What a grand idea to celebrate Earth Day 2021 with a community nature walk in an old growth stand in a local Beaufort Watershed. Originally advertised as two walks with ten people each we were overwhelmed with over 35 requests. Due to provincial Covid health orders, we had to scale back to only one group of ten in total including myself. The nine winners of the nature walk lottery were selected by a first come, first-get-to-go process.
The weather cooperated; we all gathered at the Hall at 1:45pm. Every-one kept proper social distance as they previewed the display boards I had prepared. One was a map showing the location of the Beaufort Watersheds where BWS is active, and specifically Waterloo Creek, our destination. The other display was for those keen “ecosystem folks” who were interested in the various mapped ecosystems within the Waterloo Creek area.
These 18 hectares of “older growth”, missed by the loggers of the 40’s and 50’s, contains some of the biggest Grand Fir trees left standing on the east side of Vancouver Island. Concerned scientists who specialize in forest genetics have been advocating for this area to be protected by the BC Government, who has informally agreed. The paperwork that would dedicate it as an “Old Growth Management Area” has not yet been signed.
At 2 pm sharp we headed out in a “Covid Convoy” of 7 vehicles traveling 1.5 km up the Rosewall Forest Service Road. Parking at the Waterloo bridge we headed up the quad trail. First stop was a group of immature trees where we began honing our identification skills for the four conifers we would see—specifically Douglas-fir, Red Cedar, Western Hemlock, and Grand Fir. The second stop was the “Grand Mamma,” the biggest Grand Fir in the Waterloo watershed, at 68 meters and 75 cm in diameter. The largest Grand Fir in BC, along the Chilliwack River, is 75 m. So, this Grand Fir is in an exclusive club indeed. Her roots are in some of the richest and most productive growing sites in Canada. We noted some of the plants that indicate this: salmonberry, devils club, lady fern and pacific leafy mosses.
The next ecosystem stop was above the quad trail, on higher ground, where Douglas-fir and Western Hemlock trees dominate. Grand Fir was not to be found. I highlighted the different plants associated with this less rich ecosystem, specifically plants indicative of drier conditions such as salal, Oregon grape and step mosses. However, I shared the fact that this was the best ground for Chanterelle mushrooms. This piqued a few folks’ interest!
The next stop on the tour was below the quad trail in the same rich eco-system as the Grand Mamma. Here we found the “Three Grand Daughters,” a tight grouping of three huge Grand firs, just a bit smaller than the Mam-ma, at about 60 meters in height. We focused on the Grand fir’s unique remnant male flowers (in white clusters) still clinging to dropped branches around the base of the daughters. This is a tell-tale sign of Grand fir over-head. A discussion of the unique biology of Grand fir reproduction ensued.
Finally, after heading east on the quad trail we veered off to wander through a meadow of continuous sword fern, finally reaching the “Grand Grove”. This is a remarkable linear formation of 8 huge Grand fir trees all in a row. Not as big as the Grand Mamma, but still impressive. It is a mystery why they are growing in such a neat row. We discussed various theories, but the mystery remains unsolved. The “Grand Grove” is in a medium rich ecosystem part way between the richness of the Grand Mamma site and the poorer Douglas fir site. Here the beautiful knee-high “shag carpet” of sword fern is mixed with small amounts of other herbs like vanilla leaf and lady fern and is typical of these medium rich ecosystems.
After that, we had run out of time—in fact, we had gone an hour longer than planned! I was pleased that the group’s interest remained high, and the questions just kept coming. We had learned about the four conifers and how to identify them, and why they were each in the different natural eco-systems which we had learned to identify.
All in all, a good day in a gem of an old growth forest in our own Waterloo Creek back yard. I think everyone came away feeling that it is worth protecting, for all to enjoy, today and tomorrow, and for our “Grand fir”-children too!!