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Sound of the Saw

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By Douglas H. ChadwickPhotographs by Joel Sartore

From wolves to whales, from rain forests to tidal flats—Vancouver Island's Clayoquot Sound has them all.

Read or print the full article.

Off the west coast of British Columbia's Vancouver Island, Bob Van Pelt tramped ahead across a smaller isle named Meares. We were in woods as old, quiet, green, and wet as a forest can be. Even the air felt soaked. It was hard to tell how much of the moisture came from the chilly rain, how much was fog, and how much was steam rising off the burly figure of a bearded Van Pelt, also known as Big Tree Bob. "I'm hot," he said with a shrug. "Big trees energize me."

When we reached a giant that the locals call Big Mother, Van Pelt, a researcher from the University of Washington College of Forest Resources, took precise measurements with a laser and announced that this western red cedar would probably rank among the ten largest known on the continent. A true ancient, 60 feet (20 meters) around at the base, the cedar had a grove of full-size hemlock trees growing out of her sides and shrublands of huckleberry, salal, and false azalea arising from clefts in her bark high overhead. Thick epaulets of moss padded Big Mother's great limbs. Liverworts and ferns piled out of the mosses, and lichens coated and colored everything in between. She was a forest community all by herself, an organic apartment tower, and the closest thing I had ever seen to the fabled tree of life.

You can try to understand the living world with your head, but sometimes the heart is a truer field guide. Here in Vancouver Island's Clayoquot Sound, a million-acre (400,000-hectare) natural amphitheater where mountainsides embrace a fjord-fingered, island-strewn reach of the sea, you don't have to choose, for every way of knowing nature seems to come into play.

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In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Did You Know?
Where there are salmon streams there usually are bears. And Vancouver Island, with its abundant salmon streams, seems like perfect bear habitat. The American black bear (Ursus americanus) does inhabit the island, but oddly there are no grizzly bears (Ursus arctos), even though many are found just a short distance away on the mainland of British Columbia. Why? Some scientists believe that the two species of bear simply cannot coexist on islands, even though they do coexist on the continent—perhaps it would mean too much competition in a confined space. But the fact of the matter is that no one really knows.

—Alice J. Dunn

Did You Know?

Related Links
The Friends of Clayoquot Sound
Learn about the grassroots organization that has made the protection of Clayoquot Sound its mission and find out what you can do to help.

Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve
Explore this website to get more information on the history and future of Clayoquot Sound and the reserve.

Tofino, British Columbia
Find out more about Tofino and Clayoquot Sound, including where to stay and eat, activities and excursions, events, and services.

Iisaak Forest Resouces Ltd.
Want to know more about logging in Clayoquot Sound? Go to this website to learn about one company's innovative approach to logging and sustainable development.


Cederholm, C. J. and others. Pacific Salmon and Wildlife—Ecological Contexts, Relationships, and Implications for Management. Special Edition Technical Report, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2000. Download this report online at

Hammond, Herb. See the Forest Among the Trees: The Case for Wholistic Forest Use. Polestar Press Ltd., 1992.

Harding, Lee E., and Emily McCullum, eds. Biodiversity in British Columbia: Our Changing Environment. Environment Canada and Canadian Wildlife Service, 1994.

Kirk, Ruth, and Jerry Franklin. The Olympic Rain Forest: An Ecological Web. University of Washington Press, 1992.

Kozloff, Eugene N. Seashore Life of the Northern Pacific Coast: An Illustrated Guide to Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. University of Washington Press, 1993.

Sturtevant, William C., ed. Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 7. Smithsonian Institution, 1990.


NGS Resources
Chatelin, Ray, and Sarah McLachlan. "City of the Sea," National Geographic Traveler (September 2000), 62-77.

Ostrove, Michele V. "A Floating Stay in the Wild," National Geographic Traveler (March 2000), 40-42

Pringle, Heather. "Vancouver Vantage Point," National Geographic Traveler (July/August 1992), 122.

Pringle, Heather. "From the Briny Deep," National Geographic Traveler (January/February 1989), 101.

Boyer, David S. "The Untamed Fraser River, British Columbia's Lifeline," National Geographic (July 1986), 44-75.

Boyer, David S. "British Columbia: Life Begins at 100," National Geographic (August 1958), 147-189.

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