Once abundant, cedar trees becoming rare

  • May. 3, 2004 7:00 p.m.

By Heidi Bevington-Cedar suitable for carving is getting harder and harder to find on the islands, and elsewhere on the coast it’s disappearing fast.
“Just the thought of red cedar disappearing is unbelievable,” said carver Jim Hart. “We’re so used to having it.”
Mr. Hart has carved nearly 20 poles – the tallest of which has over 55 feet of carved surface. The youngest tree he’s carved was 350 years old and the oldest was 760 years old.
Carvers need tall, straight, densely grained, old growth cedar for their work. Mr. Hart hasn’t tried to carve on second growth cedar, but he has tried to cut it, and he said he couldn’t even do that. The consistency of the fiber is different, he said, with wider rings and bigger grain.
“It’s a different tree altogether,” he said.
Cedar is “precious as part of the forest – not just as a cultural thing,” said Mr. Hart. The forest is “important as a living entity. How can we knock it down?”
The loss of cedar is an escalating problem, Mr. Hart said. “We can still get the big cedar at home, but it’s not so easyÂ… To get a big solid red cedar is pretty rare.”
The situation is even worse elsewhere along the coast according to A Vanishing Heritage: The Loss of Ancient Red Cedar from Canada’s Rainforests, a report by the David Suzuki Foundation and the Western Canada Wilderness Committee.
Mr. Hart said he has heard that some native groups along the coast have approached the islands for monumental cedar because they can no longer find it closer to home.
The logging industry is selectively targeting old growth cedar because it is so valuable, according to the report.
“Because cedar has been the most lucrative wood, timber companies have been targeting cedar to bolster their revenues,” said Cheri Burda, forest and lands director with the David Suzuki Foundation.
“This is good for their bottom-line, but it’s not sustainable,” Ms Burda said. “Not only are we quickly losing the best cedar from our coastal rainforests, but removing large quantities of an important species like cedar has an adverse effect on the entire forest ecology and on species, like grizzly bears and salmon, that need old-growth rainforests to survive.”
To stop the loss of old growth cedar, the report recommends reducing opportunities for the timber industry to target red cedar, banning raw log exports of red and yellow cedar and conserving old growth coastal rainforest.
“Cedar is a part of our life, and always has been. We have to save it,” Mr. Hart said.
The report is available at www.davidsuzuki.org