Making friends with Big Lonely Doug

Vancouver Island is an oasis for tall trees. With year-long wet and stormy conditions, it’s the perfect breeding ground for forests and trees to grow—including one, surrounded by fallen trees in a cutblock, serving as the perfect metaphor for the politics of logging in the province.

I had never heard of this tree until my friend Alex mentioned it in 2018.

Alex is different than me in many ways. Although we both share a love of running, I’m naturally introverted and he’s extroverted. I worry about the future, while Alex lives in the present. I grew up outside one of Canada’s largest cities, Vancouver, and he’s from Vanderhoof, B.C.—a town of roughly 4,500 people, located in the geographical centre of the province. 

On a sun-splashed, blue-skied Saturday last month, Alex asked me on a spontaneous trip to see Big Lonely Doug.

I’d heard about Big Lonely Doug, but didn’t know the extent of its history or what made it unique.

“Sure, it’s a big tree,” I thought. “There are trees all over B.C. What makes this one special?”

With a height of 230 feet and a circumference of 39 feet, Big Lonely Doug is… pretty big!

In 2016, Harley Rustad wrote a feature in The Walrus that examined the history of Big Lonely Doug, and how, after being saved from logging in 2011, the tree helped alter the perception of old-growth forests in B.C. Two years later, Rustad wrote a book on the tree and the ecology of forests in our country.

Before I moved to Victoria, I never knew old-growth forests make up less than one per cent of the forested area in B.C. I didn’t even know what an old-growth forest was.

In the early 1990s, one of the largest acts of civil disobedience in the country was held on Vancouver Island. Referred to as the Clayoquot Sound protests, 12,000 people from members of the Tla-o-qui-aht and Ahousaht First Nation on Vancouver Island were joined by local residents and activists to protest old-growth logging with a series of blockades.

Prior to the provincial election last month, The Pigeon reported on the political history of old-growth logging in the province, and the measures each political party promised to implement for old-growth forests in B.C. moving forward.

When the B.C. Liberal party came to power in 2003, much of the work their NDP predecessors did to regulate the forestry was quickly undone. The Liberals, who held government from 2003 to 2017, left old-growth forests vulnerable to logging by new deregulations in the industry.

In June, two years after the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council in western Vancouver Island called on the provincial government to do more to protect B.C.’s old-growth forests, the CBC reported the government overestimated the amount of old-growth forest left in the province.

In 2014, the B.C. Big Tree Registry officially declared Big Lonely Doug Canada’s second-largest Douglas fir.

Big Lonely Doug is located about 18 kilometres outside of Port Renfrew, B.C. As we neared the entry point for visitors, we hit a logging road, and Alex confidently drove his Mazda Protégé—a small vehicle most wouldn’t take off roads—along the rugged terrain.

The car eventually came to a stop on the side of the road when we saw a giant rock that had the words “BIG LONELY DOUG” and an arrow pointing right spray painted on it in pink.

We hiked 20 minutes down the trail and noticed the tree, Canada’s second largest Douglas fir, standing over 66 meters tall and almost four meters wide.

I then realized what made this tree so special.

Big Lonely Doug was nothing like I’d ever seen before. It towered over the ferns and recently planted trees in the cutblock.

Bushwhacking past the vegetation, I felt like a little boy again. I whispered to Alex that it felt like we were in a prehistoric, dinosaur-aged movie.

He didn’t respond. Instead, he smiled, and careened his neck up to the sky. In that moment, nothing else mattered besides the tree.

Josh goes in for the hug.
So does Josh’s friend, Alex.

On our hike back to the Protégé, there were half a dozen cars parked on the logging road. Out of them emerged tourists, who were starting to meander down the trail.

I felt happy to see that Big Lonely Doug had so many visitors.

In a way, Big Lonely Doug isn’t completely alone, as Port Renfrew is a hotbed for tall trees. Nestled in a valley that attracts plenty of rain throughout the year, Port Renfrew is known as the “Tall Trees Capital of Canada.”

Canada’s “gnarliest tree” is located in nearby Avatar Grove, while the San Juan Spruce, one of the country’s largest Sitka trees, is also in the region.

With an abundance of old-growth forests, Port Renfrew is vulnerable to logging. In August, Fairy Creek, an unlogged old-growth valley northeast of Port Renfrew, was slated to be a cut block. A group of environmental activists set up blockades at Fairy Creek, and are still protesting there as of Nov. 1.

You’d need to stack Josh—who’s 6 feet tall—on top of himself 39 times to pass the top of Big Lonely Doug!

I don’t consider myself an expert on old-growth or the economic impact of logging forests, but snapping pictures and organizing a spontaneous trip to visit a tree can help bring together individuals from any background.

That’s the beauty of nature: Especially in our increasingly polarized society, the small things in life need to be treasured now more than ever.  

Or, more accurately, the 66-metre tall ones.

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