Environment

Before and after photos show devastating effects of intensive logging on B.C.’s old-growth forests

Conservation photographer TJ Watt advocates for the protection of old-growth ecosystems by documenting the loss of giant trees

  • Nov 22, 2022
  • 364 words
  • 2 minutes

For hundreds of years, British Columbia’s old-growth forests have stood as markers of time; storing carbon, supporting biodiversity, providing habitat and performing other ecosystem services. But intensive logging is quickly decimating these ancient forests, leaving stumps, clearings and young forests where giants once grew.

In an effort to highlight the incredible grandeur of old-growth ecosystems and draw attention to their unfortunate destruction, Victoria-based conservation photographer TJ Watt has spent years seeking out and documenting the province’s biggest trees — then returning later to photograph their stumps. 

“I’m trying to remind people that unless we speak up and advocate for the permanent protection of old-growth ecosystems, we will continue losing ecosystems which are second only to the redwoods of California,” says Watt, who is the co-founder of and a campaigner with the Ancient Forest Alliance (AFA). In addition to advocating for the protection of existing old-growth forests, AFA wants to see replanted forests given more time to grow before being logged again. 

Old-growth forest ecosystems contain many features that second-growth or replanted forests lack, such as multi-layered canopies and habitats for certain species. Currently, second-growth forests are logged after 55 to 80 years — not enough time for them to regain the beneficial characteristics of old-growth forests. 

“These trees take many centuries to grow, and nobody’s waiting around for them to come back again,” says Watt.

In 2021, Watt received a grant from the Trebek Initiative, which supports emerging storytellers, researchers, conservationists and educators. He is using the grant to create additional before and after images. After identifying at-risk forests, Watt locates the largest trees and photographs them, often positioning himself beside the trees for scale. After logging takes place, Watt returns to the area to document the stumps that remain where these ancient trees once stood. Displayed side by side, the images are a powerful statement on the finality of old-growth logging.  

“It’s up to us to ensure [ancient forests] are protected and I encourage people to safely get out there and explore the landscape themselves and reconnect with nature and see what they might find,” says Watt.

Ancient Forest Alliance photographer and campaigner and Trebek Initiative grantee TJ Watt stands beside a giant redcedar tree before and after it was cut in 2022 in an old-growth forest recommended for deferral in the Caycuse watershed in Ditidaht territory on Vancouver Island, B.C. (Photo: TJ Watt - Ancient Forest Alliance)
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Old-growth redcedar trees can live for centuries. Many of the biggest trees in this grove would have been 500-800 years old before being cut down. The second-growth tree plantations replacing them are typically re-logged every 50-80 years, never to become old-growth again. (Photo: TJ Watt - Ancient Forest Alliance)
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Old-growth forests are vital to sustaining unique endangered species, climate stability, tourism, clean water, wild salmon, and the cultures of many First Nations. According to independent scientists, the government’s own data shows that over 97 per cent of BC’s highest productivity forests with the biggest trees, like these seen here in the Caycuse Valley, have now been logged. (Photo: TJ Watt - Ancient Forest Alliance)
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Without significant conservation financing from the B.C. government, old-growth forests like these will continue to fall. Funding is needed to support Indigenous-led old-growth logging deferrals, land-use plans, and protected areas. “We have one chance, and one chance only, to ensure these forests remain standing for generations to come,” says Watt. (Photo: TJ Watt - Ancient Forest Alliance)
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