Big Lonely Doug

Big Lonely Doug weaves the ecology of old-growth forests, the legend of the West Coast’s big trees, the turbulence of the logging industry,

Harley Rustad

On a cool morning in the winter of 2011, a logger named Dennis Cronin was walking through a stand of old-growth forest near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island. His job was to survey the land and flag the boundaries for clear-cutting. As he made his way through the forest, Cronin came across a massive Douglas fir the height of a 20-storey building. It was one of the largest trees in Canada that if felled and milled could easily fetch more than $50,000. Instead of moving on, he reached into his vest pocket for a flagging he rarely used, tore off a strip, and wrapped it around the base of the trunk. Along the length of the ribbon were the words "Leave Tree."

When the fallers arrived, every wiry cedar, every droopy-topped hemlock, every great fir was cut down and hauled away — all except one. The solitary tree stood quietly in the clear cut until activist and photographer T. J. Watt stumbled upon the Douglas fir while searching for big trees for the Ancient Forest Alliance, an environmental organization fighting to protect British Columbia's dwindling old-growth forests. The single Douglas fir exemplified their cause: the grandeur of these trees juxtaposed with their plight. They gave it a name: Big Lonely Doug. The tree would also eventually, and controversially, be turned into the poster child of the Tall Tree Capital of Canada, attracting thousands of tourists every year and garnering the attention of artists, businesses, and organizations who saw new values encased within its bark.

Originally featured as a long-form article in The Walrus that garnered a National Magazine Award (Silver), Big Lonely Doug weaves the ecology of old-growth forests, the legend of the West Coast's big trees, the turbulence of the logging industry, the fight for preservation, the contention surrounding ecotourism, First Nations land and resource rights, and the fraught future of these ancient forests around the story of a logger who saved one of Canada's last great trees. (From House of Anansi Press)

From the book

The morning of that day in the winter of 2011 began like any other. Known as cutblock number 7190 by his employer, Teal Jones, the twelve hectares fringing the east bank of the Gordon River a half-hour's drive north of Port Renfrew was a prime example of kind of old-growth forest that once spanned Vancouver Island from tip to tip and coast to coast. This small patch of trees held black bears and Roosevelt elk, with the possibility of wolves and cougars passing through. It held red-capped woodpeckers knocking on standing deadwood, squirrels and chipmunks nibbling on cones to extract the seeds, and fungi the size of a dinner plate protruding from the trunks of some of the largest trees in the world. New green seedlings sprouted from old fallen stumps. Cronin brushed through the undergrowth, his jeans damp with persistent dew. Mounds of lime-green moss covering a thick bed of decaying tree needles were moist and soft underfoot — absorbing sound like a sponge. For now, the forest was still.

From Big Lonely Doug by Harley Rustad ©2018. Published by House of Anansi Press.