In 1988, on the fiftieth anniversary of the famous Sayward Forest fire on Vancouver Island, Dave Parker, Minister of Forests for British Columbia, gave a speech recognizing the forest's regrowth and praising those who planted the trees.
Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen:
We are standing beside the first forest in British Columbia to have been raised from the ashes almost entirely by the hand of man. This new Sayward Forest was planted, nurtured, and is growing to maturity as a result of human effort.
Looking at these stands of healthy, vigorous trees today, it is difficult to imagine the scene of total devastation left after fire consumed more than 30,000 hectares [75,000 acres] of this forest fifty years ago.
The first had been a major contributor to the local economy for many years before the fire. Logging had started in 1889 with ox teams skidding logs out to Elk Bay. The ox teams eventually gave way to railway logging which was in turn replaced by truck logging in 1954. The gentle landscape in the Sayward area, along with stands of prime timber, favoured relatively easy logging but also created ideal conditions for the rapid spread of rest fires. Logging practices of the time, which allowed slash to be left on the ground, provided abundant fuel. Chances of a fire staring in dry weather were always high near logging operations because of sparks from steam engines and other equipment.
So it was on July 5, 1938 when sparks from a yarding engine operating just north of Campbell River started a fire in some felled trees. The fire spread rapidly and within a short time it was apparent that a major conflagration was under way. One newspaper account of the time described it as a series of small infernos where old snags burnt like candles on the devil's birthday cake. Unemployed men from as far away as Vancouver were hired as firefighters at 25 cents an hour.
Two Canadian navy destroyers, the Fraser and the St. Laurent , were ordered to stand by in Duncan bay in case it became necessary to evacuate people from the area. It took 1,500 men one month to control the fire, which was finally put out by rain. Fortunately, no lives were lost, but timber and property loss amounted to more than $780,000. Today's financial equivalent of the loss would be in the tens of millions of dollars.
Of course, with our vastly improved fire fighting techniques today, a fire like that would never to allowed to get away. Out fleet of air tankers, highly trained initial attack crews and rapid deployment ability would allow us to keep an outbreak from spreading anywhere near the scale of the 1938 fire. But it is not the fire itself we are celebrating today.
We are celebrating a triumph of reforestation. We are celebrating our proven ability to restore a forest so devastated that people once thought it would never recover.
Up to the time of the Sayward fire, reforestation in British Columbia and everywhere else in North America was accomplished mainly through natural regeneration. However, it was realized that without a massive artificial reforestation program, the Sayward would never again be a productive forest. The idea of planting seedlings over an area almost as big as Quadra Island was overwhelming in 1938.
But in 1939 work started on what was then the largest planting project in B.C. In one month, 763,550 seedlings were planted in an area of more than 400 hectares. Not only did this first planting effort mark the start of the reforestation of the Sayward Forest, it also launched British Columbia 's reforestation program. Today that program includes planting 200 million seedlings in the province annually, as well as numerous other silviculture activities. Work on restoration of the Sayward continued to gain momentum as the years passed.
During the Second World War groups of Conscientious Objectors – those who refused to join the armed forces on principle or religious grounds – worked as planting crews. They achieved an all-time high of 3,380 hectares planted in 1943. By the late 1950s it was clear that restoration of the Sayward would eventually be successful. By 1954 the entire backlog of unstocked areas had been eliminated.
In the years since 1939 more than 60.5 million seedlings – most bare-root Douglas Fir – had been planted. However, in the 1970s it appeared that growth was almost too successful. Every season the trees grew slower, produced fewer needles and few branches. The problem was overpopulation – too many trees competing for nutrients, water and sunlight. The solution was a multi-million dollar juvenile spacing and fertilization program, the first operation programs of their type in British Columbia. The result was that the trees grew bigger at a faster rate.
During the last few years the trees of Sayward have reached the size where commercial thinning has been undertaken to allow more growing space. Trees harvested in thinning are being utilized by sawmills through the ministry's Small Forest Enterprise Program.
Once again, the Sayward Forest is producing lumber. In a few more years, it will become a source of prime timber for our vital forest products industry. Future harvesting will be followed up by silviculture treatments in order to ensure another new Sayward Forest.
The Sayward Forest today stands as a living showcase for the benefits of silviculture. It also stands as a monument to the hard work and dedication of many individuals without whose efforts none of this would have been possible.
The forest not only holds the promise of economic benefits and community support, but it also offers recreation opportunities to thousands. Lakes and waterways within the Sayward are well stocked with trout for the enjoyment of the anglers. The forest provides a habitat for blacktail deer, Roosevelt elk, black bear, upland game birds, waterfowl and many smaller creatures. For those who simply like the idea of being outdoors, the Sayward offers an invitation for untrammeled enjoyment of nature.
The Sayward Forest is a source of pride for British Columbians everywhere. I am happy to share that pride with you. Thank you. [ASP, 18-20]