Interview: Big tree registries, BC’s logging practices and Nerdy about Nature

Get to know our friend Ross Reid, of Nerdy about Nature.

Last month, Raincoast released a video series demonstrating how to measure trees and nominate them to Big Tree Registries across the Pacific Northwest. To create the series, we collaborated with our friend Ross Reid, of Nerdy about Nature, a BC-based videographer, science communicator, and naturalist who has a talent for making plant identification accessible and complex forest policy understandable. With his kitschy, Wes Anderson vibes and lightning fast dialogue, Nerdy about Nature has a unique approach to engaging audiences and was the perfect partner to make our vision a reality! 

Along with the videos we launched a contest to encourage people to measure big trees themselves. We had engagement all up and down the Pacific Northwest and saw a number of trees registered. 

With the closing of our contest, we posed some questions to Ross so our readers can get to know him better. 

What inspired you to start Nerdy about Nature? 

Nerdy About Nature has been a culmination of a few different things actually, a bit of a perfect storm if you will. I was raised skiing, hiking, biking and surfing here in Cascadia, so I’ve always had a passion for being outdoors and immersed in nature, but the really heavy scientific part was always a bit daunting to me as a kid because I was terrible at math, and social pressures just made that a bit too triggering to really dive into at the time.  I ended up going to school for film production (with almost a minor in biology, but again…numbers) and once I graduated I began working in the outdoor and action sports film industry, during which time I continued casually reading and researching tid-bits about nature simply because I loved it and was genuinely interested in it.  

It all evolved to a point where I would go out with friends, whether hiking or ski touring, and I would just be blabbering on about how amazing a little patch of moss was or how cool some twisting cedar was, which, as it turns out, was pretty annoying for them and they begged me to find another outlet – enter, Instagram. I started the account (@NerdyAboutNature) as a joke to start just posting fun-facts and things I saw while out exploring or working, and then once the pandemic hit my entire work schedule dried up and I suddenly had all this time to focus on creative endeavors, so I began to make more high-production value videos and it’s since snowballed from there.  

I can’t say that any of this really ever came from a very conscious or deliberate action to this point, but more of just a natural culmination of a lifetime of storytelling and filmmaking skills blended with a genuine passion for, and understanding of, the natural world. It’s led to a pretty fun form of science communication, and as our society faces an increasing amount of existential threats ranging from rampant climate change to monopolistic corporate control of ‘natural resources’ during a global pandemic, I’ve found there to be an incredible need for a refreshing, fun and engaging way of learning and thinking about our place in the world.

What’s your favorite tree and why?

Ouf, this is a tough one – there are so many amazing trees out there! I think I would have to settle on a variety of Hemlock (Tsuga) though, either Western (heterophylla) or Mountain (mertensiana), simply because they are not only gorgeous trees, but their resilience is incredibly inspiring!  Western Hemlocks, with their almost dainty-looking delicate feathery bows, will grow just about anywhere, on nearly anything, taking on these twisting, curving shapes and adapting to crazy growing conditions just to keep on keeping on. Similarly, Mountain Hemlocks grow in some of the harshest, heavy snowfall environments, and will often redirect and keep growing from limbs or trunks that have snapped in a heavy storm. That sort of simple resilience to keep persevering through whatever life and the elements throws at them creates some really unique trees that are nothing short of inspiring. Love ‘em!

Since creating these ‘how-to’ videos with us, have you measured some big trees? What’s the biggest one you’ve measured so far? Have you entered it into a big tree registry?

I’m proud to say that I recently received my 8m DBH tape in the mail and now have everything I need to take these measurements more efficiently, but have unfortunately been too busy recently to get out to some of the bigger ones I have mentally noted.  I’ve been in the States for the past couple weeks celebrating my brother’s wedding, but actually went out with my niece the other day to measure some trees in a nearby park.  Nothing too grand, but there was a cedar that had a DBH of 155cm and a height of 21.2 meters which she was pretty impressed by, and at the end of the day, getting the youth to think about this stuff and take interest in it is just as important!  We were planning on entering it into the Washington Champion Tree registry, but they only accept printed forms, and we didn’t have access to a printer.  When I get back home to Squamish though, I have a few that I’m planning on putting into the BC Big Tree Registry that aren’t in there yet – a couple big Doug-firs out by Alice Lake and some Yellow Cedars I’ve scoped out in the Callaghan!  

Why do you think big tree registries are important?

Big Tree Registries are incredible resources because they catalog what we have living around us so that we can collectively take steps to protect them into the future. I’ve seen some really amazing applications of the data recently as well, especially when combined with a Google Maps interface that allows one to browse around the province and see where all the recorded big trees are alongside park boundaries, roadways, and logging plans. It all helps to give a more broad and inclusive perspective of the rich ecological systems that we live amongst with a better understanding of how our actions impact them.  

In the past I feel as though many aspects of society have traditionally operated in silos, whether that be the science-based part of ecology, developers in rural areas, or resource extraction companies like in logging, where everyone is sort of operating autonomously and doing their thing with little interaction. Yet as we move forward in an era of climate change, where the interaction and dependence of everything on literally everything else is made abundantly clear, I believe we need to operate on more mass-collaborative scales with all these different aspects, industries and social values interacting with each other for a more holistic approach that creates a world that we can not only survive in, but ideally thrive in. Big Tree Registries are a crucial part of that recipe, especially when we consider these forest ecosystems relative to the ecological functions they serve from carbon sequestering to wildfire mitigation, and how those factors impact our human and non-human societies.  

You’ve made a lot of videos on logging practices in BC, what do you think the province needs to do to transition toward a more sustainable forestry industry? 

Well, honestly, there is so much that the province needs to do that it’s a bit daunting, especially when we see things moving forward as slowly as they have been, and I’m not sure where to start here. There have been some good moves made recently with plans to restructure the industry as far as community forests and Indigenous rights go, as well as higher tariffs on raw exports, but at this point these are just plans and not a whole lot has come from them. If we’ve learned anything over the past few years it’s that we all need to take any ‘promises’ the current NDP government makes with a few tablespoons of salt…or maybe a few bags.  

Speaking broadly to the current events happening in BC today regarding forests, there is one thing that I would like to strongly emphasize for policy change, and that is that we ultimately need a restructuring of the way industry supply chains operate from the top down to achieve any real sustainability. There are a lot of circular arguments happening right now about who has the rights to log what land in the province, and while I am 110% for landback and ownership returned to the Indigenous nations who have lived and cared for these land since time immemorial, I think the discussion needs to include far more talk about the actual practices used relative to each unique ecosystem. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter who is behind the saws if the economic model still requires minimum annual cuts to feed the industry-generated supply demand that favours clearcutting harvesting methods to maximise ROI. We need to rethink the way this industry operates entirely, both here in BC and across the broader North American market, to allow ‘alternative’ or ‘radical’ methods of forest management like community forests and ecoforestry to be viable business models. We need to re-examine our methods for a more holistic approach that manages these forests for multiple values beyond timber to include climate change mitigation, ecological function, recreation, social, and cultural values, etc., all of which would require many more parties to be involved than there are currently in the discussion. It would require careful, dedicated management by educated qualified professionals that are specific to each ecosystem’s values and successional cycles, which would require much more hands-on management and engagement from local communities for employment and milling opportunities.  Through an entirely different management structure that no longer rewards those destroying these ecosystems to meet ‘market demand’, we can create a lasting stable economy with diverse jobs that incentivises folks to be closer and more connected to the lands, while also benefiting from healthy ecological systems that create a better place for us all to live, work, eat, grow and play.

Obviously to someone in the industry reading all this, the first thing they’re going to think is “well that’s going to be crazy expensive!”, to which the even more obvious reply is “yep, you bet it is”. Restructuring an industry is never easy – but look at what’s happening in the energy or transportation sectors now with solar or electric, or even in agriculture with the booming regenerative soil revolution. This change will happen either way simply because it has to – we’re nearing the end of our supply of Old growth Forest in addition to dealing with increased wildfires made far more frequent by our unhealthy and volatile second growth forests all across the continent and we’re collectively facing a global climate shift that will require us to store far more carbon in forests than we ever have before or else we all die, literally. To effectively tackle these issues, ideally we will have government support and subsidies to transition  in a way that benefits our society as a whole. The sooner we pressure John Horgan and the BC NDP to help us make the changes we all need, the sooner we will all be better off. This discussion isn’t about ending logging – it’s about doing it differently. It’s doing it in a way that doesn’t cost us or our future generations our livelihood or our quality of life, so that we can all thrive here together.

In your opinion, what can individuals do to influence better forest management practices in their home province or state?

Regardless of where anyone sits on the political or social spectrum, I think the most important thing is to be informed and engaged. There are so many amazing resources and independent non-biased scientific studies and it’s a shame to see folks subscribe to sensationalized media paid for by industry to control the dominant narrative. I’d encourage everyone to get out there and read some factual, informative studies, reports, and articles (or instagram accounts like mine with actual peer-reviewed sources) instead of opinionated propaganda that aims to keep people in the dark and maintain the status quo. 

We all breathe the same air and live on this same planet, so we all have a stake in the subject. Thus the more informed and educated we are collectively, the more complete and well-rounded a discussion we can have. With that information and education comes responsibility to act; using that information to clearly communicate and engage with others is crucial. Listen to each other, communicate civilly and clearly, spread ideas, facts and awareness of issues in a way that doesn’t put others off but invites them to learn. Nothing will ever get done if we keep bickering amongst ourselves, and that’s exactly what the powers that be want us to do, because they just continue to profit from it. Call out our elected officials when they lie or lack integrity , or when they support, say, racism and violent force used by the RCMP to uphold corporate interest. Stay educated, informed and engaged because unless we shift the collective consciousness and values of the society we live in, nothing will ever change.

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Sam Scott and Peter Ross standing in front of the future mobile lab, which is a grey sprinter van.