Bruce Hepburn. Photograph by: Julie Chadwick/Daily News
Volunteers with The Land Conservancy are hoping for a fresh start locally, and have launched a new initiative to draw support for the Wildwood sustainable forest woodlot once famously owned by Merv Wilkinson.
Bruce Hepburn has stepped in on a volunteer basis to fill the space now that the 15-yearold non-profit society no longer has any paid staff.
A biologist with a degree in zoology from the University of British Columbia, Hepburn has been continuing to lead Wildwood’s popular forest walk series, and has helped form a new volunteer group with TLC called Friends of Wildwood.
The group, which had its first meeting two weeks ago, hopes to continue to promote Wilkinson’s ideal of sustainable forestry that saw the 32-hectare Yellow Point property logged for 60 years. Wilkinson harvested more than one million board feet of lumber and still managed to leave more than 100 per cent of volume remaining.
For Hepburn, Wilkinson’s example served as an inspiration to his family when he was growing up, but he didn’t grasp the full impact of his ideology around clearcut logging until he worked at a salmon hatchery near Henderson Lake.
“Clemens Creek is usually a clearwater creek, and when it rains heavily starting in October, all that precipitation comes ashore from the Pacific and it turns into this muddy, brown huge roaring river and you can hear the stones going down, taking all the gravel out to the lake,” said Hepburn.
“It’s a real graphic example of what can occur with (clearcut logging), you actually lose all the gravel which the salmon would spawn in.”
It was this intricate interaction between the health of a forest and the corresponding health of the surrounding watersheds, and its effect on salmon, that got Hepburn thinking more about forestry.
“At the time that Clayoquot was going on, they were buzz-cutting every other watershed on the coast, especially on Vancouver Island. .. here on this part of the island there is less than one per cent left remaining of coastal Douglas Fir habitat,” he said.
This made Wilkinson’s property, which is home to some Douglas Fir that are more than 800 years old, all the more interesting to Henderson. Approximately six years ago, he saw a TLC ad that stated the society was looking for volunteers. He signed up and now lives on the property, helping to maintain Merv’s house and aspiring to carry on his legacy.
“This is a very significant piece of land, because it shows what one man started in 1938. He went out and found out how they did (sustainable forestry) in Europe, and at the time everyone thought he was crazy,” said Hepburn.
With that knowledge, Wilkinson set up the world-class woodlot that was considered by many environmentalists to be a viable and profitable alternative to clearcut logging, that in 2009 earned him both the Order of B.C. and Order of Canada.
“Even though it’s been logged, it’s still a natural forest. The forest value has never been depleted – in fact there’s more wood here than in the beginning because of the way Merv logged it,” said Hepburn. “He always logged just by taking the interest rather than the capital.”
Today, that legacy continues. The land was sold to the Saanich-based TLC in 2000, with the idea that they would work to protect the land. Liabilities, debts and mortgage payments on their 51 landmark properties, including South Winchelsea Island and a section of the lower Nanaimo River led to ongoing cash-flow problems.
Hepburn said he thinks that now that those problems have been settled, he would like to move beyond them to continue the vision for the property.
The 20-member Friends of Wildwood group hope to host events over the winter to bring new enthusiasm to the property, and the next guided tour takes place Aug. 18 and continues on every third Sunday of the month.
“What I’d really like to see is more young people involved that can learn from us old geeks, and take up the challenge of preserving this place themselves,” said Hepburn.
“Nobody can promote Merv better than Merv did, but we sorta have to keep his ideals going, you know? To keep it going the way Merv would have done it.”
Julie Chadwick, Daily News / Bruce Hepburn stands before a huge Douglas Fir tree on the Wildwood property in Yellow Point.;
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