As told in Big Lonely Doug: The Story of One of Canada’s Last Great Trees by Harley Rustad, in 2011, logger Dennis Cronin was flagging cutblock 7190 near Port Renfrew, British Columbia for clear-cutting when a massive tree stopped him in his tracks.
Cronin knew immediately from the two-toned, corky bark that it was a Douglas fir—the icon of the North American timber industry, prized for its strength and durability as well as its pronounced grain and warm hue. He reckoned the tree stood 20 stories tall. A specimen like that would fill four logging trucks and fetch tens of thousands of dollars.
Cronin reached into his pocket for a ribbon he’d rarely used in his 42 years of logging. It was green, with the words “Leave Tree.” He tied it to a thin root at the base of the trunk.
The tree that Cronin spared would come to be known as Big Lonely Doug. Photographer and environmentalist TJ Watt came across it once the rest of the forest had been harvested: a lone giant presiding over an expanse of stumps. Big Lonely Doug’s official measurements came in at 216 feet tall, 12.4 feet wide, and 39 feet in circumference, making it Canada’s second-largest Douglas fir.
Conservationists estimate it to be 1,000 years old.
In 2014, Ancient Forest Alliance made Big Lonely Doug its poster child for saving Vancouver Island’s last ancient forests, stating that 99 percent of the old-growth Douglas firs on B.C.’s coast had been logged. Tourists began arriving in Port Renfrew to see Big Lonely Doug, along with a nearby stand of old-growth forest dubbed Avatar Grove for its mythical, mossy beauty. Port Renfrew, a former logging community, has since rebranded itself the “Tall Tree Capital of Canada,” with a focus on outdoor sports and big-tree tourism. Countless magazine articles have been written, and, in 2018, a book, Big Lonely Doug: The Story of One of Canada’s Last Great Trees, by Harley Rustad.
Dennis Cronin, sadly, never saw the book. He passed away in 2016. But he is reported to have returned often to stand under the magnificent tree he saved. “It’s like a legacy, ya know?” Cronin told author Rustad. “Even though I’m a logger and I’ve taken out millions of trees, you won’t see anything like these trees again.”