As recently as 150 years ago, the Comox Valley was carpeted in lush green old-growth “rain shadow” forests. The dominant Douglas-fir trees commonly exceeded 250 years in age, and some were as tall as 94 meters (308 feet). Over a century of industrial logging has completely eliminated old-growth forests in the rain-shadow environment of eastern Vancouver Island. Today only a few individual trees over 250 years old remain.
Modern logging practices harvest forests in 40-80 year cycles. This means that unless they are protected in parks, old-growth forests (>250 years old) will never again be the dominant feature in this rain-shadow landscape of our community. The unique characteristics of old growth forests cannot be sustained in that kind of harvesting cycle.
The exciting news is that forests (80+ years old) within some of our existing parks in the Valley, as well as areas the conservation community is working so hard to protect, are beginning to contain some of the ecosystem features found in old-growth forests. These include unique plants, and fungus species like the Phaeocollybia kauffmanii found in the Cumberland Community Forest last October by forest ecologist Andy MacKinnon.
But only 4% of forests in the rain-shadow zone are protected in parks. This will not be enough to support biodiversity and sustain old-growth dependent species in the long term. We need to protect more land.
Old growth forests store high amounts of carbon, support biodiversity and help make forests resilient to wildfires. They need to be protected. But with less than 3% of forests in BC containing intact old growth ecosystems, conservation biologists argue that there is also an urgent need to protect second-growth forests, even younger ones of 40-80 years of age, as “old-growth recruitment areas” in our rain-shadow zone. This a critical step toward building climate resilience and supporting biodiversity.
This is exactly what the Cumberland Community Forest Society is doing. Over 500 acres of mature forests have been protected by the CCFS to date. These forests have the chance to become the old growth of the future. Conservation covenants ensure that these trees will never be harvested. They will be allowed to grow old and nurture new life.