An ancient western red cedar on Gabriola Island is in danger of being trampled to death by visitors whose feet have compacted the soil around its roots.

Gabriola Island tree damaged by its popularity

NANAIMO – Western red cedar possibly oldest on Gabriola Island and in danger from foot traffic at roots.

An ancient giant western red cedar on Gabriola Island is a victim of its own popularity.

The tree, located in the Elder Cedar (S’ul-hween X’pey) Nature Reserve, home to one of the island’s last stands of old-growth forest, gets a lot of visitors who like to get up close to touch it and have their photos taken with it. All those visitations over the years have compacted the soil around the tree’s roots making it difficult for water and oxygen to permeate the soil.

“It physically damages the roots as well, which leads to a weakening of the tree and without protection right now the tree likely won’t survive as long as it could,” said Rob Gratton, Islands Trust Fund spokesman.

Gratton said the tree’s age is estimated at several hundred years, but no core sample has ever been taken, so the cedar’s exact age is unknown.

“We do know it’s certainly one of, if not the oldest, trees on the island,” Gratton said.

To protect the tree, the Islands Trust Fund, Gabriola Land and Trails Trust and Nanaimo and Area Land Trust want to get the word out that all those friendly visits could kill it. The groups also consulted with an arborist to determine the best methods to protect and restore the health of the tree and have since had a low fence built around the tree to keep visitors back from its base and a sign explaining how foot traffic can harm trees.

Fences and boardwalks protecting tree roots and soil are used in various Vancouver Island urban and wilderness parks to protect tree roots and other vegetation in sensitive areas.

“At this stage they’re going to be bringing in some wood mulch to try to start rehabilitating the soil and hopefully with less foot traffic, nature will take its course and it will rehabilitate itself,” Gratton said.

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