The Last Great Tree: A Majestic Relic of Canada’s Vanishing Rainforest

On a cool morning in the winter of 2011, Dennis Cronin parked his truck by the side of a dirt logging road, laced up his spike-soled caulk boots, put on his red cargo vest and orange hard hat, and stepped into the trees.

He had a job to do: walk a stand of old-growth forest and flag it for clearcutting.

In many ways, this patch of forest was unremarkable. Cronin had spent four decades traipsing through tens of thousands of similar hectares of lush British Columbia rainforest, and had stood under hundreds of giant, ancient trees. Over his career in the Canadian logging industry, he had seen the seemingly inexhaustible resource of big timber continue to dwindle, and the unbroken evergreen that once covered Vancouver Island reduced to rare and isolated groves.

The cutblock represented a small sliver – around the size of 12 football fields – of the kind of old-growth forest that once spanned the island nearly from tip to tip and coast to coast. But this small patch of trees was a prime example of an endangered ecosystem. Black bears and elk, wolves and cougars passed quietly under its canopy. Red-capped woodpeckers knocked on standing deadwood; squirrels and chipmunks nibbled on cones to extract seeds; and fungi the size of dinner plates protruded from the trunks of some of the largest trees in the world.

As a forest engineer, Cronin’s job involved taking stock of the timber, and producing a map for the fallers to follow. At regular intervals of a couple dozen metres or so, he reached into his vest pocket for a roll of neon orange plastic ribbon and tore off a strip. The colour had to be bright to catch the eye of the fallers who would follow in the weeks or months to come.