For a close look at what Gabriola’s forests looked like a hundred years ago, this quarter-section of gulf-island ecosystem is a joy to behold – but tread lightly…you are an invasive species.
When Gabriola was logged initially, it was often done by loggers from Vancouver who would come and go by boat. They would log the areas closest to the Straight so they could just drag the logs to the bluff and send them sliding down to the water where they would be boomed and towed to the city. It took more time and more manpower to log a forest then, and camps would be set up for the workers to live for weeks or months. One such camp was located where the ‘Elder Cedars’ land is now. Typically, the trees right around the camp would not be logged – especially if they were cedar trees, which were not favoured by the loggers, who sought the big firs. These trees provided shade and shelter for the logging camp, and some of them are still standing today in this 160 acre parcel of relatively old forest that remained in the hands of the Crown.
At some point in the ’60s, this land was labelled ‘UREP’ land ( for the Use, Recreation, & Enjoyment of the Public). With this designation, the land was left untouched, and had seen no significant logging since the 1940′s at least. It became dense and thick and lush -virtually impenatrable for all but the hardiest bush-whacker. There was no bigger chunk of old growth on Gabriola, and it was a fine example of how things live here when they are left alone.
When the Province offered the RPAT (Regional Protected Area Strategy) program, to begin defining parcels of Crown land that were significant in terms of their intrinsic value to the province, a local activist submitted the UREP land for consideration. It met the criteria and made the list, but a change in government saw the program stall. When land claims began to surface in the 90′s, the UREP land- still ’Crown land’ - was an obvious target for a claim. However, since the earlier RPAT application had precluded the land claims - this chunk of forest was never put on the table. Although the land was officially designated as off-limits to land claims and logging, control of it was eventually given to a local body.
Enter the bureaucracy. Now a chunk of forest that had successfully defended itself from any significant human intrusion (at no cost to the community) had turned into a source of funding. There was a budget to spend and some ‘managment’ to do. Heavy equipment got involved, and some of the few meandering trails became scarred in the name of access, or safety, or esthetics - or whatever. The trail entrance soon became big enough for a bandwagon and they erected a sign fit for Stanley Park.
Preservation of the land as a natural habitat for whatever wishes to live there was apparently not the priority of our local body. Instead, easier access for more people seems to be the direction to date, and that is succeeding. A realively small collection of people (many with dogs) use the trails regularly, although there are more now than ever before. That may change. The addition of 707 acres of local forest land in the center of the island should more than meet the community’s perceived need for land to wander about in and perhaps take pressure off of Elder Cedars and let the focus be more on the preservation than the access. This land may once again become relatively ’unmanaged’ – leaving it as a preserve for the natural gulf island flora and fauna that apparently can get along very well all by themselves.