Wildwood – A Living Legacy
Wildwood is the late Merv Wilkinson’s world-renowned ecoforestry site just south of Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
Beginning in 1938, Merv harvested timber from Wildwood in a way that maintained a healthy vibrant forest ecosystem. His pioneering work in forest stewardship and single tree selection showed a viable alternative to clear-cut logging, and has educated and inspired people world-wide in their efforts to change forest policy and preserve forests.
Merv’s Forest Stewardship Practices
The primary drivers of Merv’s forest management plan were to ensure the overall health, diversity, resilience and sustainability of the forest. He harvested from Wildwood approximately once every five years, rather than yearly, to reduce the impact on the forest. Trees to be harvested were selected on the basis of the soil, light, and density needs of the forest. Merv also considered the market log prices by species, ensuring he was maximizing the value of the cut.
Over time Merv learned to leave logs and woody debris to decompose on the forest floor, as the logs offered habitat to forest creatures and their decomposition added nutrients for the future forest. He encouraged birds and other wildlife by leaving snags as “hotels” for cavity nesters, and areas of brush as habitat. Merv never used chemical pesticides at Wildwood; the birds that he encouraged, and the balance he maintained in his forest ecosystems, were his main form of pest control.
He retained some of the large prime trees specifically to serve as sources of seed and always depended on natural regeneration, rather than on growing and planting out tree seedlings plantation-style. He also diversified the products he derived from his forest, and had lumber milled on site that was often used in the local community. He cut Christmas trees in multi-year cycles, and also cut wood fence posts, firewood and other specialty goods.
Protecting Merv’s Legacy
As Merv aged, he became concerned for the future of his beloved forest and searched for a way to keep his legacy protected.
The community stepped up to ensure that this demonstration ecoforest would be held in trust in perpetuity.
Hundreds of people helped The Land Conservancy of BC (TLC) to raise over $1million to purchase and protect Wildwood. Wilkinson himself donated $150,000 of the purchase price, EIS donated over $20,000, and one benefactor donated over $200,000 to pay off the mortgage.
TLC declared they would protect Wildwood forever, and as per Merv’s wishes, EIS was entrusted with the role as managers.
Throughout the years, EIS has hosted visits to Wildwood from thousands of school children, university students, forestry professionals from around the world, and the general public.
The Fight to Save Wildwood – Again!
After sinking $8 million dollars into debt, TLC entered bankruptcy protection and was forced to sell properties to service its debt.
In July 2016, TLC announced its decision to sell Wildwood to a private individual, despite their original promise to keep Wildwood protected forever, and despite broad public opposition. TLC’s own bylaws prohibited this sale and specified that Wildwood must remain protected in the hands of a society.
There was great concern that under private ownership Wildwood would be logged and subdivided, and that Merv Wilkinson’s legacy of work would be lost to the public good. Since Wildwood was not protected by a covenant, its zoning would have allowed for subdivision into five-acre parcels.
In response to this immediate and urgent threat, the Ecoforestry Institute Society fundraised for legal fees to contest the private sale in court. EIS also secured donations, loans and a mortgage towards the acquisition and put forward a purchase offer to the court. The Supreme Court of BC ruled in favour of the sale of Wildwood to EIS, and on Dec.23, 2016 EIS became the trustee of Wildwood.
The society developed a cutting edge triple layer protection package for Wildwood, consisting of a land trust deed written by Dr. Donovan Waters, Canada’s foremost trust lawyer, a covenant appointing a monitor and the principles under which Wildwood would be operated and an Ecoforestry Management Plan, vetted by one of Canada’s renowned ecoforesters, Herb Hammond. Together, this package ensures that Wildwood will always held in trust by a like-minded charitable society, that any debts against Wildwood are superseded by the land trust deed.
In the coming years, EIS will establish Wildwood as an outdoor educational centre of excellence attracting ecotourists from near and afar. It will continue to manage Wildwood as a sustainable working forest, demonstrating that timber and non-timber resources can be extracted from the property without destroying the natural cycles, integrity and structure of the forest.
There’s exciting plans for Wildwood on the horizon. Here’s what we’re starting with:
- A broad range of forest-related educational programs. Interested in edible plants and teas, timber framing, value-added production or other related topics
- A new timber harvest plan with a selection logging process that will take place in fall 2017 and offer workshop opportunities.
- Renovation of the Wilkinson Heritage Homestead as a venue for educational programs and special events. It will also serve as accommodation for ecotourists from the world over who want to experience the forest and learn about Wildwood’s history and ecology
- A new mill shed and lumber storage area to be ready for our fall timber harvest
- And much more to come in the years ahead!
Wildwood is a 77 acre forest nestled along the shores of Quennell Lake, in the traditional territories of the Stz’uminus and Snuneymuxw First Nations, just north of Ladysmith BC.
Never Deplete the Forest
Every year the forest grows. Merv would never harvest more than the annual growth rate so as not to deplete the forest. He sometimes used an analogy of a bank account to illustrate this forestry principle, noting that if you only draw on the interest of your bank account, you never deplete your savings. This analogy is helpful, however it does not present a complete picture of ecologically sustainable forestry. For instance, some of the forest growth must also return to the forest floor to decay and build the future forest soil. Thus, over time Merv’s theory and selection methodology has evolved.
A Pioneer of Ecoforestry
Merv Wilkinson won many awards for his life work, including the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia.
An Endangered Ecosystem
Wildwood’s 32 hectares of mature forest are a significant and representative sample of BC’s endangered coastal Douglas-fir forest. Due to logging and urban development, less than one-half of one percent (about 1100 hectares), of relatively undisturbed old Douglas-fir forests remain in the low coastal plain of BC. With 800 year old trees, trees of multiple ages and heights, and a diverse forest canopy and understory; Wildwood is a living seed bank and genetic repository for this provincially endangered ecosystem.