.C.'s southern coast have been cut down.

Mr. Wu's group has been frantically searching out the biggest trees and lobbying to protect them. A few years ago, they found the Avatar Grove near Port Renfrew, which the government did set aside, and which is now a tourism attraction. In the same area, they also identified what they named Lower Christy Clark Grove, in the hope the Premier would set it aside. Parts of that area were later protected, not to honour Ms. Clark, but as wildlife habitat because of the presence of endangered Queen Charlotte goshawks.

But Mr. Wu and his colleague, T.J. Watt, didn't see Big Lonely Doug when they were hiking through the thick forest in the area, and the grove of giants it stood in didn't get flagged for protection. When they returned in March, it was impossible to miss, however, sticking up all alone like that.

Members of the Arboreal Collective put climbing ropes up the tree and Mr. Watt, a photographer clambered up. Way up. From the top, they dropped a line – Big Lonely Doug is 66 metres tall, not quite as big as first estimated, but still the second largest Douglas fir in Canada.

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"It was incredibly humbling," said Mr. Watt of what it felt like up there in the tree. "It's like climbing a living skyscraper. You only get a true sense of its mass once you are up there in the canopy and you see the trunk is still 6-, 7-, 8-feet wide. It's almost unfathomable how large it is."

From near the top, swaying in the wind, Mr. Watt looked out over the valley and felt a sense of wonder at how long the tree has been there. Ring counts of nearby stumps showed many of the neighbouring trees were 500 years old. Big Lonely Doug is estimated to be 1,000 years old.

From his vantage point atop the tree, Mr. Watt's colleagues seemed tiny on the ground below. Across the valley, he could hear chainsaws and see trees falling as logging continued in the area.

"It was odd to be standing in this giant, record-size tree in the middle of a clear-cut and watching stuff fall not too far away," he said.

Mr. Watt said it was "kind of sad" too, because he suspected there were more trees like Big Lonely Doug that might be stumps by the time his crew finds them.

"It shows the need to have legislation in place as quickly as possible to protect remaining old-growth forest so we don't have to keep coming across these things too late," said Mr. Watt.

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Three years ago, the provincial government promised it would bring in regulations to protect the best and biggest groves of B.C.'s dwindling stock of giant old-growth trees.

Mr. Watt, Mr. Wu, and Big Lonely Doug are still waiting .

See why this tree is special.

TJ Watt/The Canadian Press

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About the Author
National correspondent

Mark Hume is a National Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver, writing news and feature stories on a daily basis about his home province of British Columbia. His weekly column, which often challenges the orthodoxy on environmental issues, appears every Monday. More

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