Grandalf the Fir Awes Forest Technology Program Students

February 26, 2024
Grandalf the Fir and Forest Technology One

In a mystical moment on the back corner of Nelson’s Silver King Campus, students in the Selkirk College Forest Technology Program were introduced to an ancient Grand Fir that will soon find its place on the BC Big Tree Registry.

First identified as a rarity by local freelance writer and hobby naturalist Jayme Moye, the massive tree was co-nominated for the registry by instructor Mandy Croppo’s second-year class. In an early-February field trip to the Silver King Campus, the class of 24 learners had their first chance to gaze, touch, measure and breathe-in the magnificent tree that likely sprouted more than 200 years ago. 

“When you are around a huge tree like that, it puts an emotion to the work we are doing,” says student Jaden Pearman. “In the Interior, you don’t see trees like this too often. I was very surprised and it was a magical moment seeing it. A tree like that is so old, it’s been giving life and supporting life for so long. Our human timeline is around 80 years, a tree like this has been here way longer and knows way more than we do.”

In the nomination package, the class came up with the name Grandalf the Fir in homage of the wizard Gandalf in JRR Tolkien’s novels The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Though difficult to determine the exact age of the tree without a potentially damaging core measurement, the class’s calculations put the Grand Fir between 43 and 44 meters in height, 1.4 to 1.5 meters in diameter at breast height, and a crown spread between 13.5 and 14.5 meters. 

“This is a great opportunity for Forest Technology Program students to make a meaningful contribution,” says Croppo, a veteran of diverse roles within the forest industry and a Selkirk College alumna herself. “Many of our students came to attend the program out of a genuine curiosity about forests and ecosystems. They want to know how they can play a role in sustainably managing our forests, considering the significant social, environmental and ecological values they hold. Our students are bright, motivated and driven, and being a part of this nomination will be something of a legacy for them.” 

Hiding in Plain Sight

An adventure journalist who has traveled the world for assignments that include magazine pieces in National Geographic, Conde Nast Traveler, Outside and Travel + Leisure, Moye lives in a neighbourhood adjacent to the Silver King Campus. The well-trodden small cedar-hemlock forest just beyond the campus’s bustling trades shops is where Moye and her husband spend plenty of time walking their dog. Assuming the oversized tree trunk on their jaunts was a typically large Douglas Fir, Moye didn’t think the tree was unusual until two years ago.

Grandalf the Fir and Forest Technology Two
Forest Technology Program students in instructor Mandy Croppo’s class had a chance to visit Grandalf the Fir behind Selkirk College’s Silver King Campus in early-February. The class have co-nominated the ancient Grand Fir for the BC Big Tree Registry along with local adventure journalist Jayme Moye, who first identified the rare tree.

“I started using an app called Picture This to identify plants and trees,” Moye says. “It identified the tree, based on its bark, as a Grand Fir. That winter, a massive bough from the tree fell down from the canopy and there were branches and needles covering the ground. We noticed a fresh citrus scent, which confirmed it was indeed a Grand Fir.”

This past spring, Moye attended a presentation by Kootenay author Terry Nelson about his new book, Big Trees of the Inland Temperate Forests of British Columbia. A committee member of the University of British Columbia’s BC Big Tree Registry, Nelson helped open up a pathway to further investigation by Moye. With a mandate to identify, describe, monitor and conserve the largest trees of each species within the province, the registry aims to educate and enlist the help of its citizens in this task.

After checking the registry online to survey the sizes of other Grand Firs listed around the province, Moye had a feeling that the Silver King Campus tree would be in the running. As part of the nomination process, she contacted a local biologist to verify measurements. With confidence that the tree would make the list, Moye and Croppo brought in the Forest Technology Program students to help bring the nomination to the finish line.

“Big trees are exciting, I was excited when I saw it and I witnessed the same when the students arrived to the tree,” says Moye. “It’s grounding to know that we live and work in such close proximity to giant old-growth trees. Now that this one has been officially identified, I hope it will help inspire and educate people in our community and beyond.”

Part of the Legacy of Conservation

Thick with hands-on learning experiences that includes plenty of field work, the two-year Forest Technology Program is one of four original programs offered when Selkirk College first opened its doors in 1966. With almost six decades of graduates, program alumni can be found in every corner of the industry across British Columbia and the world.  

Grandalf the Fir and Forest Technology Three
Forest Technology Program student Jaden Pearman arrived to the Forest Technology Program straight out of graduating high school at Trail’s JL Crowe Secondary.

During the afternoon visit to see Grandalf the Fir, Croppo’s class were giddy with excitement. The field trip was not originally part of the second-semester syllabus, but the instructor made it a mini-lab and it was a welcome addition to program outcomes. 

“It made sense to integrate this unique opportunity into our learning experience, considering its one-of-a-kind nature and its alignment with the core themes of our course—exploring the growth, preservation and maintenance of forest ecosystems,” says Croppo, who has been teaching in the program for five years. “There is a special feeling when you see something of this magnitude up close. A feeling in your gut. I was pleasantly surprised at its size for an Interior tree and was a bit in awe.”

Pearman arrived to the Forest Technology Program straight out of graduating high school at Trail’s JL Crowe Secondary. Her father works at Fruitvale’s ATCO Wood Products mill and she has been “dreaming about being in the program” since Grade 10. 

Pearman’s desire for a career in the forest industry was bolstered over the summer when she had a chance to work at Monticola Forest Ltd. based out of Fruitvale where the 19-year-old spent time firefighting, tree planting and doing layout work. After graduating this spring, she plans on continuing to build knowledge and skills in all aspects of the industry. When she looks back on the visit with Grandalf the Fir, Pearman knows it will be a memory that sticks as she contributes to a vital forest industry.   

“I always thought it was cool that my dad helped turn a living thing into a usable item,” Pearman says. “A lot of people think of the forest industry in a negative way, but it obviously has so many positive uses. They are teaching our generation how to do it sustainably, we have learned from our past and will be doing it better in the future.”

Learn more about the School of Environment & Geomatics.

SDG 15 Life on Land

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.