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Behemoth tree in B.C. nearly as wide as a Boeing 747 airplane cabin

Sunday, July 3rd 2022, 10:24 am - The western red cedar found in Lynn Headwaters Regional Park is likely 1,000 to 2,000 years old, say experts.

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A biologist has found what is possibly one of the widest-ever recorded trees in B.C.

Ian Thomas measured a western red cedar in North Vancouver, B.C., to be somewhere between 4.8 to 5.8 metres in diameter.

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If Thomas's preliminary measurements are correct, the behemoth he found in Lynn Headwaters Regional Park would barely fit inside the cabin of a Boeing 747.

The tree's diameter at breast height (DBH) still needs to be officially verified and could end up being up to a metre less than his 5.8-metre calculation, he said, depending on how it's measured on a rugged, steep slope.

giant-western-red-cedar-in-north-vancouver-rainforest/Colin Spratt via CBC A western red cedar growing in a remote part of North Vancouver's Lynn Headwaters Regional Park is estimated to be between 4.8-5.8 metres in diameter, depending on the method used to calculate diameter at breast height (DBH). (Colin Spratt)

Regardless of its exact size, there is no doubt the massive tree is very, very old.

"It came at the end of about a 10-hour bushwhack," Thomas told Gloria Macarenko, host of CBC's On The Coast, on Monday. "I spend a lot of my time studying satellite maps and government data sets — and just slogging through these incredible, threatened ancient forests that we're so lucky to have, some of them, here in B.C."

He and his colleague Colin Spratt nicknamed the "awe-inspiring" tree they found in a grove of "primordial" red cedars The North Shore Giant.

The tree is on Tsleil-Waututh Nation territories. Its director of treaty, lands and resources said western red cedars have been used by his people for everything from dugout canoes, clothing and buildings to ceremonial and medicinal uses.

giant-western-red-cedar-in-north-vancouver-s-lynn-headwaters-regional-park/Ian Thomas via CBC Big-tree searcher Colin Spratt stands with a very large western red cedar in North Vancouver's Lynn Headwaters Regional Park. He and biologist Ian Thomas measured the diameter at breast height (DBH) as being up to 5.8 metres, though another method could reduce that to 4.8 metres, still making it one of the largest trees in B.C. records. (Ian Thomas)

"Everything from the roots to the branches to the trunks," Gabriel George said in a phone interview. "For our people, they're medicine.... The cedar tree is sacred to us."

Hearing about the find made his "heart happy," and he hoped it reminds others of the importance of B.C.'s few remaining ancient old-growth forests.

"When I saw that picture and I heard that story, it just was so uplifting," he said.

Even though this particular cedar is within an already protected area, Thomas said it's a reminder of how blessed the province is to still have such natural wonders.

"You are encountering one of the largest and oldest living things on this planet," he said. "It's almost like seeing a blue whale or a northern white rhino — this piece of this rich, wild world."

According to University of B.C. forestry professor Robert Guy, large western red cedars host "ecosystems in most of their branches."

"A tree of this size has to be very old," he said. "They can get to 1,000 or 2,000 years old. We have trees on the North Shore that approach 2,000 years of age."

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Because red cedars hollow as they age, it's often impossible to count their inner rings like other trees.

According to the University of B.C.'s Big Tree Registry, a tree 5.8 metres in diameter would be the fourth widest on record.

The previous top seven in the registry are all on Vancouver Island, the widest being a six-metre western red cedar in Pacific Rim National Park.

In Lynn Headwaters, the largest diameter recorded for a tree was 5.1 metres, also a red cedar. Any tree over 4.8 metres wide would be in the province's top 13 ranking.

READ MORE: The best coolers for you and your drink this summer

The registry could not be reached for comment on Thomas's preliminary measurements. He said a member of its committee is in the process of verifying the tree's size.

Based on photographs, said Guy, the tree appears unhealthy, a phenomenon he said is increasingly common in B.C.

"Red cedar has been showing more signs of distress in recent years than other ... species in times of drought," he said. "Which is probably climate change-related.

"So I guess another thing about these trees is they remind us they've been through a lot — but they might not get through the next hundred years or so."

The story was written by David P. Ball, originally published for CBC News.

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