By Rod Burns
If you have been to Rebecca Spit, on Quadra Island, or similar beaches along the B.C. Coast, in the past few stormy days, you likely will have spent more than a few minutes mesmerized, watching as well as listening to logs crashing onto the shore. Has this activity always happened on the B.C. Coast?
If you are a long time resident, perhaps 40+ years, the beach fronts today are significantly different from your early years.
What Are The Changes?
Prior to the early 1900’s there would have been no logs blanketing the coastal waterfront. From the 1920’s to the 1950’s there were short haul railway lines, moving logs from the upland forests. The logs were dumped into Drew Harbour, Royston, Comox and most other shoreline communities. In recent conversations, I learned that a fun activity was to balance on the logs, nimbly jumping log to log, going well out in the harbour, that is until with a slip and a roll, you went for a swim!
Industrially, in the coves and bays, sufficient lengths of loose logs were chained end to end to form flexible barriers. The remaining logs were corralled by specially designed boats, pushing them into the barriers forming log booms (rafts). In the 1980’s, responding to the many broken rafts, the logs began to be loaded onto barges. The rafts and barges were hauled by tug, down the coast to waiting mills for processing into chips for pulp and paper. Other logs were sawed into dimension lumber, for sale throughout North America and Japan.
How They Got There
With the arrival of the annual winter storms, 40+ kmph winds and 2 m waves, getting the logs to the mills was a moment to moment gamble. Add in changing tides, channel currents, mechanical failures, often enough the rafts broke free of their chain link bindings. At times, waves shifted the loads. The barges tilted on to there side which washed thousands of logs into the raging seas. Decade by decade the logs have washed ashore becoming the normal beach front decorations.
The logs, generally fall into 3 specific sizes: 6m, 9m, 12m lengths (20, 30 and 40 ft. lengths). Each size represents specific market demands and changes over the past 60 years. Rarely, perhaps 1 per 100,000 will you find an intact wood stem which has branches and a root ball attached. These are trees which would have naturally fallen into a raging river, as its bank was eroded in Spring floods.
The logs crashing storm by storm, decade by decade have had huge impacts to the natural inter tidal life and near shore vegetation. At the inter-tidal, the rolling, pounding, grinding logs have powered into the beach gravels and larger cobble stones. The combination of moving logs and grinding stones have crushed snails, limpets, sea stars. These small creatures are the historic year round feed for the resident and migrating sea birds. Without seasonal foods, whether Spring time chicks or in Fall migrating as adults, generations of birds have been starving to death.
The near shore, upland vegetation: Salal, Beach Pea, various grasses, all have horizontal, webbed, roots interlaced with other vegetation including Douglas Fir and Sitka Spruce trees. The extreme high (King) tides in the past 20 years have thrown the logs well into the brush line. The tearing by the logs has ripped apart the web of roots. As a result, the shorelines have been eroding into the ocean.
What Can Be Done?
What can be done about the beach logs crashing 1,000’s of kilometers of BC coastlines?
Socially, 99% of the residents and visitors have come to believe that the log coated beaches are just everyday normal! They have little reason to do anything other than to run and play on the logs. The history of Logging: impacts and benefits could become part of our Education curriculum.
Campaigns To Remove Beach Logs
Environmentalists, wanting the natural shoreline and inter-tidal species to recover could take up the cry on behalf of the Feathers, Furs, Forests and Fins! Human Greed you are Killing us! They could begin action campaigns working towards an Environmental, Social, Government, and Corporate alliance to fund a variety of work projects for unemployed Forestry Workers, specifically to remove the logs. The removed logs would be processed as gainful, profitable employment.
What About The Forestry Companies?
The Forest Companies, wrote off the storm lost logs decades ago as an unavoidable cost of doing business. Over the past 20 plus years, they have been BURNING, NOT PROCESSING, mound after mound of dry logs at their cut blocks far inland. They won’t likely be motivated to invest a dollar to research innovative uses of the logs e.g. bio-thermal energy. Existing BC Government Salvage regulations do not (as yet) encourage an entrepreneur with a boat to haul logs from the beaches, without immense volumes of paper work and specific drop zones.
Maybe there should be a new, targeted levy / stumpage for logging existing crown / public forests. The dollars collected would go to direct funding of Coastal Beach job retraining and business development support initiatives.
Raw Log Exports?
The Peoples Republic of China’s has been funding resource start-ups, known as State Sponsored as well as State Owned Enterprises, around the world, for over 25 years. The NDP – B.C. Government with the Ministry of Forests, just returned from its 2nd business development junket with China, this past November.
Were they discussing Coastal log salvage? Or, expanding raw log export of the last Old Growth Forests as well as harvesting and export of the low valued 2nd growth tree plantations?
About The Author
In the letter accompanying this article, Rob Burns wrote, “I, have NO solid pure science reports to support my statements – other
than 45 years of Citizen Science, observations and photographs.” He is a Professional Heritage Interpreter on Quadra Island.
Top photo credit: View from Rebecca SpitCruising the Discovery Islands with the Pirate Team, 2015 by Dale Simonson via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)