Heritage Forest Frequently Asked Questions
How to Get There?
Situated across from the Memorial Golf Course and next to the Crown Mansion. Trails are accessed from: Crescent Rd. East, Hemsworth Rd., Chester Rd., St Andrews Rd. and Sunningdale Rd.
Wood chip trails with numerous benches are flat and easy walking for all ages. Learn from the Interpretive signage located along the trails throughout the Forest.
A portion of the trails are suitable. The hard-packed gravel, fire access road extends from the gate and signage on Chester Rd. to the open, grassy meadow. If bringing a larger passenger van from LTC please drop your passengers off at the wheel-chair accessible sign at the Chester Rd gate then park the van at the south side of the junction at Hemsworth and Chester Roads.
Significance of this Coastal Douglas-fir Forest?
The Heritage Forest lies within the moist maritime subzone of the Coastal Douglas-fir biogeoclimatic zone (CDFmm) that extends along the east coast of Vancouver Island from Bowser to Victoria and the Gulf Islands from sea level to about 150 m. This forest represents the most biologically diverse forest type in British Columbia and is characterized by warm, dry summers, mild wet winters and low snowfall. The forest lies within the rain shadow of the insular Vancouver Island Mountains. The ecoregion generally has low relief and is moderated by the influence of the Salish Sea. It represents the mildest climate in Canada. The vast majority of the forests of this ecoregion have been logged and cleared extensively for urban settlement, agricultural and supporting road infrastructure. Older forests such as this are extremely rare. Streams along the coastal plain usually have few natural obstructions to fish passage and are very important for salmon spawning and rearing. The Forest is located a short walking distance from the town center of Qualicum Beach and has been assessed as being of outstanding ecological significance because it is relatively undisturbed by human activity and contains many species of endangered and rare plants.
The east coast of the Vancouver Island landscape has almost entirely been modified since the early 1900’s. Less than 2% of this ecosystem has been preserved, including parks. The fairly large size of the Heritage Forest and having trees over 500 years old intact, both contribute to its high conservation value. At the time of signing the protective Conservation Covenant in 2008, the Heritage Forest represented 20% of all the Coastal Douglas-fir forest protected in BC. As such, it is a precious resource. The Heritage Forest is a reminder of what these majestic forests were like prior to colonial settlement and extensive logging in the early 1900’s.
Is this an Old-Growth Forest?
Most of BC’s coastal forests are considered to be old growth if they contain trees that are more than 250 years old. This forest was extensively logged by hand fallers using cross-cut saws and horses mostly in the early 1900’s. Fortunately, within this regrown forest are scattered, very large old-growth trees that were left standing by those early loggers, primarily along the Beach Creek ravine. These remnant veterans are now over 500 years old with a few of the very largest trees having grown for over 800 years. Old-growth forests are characterized by species, age, size, structure, ecological function and historical disturbance. A more biologically diverse plant and animal life exists than in younger forests. The forest canopy is layered with gaps offering additional light to support a mix of younger trees and understory vegetation such as berry bushes, ferns, mosses and lichens. Older forests also contain more dead wood and standing dead trees. Decaying wood provides habitat for numerous organisms and plays an important role in nutrient cycling. Fallen logs (coarse woody debris) provide habitat for fungi, lichens, plants, micro-organisms and wildlife. Standing dead trees (snags) provide critical nesting and foraging habitat for many notable species including pileated woodpeckers, barred owls, bald eagles and bats. Providing snags is very important in maintaining biodiversity. Past timber harvesting has created what is now a mix of tree age classes.
The Heritage Forest can best be described as a mature forest in the process of developing additional old-growth attributes and includes remnant pockets of significant old-growth trees.
What can be Expected with Climate Change?
It is likely that extreme weather events will increase with more intense rain storms and heat waves thereby impacting windthrow, drought stress, fire hazard and forest pests. For instance, as the climate warms, stressed trees may become more susceptible to natural tree diseases such as dwarf mistletoes and root rots. Lightening ignitions may increase in a warmer atmosphere. The length of fire season is already getting longer. Summer droughts are expected to increase over southern BC.In the Heritage Forest, the strongest and most damaging winds come from the SW, from the direction of Pt. Alberni. Some windthrow does occur near the exposed, open forest edge along St. Andrews Rd. where a few taller trees periodically blow down towards Beach Creek. Strong SW winds are also able to dip down into the open, grassy meadow and impact taller trees along that eastern forest edge. This is especially the case when soils are wet with heavy rains.
As of 2021, cedar trees in the Heritage Forest have not shown signs of drought stress as they have done elsewhere in the region, especially along already dry roadsides. In terms of reducing fire hazard, a new tree management prescription has been proposed by the BPPS, accepted by TLC and adopted by the Town. Effort is made is to cut dead woody material to the ground within 30 meters (FireSmart BC) of adjacent residences along that northern Forest edge to mitigate potential fire hazard. Branches are frequently blown off tree crowns due to strong winter storm events. BPPS volunteers clear accumulations of this woody debris away from trail edges and get it onto the ground to decompose.
In terms of naturally-occurring forest diseases, dwarf mistletoe infection (Arceuthobium spp.) on hemlock trees is quite common in the Heritage Forest. Symptoms are seen as the large ‘brooms’ of clustered foliage on tree branches. Mature seeds are ejected quite a distance to achieve further spread. Root diseases infect most conifers. Douglas-fir root disease infection by Armillaria spp., show symptoms with thinning, yellowing foliage and distress cone crops. Eventually, pockets of dead or dying tree crowns become disease centers which are then more obvious. Mushroom fruiting bodies can be seen above ground while mycelial fans spread among intertwined tree roots. Gaps in the forest canopy are created, thereby providing more light. This allows less susceptible, shade-tolerant hemlock and cedar trees growing in the understory to take advantage and grow more readily.
Extreme rainfall events, called ‘atmospheric rivers’, affect overwintering juvenile fish in small streams like Beach Creek, along the BC Coast, as many small fish are swept out to sea. However, Beach Creek meanders a great deal, drains a relatively small catchment area, and is largely forested with long-lived conifers. These factors may help to reduce the impacts of extreme rainfall events. Perhaps not as many of the overwintering Coho salmon and Cutthroat trout will be flushed out to sea prematurely as say, nearby Grandon Creek, which has very different stream morphology. Recent extreme rain events caused Grandon Creek to become a ‘raging torrent’ whereas Beach Creek was not. Another all-important factor for fish production is the condition of the streambed itself for spawning. Fine sediment and gravel are necessary for successful egg-laying and subsequent alevin survival, which are supported by aquatic insects that feed on algae and leaf litter. In-stream coarse woody debris is also necessary as niche habitats for small fish. These and other important factors affecting fish survival in small streams will no doubt be impacted by high volumes of fast-flowing waters during these severe storm events.
What the future holds in terms of the overall impacts of a warming climate remains to be seen.