Big Lonely Doug
September 23, 2016 8:51 PM   Subscribe

On a sunny morning in the winter of 2011, Dennis Cronin parked his truck by the side of a dirt logging road, laced up his spike-soled cork boots, put on his red cargo vest and orange hard hat, and stepped into the trees. As he waded through the thigh-high undergrowth, something caught his attention: a Douglas fir, poking up through the forest’s canopy and with a trunk wider than his truck. It was one of the tallest trees he had ever come across in his four decades in the logging industry. Cronin reached into his vest pocket for a ribbon he rarely used, tore off a strip, and tied it to a thin root protruding from the base of the trunk. The tape wasn’t pink or orange but green, and along its length were the words “Leave Tree.”

"He didn’t know it then, but Cronin was standing under the second-largest Douglas fir in the country—later confirmed to be sixty-six metres tall, nearly four metres wide, and almost twelve metres in circumference. The tree’s deeply crevassed trunk was limbless until well above the forest canopy, and its grain looked straight, too: a wonderful specimen of timber. Encased within the foot-thick corky bark was enough wood to fill four logging trucks or to frame five 2,000-square-foot houses. As it could also be turned into higher-priced beams and posts for houses in Victoria and Vancouver, or shipped across the Pacific Ocean to Japan, this single tree would fetch tens of thousands of dollars.

"'It’s a legacy, ya know? Even though I’m a logger and I’ve taken out millions of trees,' he said. Like the fir, Cronin was the last of his kind. If the remaining old growth is eventually brought down, the generations of loggers who put axe and chainsaw to trunk will have no more trees to cut, and the shift to mechanized falling will be nearly complete. When that happens, Vancouver Island’s old-growth legacy will have been permanently cut away, and with it, any potential for communities like Port Renfrew to build new economies out of groves left intact and trees left vertical."
posted by Joey Buttafoucault (38 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
"While it could take 500 years for a fir to reach fifty metres tall and two metres wide, it can take a skilled faller with a chainsaw five minutes to bring it down."

I have an oak growing just a foot from my house... conventional wisdom says I should cut it down...damage to the foundation, roof (if it drops a large branch), etc.... but..the tree has been there for at least 150 years... I've no right to disturb it....

Thanks for posting this.... a well written article. Food for thought.
posted by HuronBob at 9:08 PM on September 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


Well, it's a good thing they got rid of all the pesky younger trees, so that loggers 4, 5 or 10 generations from now won't have to deal with the same crises of conscience.

*Yeah, yeah, I understand that there were conservation benefits from his taking a stand, and it is a well-written article, but the substance of it all really seems to be "too little, too late".

TLDR: Canada has lots and lots of trees!**

**for now. This does not constitute a guarantee to future Canadians.

It's all just the tragedy of the commons redux.
posted by Anoplura at 9:17 PM on September 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


My father somehow got access to the demolition of 19th century railway sheds here in Melbourne back in the 80's, with the understanding that if he could take it he could have it. He and I spent two or three weekends pulling apart the roof trusses of the old sheds and loading the timber onto his old Bedford truck.

That timber turned out to be Douglas fir, milled in Canada in the mid to late 19th century and then shipped to Australia. So in the late 80's we had literal truck loads of it under our house and it is the first timber I worked and became familiar with and also the first I ever fell in love with. I still have a few pieces of it and it is all through both my mums house and her furniture.

It really is extraordinary timber and to see one or two hundred years in the space of 20mm of rings is unbelievable when you are ten, as I was back then. So I owe that old growth something of a debt I suppose, particularly given I was quoting on a cabinetry job this morning. But I still really prefer it standing.
posted by deadwax at 9:22 PM on September 23, 2016 [63 favorites]


Wonderful story.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:22 PM on September 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


Couldn't read past "Today, Cronin’s towering fir is one of the last of a threatened species in coastal BC, where 99 percent of the old-growth Douglas firs have been logged." If there's anything uplifting at the end, let me know.
posted by salvia at 9:49 PM on September 23, 2016 [5 favorites]


We're killing the planet, one species at a time. I'm so tired of hearing about what's disappearing - elephants, gorillas, rhinos, giraffes, various birds, monarchs, bees.

Roaches, pigeons and skunks (in America) - our future wildlife.
posted by shoesietart at 9:58 PM on September 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


It's all just the tragedy of the commons redux.

This is the opposite of tragedy of the commons. B.C.'s Crown forest lands are very tightly regulated for the benefit of a few favoured parties. The commoners have been exploited just as viciously as the trees, though they never realise it until it's too late.

No, this is a tragedy brought about deliberately through ideology, policy, corruption and apathy.
posted by klanawa at 10:12 PM on September 23, 2016 [19 favorites]


I finally made it out to visit Big Doug just last month! If anyone is in the area wanting to give him some company I can give directions - a bit harder to get to than expected but we found some Forest Alliance people building trails in Avatar Grove and they directed us. And holy fuck was it worth it, he's astounding in person.

Here's a few pics I just pulled off my phone, with dogs and people for scale.
posted by mannequito at 10:45 PM on September 23, 2016 [30 favorites]


Oh sure, trees look friendly.
posted by figurant at 11:48 PM on September 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


Wow, mannequito. The first picture I thought "well that tree is pretty big". Second picture "yep, big tree". Third picture, "holy shiiiit". My brain honestly can't even put the pictures together and come up with a coherent image. WOW!
posted by Literaryhero at 1:09 AM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


... recently heard a podcast about the way trees communicate with each other through fungus. Seeing mannequito's pictures made me a tiny bit sad.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:54 AM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


Old growth really is remarkable wood. I was building planters for the deck a couple of years ago and one of the cedar 4x4s must have been salvaged old-growth. There were something north of 100 rings in 4" of wood.

Logging the last little bit of old growth is perfectly in keeping with our species.
posted by maxwelton at 2:42 AM on September 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


I am not opposed to logging, but at this point clearcut logging of old growth seems indefensible in most cases. It's great that they left that one tree, but I wish they had left the whole stand.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:06 AM on September 24, 2016 [9 favorites]


It looks just so...wrong...to see Doug standing there alone in a relatively barren hillside. Not that it diminishes its grandeur, mind you. It's just that super-amazing things like Doug are so much more impressive (both emotionally and intellectually) within its natural habitat...surrounded by a forest.

The best illustration of this for me is the night sky. Walk out into a field anywhere here in the midwest and look a the night sky. You'll see (depending on the time of the year) the usual suspects...Orion, Big Dipper, Polaris, Pleiades, and maybe a faint blur of the Milky Way. If you're with someone who knows the sky, they might be able to point out any familiar zodiacal constellations that happen to be up. The overall effect is...neat...But one definitely comes away wondering why ancient people picked-out these unassuming dots of light for special attention.

Now, transport yourself somewhere unencumbered by our midwestern skies. Like, maybe, somewhere out west where they still have clear skies. Now, look up. The night sky is HOLYOMGFULL of stars and stars and stars and the Milky Way looks like someone took a wide brush of white paint and splashed it across the sky. That's when you start to notice that those "meh" points of light in your midwestern sky...Orion, Big Dipper, Polaris, etc...are some of the Brightest. Fucking. Stars. in the universe. They stick out like floodlights in a sea of LED bulbs. It's a stunning lesson in the value of context.

This is why Doug is so goddamn cool and so sad at the same time (mankind's stupidity notwithstanding) He needs to be surrounded by peers. And our species fucked it up.

Still, I love that someone had evolved enough to understand Doug needed to be preserved, and not converted to untold board-feet of lumber. Cheers to you, Mr. Cronin.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:08 AM on September 24, 2016 [16 favorites]


For some reason, perhaps my age, I drifted back to the "infamous" poem (infamous because often cited as an example of terrible poetry) by Joyce Kilmer..."TREES"
I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree
Poems are made by fools like me
But only god can make a tree

posted by Postroad at 5:40 AM on September 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


"If trees could scream, would we be so cavalier about cutting them down? We might, if they screamed all the time, for no good reason." -JH
posted by blue_beetle at 6:47 AM on September 24, 2016 [5 favorites]


This ia appalling. Can Doug survive without his natural habitat?
posted by acrasis at 7:45 AM on September 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


Maybe it's mentioned in the article but I suspect that tree won't be standing for long. Doug firs have a root base like the base of a wine glass, and depend on surrounding trees for support and protection from wind. When left isolated, like they often are in housing developments where the majority are cut down, they often come down in a big wind storm.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 7:51 AM on September 24, 2016 [5 favorites]


Related; Now You're Logging! a comic from the hand logging era by Bus Griffiths.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 7:56 AM on September 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


I read this as a or the Big Lonely Doug, no that the tree is named "Doug". Like "Windy Pass", the pass isn't named "Pass". Then again I'm underly emotional and don't take to anthropomorphizing easily.
posted by humboldt32 at 8:16 AM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


They cut down all the trees but one
And made it into a tree museum
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:31 AM on September 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


  they often come down in a big wind storm

… oh hey fell down in a big storm, real accident there, might as well cut 'r up now, eh?
posted by scruss at 8:44 AM on September 24, 2016


"One tree is not a forest." - Peter Wohlleben, On Point, WBUR, Sept 14, 2016
posted by tilde at 8:46 AM on September 24, 2016


infamous because often cited as an example of terrible poetry

The tree stood on the burning deck
posted by thelonius at 9:03 AM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


If you continue up the road past tricky-to-find Doug it eventually takes you through stand after stand of old growth, clinging to the side of the mountain, waiting for the chainsaws and log loaders. I followed it for hours without end. It was one of my strongest memories of three months road tripping all over BC.
posted by CynicalKnight at 9:09 AM on September 24, 2016 [3 favorites]


There is a large fir in my front yard that is about 1m in diameter at the base. The power company has asked me to cut it down, as "it is too close to the power lines" (as if the power lines were there first.) It drips sap on your car if you park under it, the house is at risk from limb falls, and it rains cones all over the place. But I love that damn tree. That's my summer book reading tree, and it's not going anywhere.
posted by xedrik at 9:19 AM on September 24, 2016 [3 favorites]


I remember seeing a documentary in college (not in class, shown to me by a Canadian friend I've since lost touch with) about the Canadian logging industry, with a strong environmentalist slant. It featured a lot of interviews with former loggers talking about the things they'd do to skirt or break the rules to clearcut more forest without getting caught, and interspersed dramatically lit talking head interview footage with voice-over from the interviews played over psychedelically processed footage of denuded landscapes and loggers working with chainsaws and other equipment. I don't know if it was ever widely released or if this guy had just gotten a copy of the file through social connections to the filmmakers, but I'd love to track it down and see it again. Anybody know what it might be?
posted by contraption at 9:21 AM on September 24, 2016


If the forest could sing or scream the poetry of its own demise, this would presumably be one of its songs (previously).
posted by chortly at 9:43 AM on September 24, 2016


My infant is just over a year old and in the interest of making it through the day with a baby and a toddler, I got pretty lax about what we buy and have just generally not been a conscious consumer. But seeing that tree standing all alone is exactly the reminder I needed that individual actions have consequences. I'll be going to the natural foods store with my grubby reusable containers tonight and hopefully use a little less paper.

I can't figure out how to link to it but the article "the intelligent plant" by Michael Pollan in the December 23, 2013 New Yorker talks about the ways plants communicate.
posted by betsybetsy at 10:36 AM on September 24, 2016


This makes me so sad. I grew up in Oregon of the 70s, 80s, and early 90s, when clear-cutting was just starting to be a thing and backlash to it gained strength.

When I was a kid, there were so many trees. So many majestic, meditative guardians of the teeming forests at their feet. I loved reading the part about just how much life is in them; more than anywhere else... I've often wondered, because I've been many places in the world, but nowhere apart from the Pacific Northwest do you have this sense of rich, diverse, flourishing life surrounding you in forests. (Australia does come pretty close.)

As a kid one of my favorite things to do was sit at the foot of a tall Douglas fir. Any of them. They have such a calm fortitude about them. I was used to traipsing around forests with trees so tall you mainly had to imagine their tops. Ferns as tall as adult humans. Deer eating our grass. Blueberry bushes growing wild and sprawling. Nurse logs – keep in mind I'm 5'11" and took that photo standing up, maybe two yards/meters away.

It is so sad to hear that old-growth logging is still going on. Go and visit some so that we can all better understand what we risk losing. There's nothing like it and we can't recover it for generations upon generations.
posted by fraula at 11:27 AM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


I spent a week this summer at a family camp site on private logging land in Washington state, just across the water from Vancouver Island. We got a tour of the 300,000 acre property from the guy that lives there and manages the harvesting and planting of the timber that grows there. It was absolutely mesmerizing. Trees that were planted when he started in the position in the 1970s were just getting to the point they were ready to be harvested. He showed us how they plant the new growth once they've harvested a section, and talked about the research scientists from UW were conducting on the property to improve outcomes for wildlife and trees. Long story short, sustainable forestry (NOT harvesting old growth forest) is fascinating!
posted by MsMolly at 11:59 AM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


Thanks for posting.
posted by theora55 at 12:33 PM on September 24, 2016


> I can't figure out how to link to it but the article "the intelligent plant" by Michael Pollan in the December 23, 2013 New Yorker talks about the ways plants communicate.

betsybetsy, here you go: "The Intelligent Plant: Scientists debate a new way of understanding flora" by Michael Pollan
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 2:12 PM on September 24, 2016


I grew up in Oregon of the 70s, 80s, and early 90s, when clear-cutting was just starting to be a thing and backlash to it gained strength.

When I was a kid, there were so many trees.


Logging in Oregon peaked just after WWII, and stayed high into the 1970s, when the decline that led to the present started. Cutting on private lands has stayed the same over time, the change has been the increased restrictions on logging on public lands, which came about as a result of the backlash Fraula mentions.

Given how many things seem to move somewhat in parallel between Canada and the US, and how often Canada leads on these issues, it is interesting how logging in Canada seems to have continued on the fully extractive path. Yes, there are vast tracts of lands, but old-growth timber is effectively a finite resource, given how long it takes to create more, and should be managed on that basis. And I frequently see photos of logging in Canada with clearcuts extending to the water's edge, without leaving even the pathetically thin buffers that are required here.
posted by Dip Flash at 2:54 PM on September 24, 2016


>And I frequently see photos of logging in Canada with clearcuts extending to the water's edge, without leaving even the pathetically thin buffers that are required here.

People is an ass.
posted by Mental Wimp at 7:44 PM on September 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


One of my favorite places in Washington is the Olympic National Park, out on the peninsula. Every time I visit the Hoh rainforest, I am amazed that intact old-growth forests are vastly different environments than every other forest I've ever been in - they are much more open, with fewer trees spaced more widely, not as much underbrush as the incredible canopy blocks a lot of the light. Ferns and mosses, even smaller trees grow on niches in these giants. It is very humbling and magical, like stepping into a fairytale much older than yourself.

Then I leave the park and along the highway there are entire denuded hillsides where the loggers have come and razed a previously functional biome for the sake of lumber that will get sold for $6 a board at the home improvement store. They look like warzones, nothing remaining but snarled bits of branches and the stumps, standing like gravestone markers. Even the forests they've replanted for the next timber harvest are sickly looking and clumped together so that it's hard to imagine a full-grown elk able to fit between the trunks. How are the animals supposed to make a life when we keep bulldozing their homes to build our own every 30 years? It's not a forest so much as a tree farm.

Half the traffic on the back roads are logging trucks. I get that people need to make a living, but I feel like we need to maybe consider using alternate materials such as bamboo whenever possible. It's a tragedy, and I wish there was a good solution.
posted by Feyala at 1:14 PM on September 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


Years ago, some wit posted an animated short on YouTube entitled "A case of the humans". It is simultaneously hilarious and horrifying (listen carefully for the screams of horror in the background, as the creatures are beheaded, for instance).
I live in Northern Maine and some years back found what was later described to me as Sentinel pines, a pair of them, probably 120 feet tall and larger around than my friend and I could reach, not more than fifteen feet apart. That land was last logged in the mid fifties and some kind soul let them be, too. It is humbling, but like finding the last individual of a species, only to watch it slowly die without its peers.
Will our stewardship of the planet be taken into account, when it's time to demolish the place to put in the new hyperpass?
posted by girdyerloins at 6:43 PM on September 26, 2016


If you continue up the road past tricky-to-find Doug it eventually takes you through stand after stand of old growth, clinging to the side of the mountain, waiting for the chainsaws and log loaders. I followed it for hours without end. It was one of my strongest memories of three months road tripping all over BC.

I think that would be the Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park. Some of that is protected, although they were trying to log a small section of old growth last fall (I made a post here about it). Looking now the most recent info says there were protests and an injunction that would last until March, so I can't say for sure whether it did get cut. I did also find this interesting letter to the TC (Victoria area newspaper) from June from a veteran logger working in the area.
posted by mannequito at 4:26 PM on September 28, 2016


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