Logging puts world’s largest eagle colony at risk in B.C. old-growth forest

Bald eagle perched in tree.

There’s 100-hectares or so of old-growth forest in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley that’s become known as Eagle Mecca. Protected by mountains and surrounding Lake Echo, the old-growth forest is rife with Douglas Fir and cedar trees,  a site where bald eagles fish for salmon along the riverbanks and then roost for the evening in century-old branches. It’s the home to perhaps the largest bald eagle colony in the world.

“This is eagle central. It’s the place that if you want to protect the largest concentration of raptors on earth, this is just about it here,” said Ken Wu of the Ancient Forest Alliance in an interview with Global BC.

And yet only 55-hectares—which is just over half of the area—is currently protected by the B.C. government from logging. The rest of the 40-hectares still falls under a woodlot license, and thus remains on the chopping block for now.

The Ancient Forest Alliance has been working together with local resident Stephen Ben-Oliel, who has lived on the lake for 20 years, to save the Echo Lake forest since 2012.

Eagles in the trees surrounding Echo Lake.
Eagles in the trees surrounding Echo Lake. Photo by the Ancient Forest Alliance.

A few years ago, Ben-Oliel noticed red flags marking some of the trees in the forest for logging. It was then he realized that clear-cutting, which has affected much of the west coast to the ire of environmentalist, was happening in his own backyard.

“The tallest old-growth firs that ever existed on Earth used to stand in the Chehalis Valley [near Echo Lake],” Ben-Oliel said in an interview with The Globe and Mail. “But if you drive up there now, you’ll see that, over the years, they’ve taken it all. It is now like the surface of Mars in many places.”

Eagles on Lake Echo.
Eagles on Lake Echo. Photo by Ancient Forest Alliance.

Although Steve Thomson, the Minister of Forests, says that the province has no plans to cut the unprotected 40-hectares, the Ancient Forest Alliance wants the whole forest to be officially protected.

And history shows the province has been less than kind to its forests. “The classic giant cedars and Douglas firs that historically built the logging industry of Southern British Columbia were essentially annihilated by the 1950s [by logging],” Wu said in an interview with The Globe and Mail. “It’s as rare as a black rhino to have low elevation, spectacular old-growth, so the [forest at Lake Echo] is something incredibly rare.”

Along with the eagle colony, the Lake Echo forest is also home to many species at risk such as various bats, frogs, snails and dragonflies, which also need protection.

An eagle on the frozen Lake Echo
An eagle on the frozen Lake Echo. Photo by Ancient Forest Alliance.

But for now, it’s the soaring bald eagles that seem to be on environmentalists’ minds.

In the fall, as many as 700 bald eagles roost in Lake Echo forest during the height of the salmon spawn.

“They don’t come every night. It’s unpredictable,” said Ben-Oliel. “But when they come, it’s remarkable. You look up and it’s like aircraft circling a busy airport. They drop down and start to stack up in the trees.”

An eagle perched atop a tree in the Lake Echo forest.
An eagle perched atop a tree in the Lake Echo forest. Photo by Ancient Forest Alliance.