For popular Gabriola cedar, fans too much of a good thing

A beloved ancient red cedar that has starred in many photos by visitors to a Gabriola Island nature reserve will get a protective fence to prevent it from further damage.

“This particular tree has been a real focal point. It’s a very gnarly old tree and you can almost walk inside. It has a lot of personality,” said Jennifer Eliason, Islands Trust Fund manager.

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“People want to get close. But we’ve noticed over time an impact on the soil because of foot tread.”

Compacted soil can affect the tree’s delicate root system and its ability to take in nutrients, and could lead to damage and even death, she said.

The fence will be accompanied by interpretive signs to explain the significance to those using the reserve.

“It is very popular and well used by locals,” Eliason said. The 65-hectare reserve was established in 2006 and is under a covenant held by the trust, Nanaimo and Area Land Trust and Gabriola Land and Trails Trust.

It holds some of the largest western red cedar, western hemlock and Douglas fir on the Gulf Islands.

“So much of the islands underwent heavy logging, so this is a special place to preserve,” Eliason said. The reserve includes some of the last old growth forest on Gabriola Island — which is why it’s important to protect this red cedar.

The tree is the namesake of the reserve, called Elder Cedar or S’ul-hween X’pey in the Hul’qumi’num language.

The name is a tribute to the First Nations people who have occupied and used the land for thousands of years. It was translated by Snuneymuxw elder Ellen White as meaning “more than old” and being symbolic of ancestor’s spirits and guardians, Eliason said.

When the community sought to protect the land more than 15 years ago, the Snuneymuxw excluded the area from their treaty settlement claim in order for it to be made a reserve.

Eliason said they are doing their best to keep it accessible and preserved.

“We hope to have a boardwalk in some places,” she said, noting this would allow visitors to be closer to the tree again.

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