Second annual Big Tree Summit

In November 2023, Raincoast hosted the second annual Big Tree Summit to gather those interested in protecting big trees and old forests across British Columbia. Together, we aim to advance conservation outcomes for these increasingly rare and threatened ecologies.

Following the success of the first ever Big Tree Summit organized by Raincoast in 2021, the 2023 Summit was organized to identify synergies between different big tree and old growth protection projects occurring across the province. Attendees included representatives from the Ancient Forest Alliance, BC Forest Map, BC Timber Sales, Discovery Islands Ecosystem Mapping Project, the District of Saanich. Pender Islands Big Tree Registry, Saturna Island Marine Research and Education Society (SIMRES), and UBC’s Big Tree Registry, in addition to a number of veteran big tree hunters, some of whom have been seeking out these special trees and the habitats where they grow for up to three decades. 

The Summit was organized to address four main thematic challenges identified by this community of big tree and old growth forest experts and enthusiasts, a group we are currently referring to as the BOAT (big, old, and ancient trees) network.

Two people standing in the forest, looking up at a big tree.
Shauna Doll of Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Ross Reid of Nerdy About Nature measuring big trees at WildWood EcoForest in Ladysmith, Stz’uminus Territory, BC. Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

Challenge one: Expanding focus further than just “big” trees

In some regions of British Columbia, like the Coastal Douglas-fir biogeoclimatic zone characteristic to southeastern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, there is so little old growth remaining that protection of big trees is disproportionately important to ecological recovery. Yet, protecting individual trees is of little value when the habitats around them are being destroyed. To this end, the big tree community discussed how conversations around big tree protection might be expanded to an ecosystem-wide focus.

Challenge two: Monitoring

There are multiple big tree projects across British Columbia, including the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) province-wide Big Tree Registry and a number of regional big tree registries like the Pender Islands Big Tree Registry. However, tree measuring and other monitoring methods are not standardized between projects, making data and resource sharing challenging. Conversation under this umbrella explored how projects across the province can become more aligned and how such an alignment might improve data quality and thus decision-making.  

Challenge three: Application/Mobilization of findings

Though much scientific and grassroots energy has been invested in improving forest protection in BC—not the least of which have been repeated attempts to enact endangered species legislation and the initiation of the old growth strategic review process in 2019—little regulatory change has been made to do so since the “War in the Woods” in the 1990s. Big Tree Summit attendees discussed the role registries and other such projects can play in cultivating meaningful sociopolitical change.

Challenge four: Community engagement

Big tree movements like the aforementioned “War in the Woods” at Clayoquot Sound and the more recent protests at Fairy Creek captured national attention and pushed the needle on better conservation of old growth ecosystems. However, these sorts of initiatives tend to burn bright and then burn out. Further, managers of big tree and old growth protection projects are often over-committed. Yet, sustained community support is key to ensuring big trees and irreplaceable old growth forests are protected in perpetuity. As such, the development of strategies for better engaging diverse stakeholders and creating more capacity for organizers must be a focal point.

Looking up from the ground at a forest of trees.
Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

There are multiple interests that influence the management and preservation of forests in BC. Industry, housing, and other development continue to put pressure on already much reduced big-treed, multigenerational forest ecosystems. The 2023 Summit revealed that there are alarming differences between government data and on-the-ground conditions, demonstrating a strong need for ground truthing and consistent monitoring to bridge knowledge gaps and inform sound decision-making. There was also agreement that regional methods for identifying ecologically valuable areas would be an improvement over current practices as the use of blanket criteria for the whole province tends to result in important ecosystem types being overlooked for protection. 

A number of action items were identified to address the challenges discussed during the Summit. These will help inform new projects and create opportunities for members of the BOAT network to support each other in advancing protection outcomes for big, old, and ancient trees and forests.

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Research scientist, Adam Warner conducting genetics research in our genetics lab.
Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.