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Earth Dr Reese Halter's Blog

NATURE'S BLUEPRINT

The best thing about summer is going outdoors. The west-coast is a magical place for hiking with your family or friends and it’s exceptional camping country too.

In 1986, Wayne Topolewski – a classmate in Forestry at University of British Columbia and I visited the westside of Vancouver Island about 12 miles northwest of Port Renfrew in search of massive Sitka spruce.

We hiked into the Carmanah Valley an extremely lush rainforest, which receives almost 13 feet of rainfall each year, and marveled at what we found; the biggest trees we’d ever seen. We measured some and they were equivalent to 30-storey sky-scrappers.

It turns out that the canopies of the Sitka spruce, western hemlock, amabilis fir and western redcedar were loaded with undiscovered plant and animal life. Some treetops had as many as 1,000 strains of a single species of fungus, while others were endowed with lichens (half algae and half fungus). These treetops are home to an astonishing array of life weighing easily in excess of 1,000 pounds per acre.

One genus of lichen in particular is very important – Lobaria – and it’s an expert (as all lichens are) at extracting nitrogen from the air and making it available in its mineral form for both itself and the trees. In fact, as much as 70 per cent of the trees nitrogen (the most limiting nutrient of tree growth) comes from the treetops of old growth west-coast forests.

When Topolewski and I were exploring Carmanah it was slated to be logged and if not for the intrepid actions of the late conservationist Randy Stoltman, Canada’s largest trees would have been felled two decades ago.

Canopy biologist Dr Neville Winchester and his students found over 150 new species of mites, springtails, flies, wasps and other creatures in the Carmanah Valley treetops. Those critters support bats. Those treetops also provide crucial habitat for the endangered spotted owls, which prey on flying squirrels living in the canopy.

The Western Wilderness Committee prevented the destruction of those magnificent Sitka spruce including sparing the life of the Carmanah Giant Sitka at 313.2 feet, Canada’s tallest remaining tree.

There are trails now in the Carmanah-Walbran Provincial Park as well as splendid campgrounds. From the main parking lot there’s an easy 25-minute loop walk and many other challenging walks. It’s a must for every North American to see, smell, hear and feel these remarkable forests.

My two favorite day hiking spots on the Lower Mainland are in West Vancouver: Lighthouse Park and Brother’s Creek Loop. My brother and I have spent some very memorable and spiritual times exploring these beauties.

Lighthouse Park is a 165-acre peninsula jutting into the Burrard Inlet and there’s a few large old growth Douglas-firs indeed worth visiting.

Access to Lighthouse Park is from Beacon Lane just off Marine Drive. There are wonderful trails throughout the Park and many lead to the ocean cliffs. Spend some quiet time there and I’ll guarantee you’ll hear a pileated woodpecker rapping on tree trunks or the unmistakable call of a bald eagle overhead.

Brother’s Creek loop is accessed from the fire road just off Millstream Road. The trailhead is well marked, take lunch and water as the walk up to the two largest Douglas-firs on the Lower Mainland takes a couple hours.

Listen and you’ll hear small mammals scurrying on the forest floor, raven’s cawing and Clark’s nutcrackers swooping close by to see if there’s any available food.

I suggest having lunch just where the trail crosses Brother’s Creek in an astounding grove of western redcedars.

For a truly unique Thanksgiving weekend consider driving to Manning Park about 75 miles east of Vancouver for a camping and hiking experience of a lifetime. Pull into the Lightning Lake parking lot, where I suggest you overnight at the campground; and savor the insane asylum call of the loons on the lake while you warm yourself by a crackling campfire and make dinner.

Break camp early, the trail for Mt Frosty is at the southeast end of the lake and its four-and-a-half miles or four hours uphill. The air is divine. When the trail eventually flattens you’ll be walking amongst the 900 year old subalpine larch – some of the hardiest trees on the planet. If you are fortunate at this time of year the needles will be golden, because as winter approaches these conifers are deciduous.

Take a camera and you’ll never forget the sublime, golden subalpine larch of Mt Frosty.

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Earth Dr Reese Halter is an award-winning broadcaster and distinguished biologist. His latest books are The Insatiable Bark Beetle and The Incomparable Honeybee

Contact Earth Dr Reese Halter

Text © by Dr Reese Halter 2013. All rights reserved.

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