Ancient western red cedar tree falls in Stanley Park

Drought, climate change, pollution likely contributed to tree's demise, expert says

A western red cedar tree that is believed to have been centuries old fell in Vancouver's Stanley Park over the weekend, reaching the end of its life at what experts describe as a particularly stressful time for ancient trees in the area.

The immense tree was discovered on the forest floor Sunday near the intersection of the Tatlow Walk and Lovers' Walk trails in the southwest corner of the park.

It was anywhere between 800 and 900 years old, according to local tree tour guide Colin Spratt, who runs tours for Ancient Trees of Vancouver.

"What caused this tree to fall was this 'heart rot.' And you can see the root structure is still actually in the ground," Spratt said in an interview at the park on Monday, pointing to the interior of the large tree — which was almost hollow.

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Spratt said any number of stressors — drought, pollution, fungi or insects — could have led to the tree's demise, but the heart rot brought it down. Heart rot is a fungal disease that leads to decay in the core of a tree.

"Once it actually stops photosynthesizing and it's actually dead, then this heart rot really can take over," he said.

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Spratt said the tree's collapse could be a symptom of a larger problem in Vancouver's largest park.

CBC: Local tour guide Colin Spratt stands next to the fallen tree in Stanley Park on Monday. (Cali McTavish/CBC)

Local tour guide Colin Spratt stands next to the fallen tree in Stanley Park on Monday. (Cali McTavish/CBC)

A number of western red cedars are facing increasing stress due to drought conditions, climate change, pollution and, locally, a looper moth infestation.

Spratt, a member of the University of British Columbia's Big Tree committee, said the Vancouver Park Board should consider watering the large trees — something he said would be unthinkable in years without large-scale drought.

"It didn't rain in September and October last year, so these trees are actually under severe stress," said Spratt.

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Joe McLeod, the park board's manager of urban forestry, said large old-growth trees like the Western red cedar have historic significance for the First Nations on whose unceded territories Vancouver is built.

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"It's always sad to see these veterans going to the next stage of their life," McLeod said.

McLeod said the fallen tree will now act as a "nurse log" as it decays, providing nutrients for newer species like the Western hemlock and red huckleberry.

He acknowledged dead trees in Stanley Park could prove a problem for fire risk, though he said the fallen tree isn't a fire risk on its own.

Parks rangers are removing loose vegetation from the park to cut down on potential fire fuels after the park board passed a motion to update Stanley Park's fire management plan.

Thumbnail courtesy of Justine Boulin/CBC.

This article was originally written for CBC News.