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The Last Spruce Grove

Old Growth, New Conflict


Celeste A. Leander
Department of Biology & Zoology
The University of British Columbia


This case study follows a drama that unfolded around a stand of Sitka spruce trees (Picea sitchensis) on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The stand held significant historical and cultural significance, particularly to the local first-nations band, but grew on privately-held land. The stage was thus set for confrontation when the landowners expressed their interest in harvesting the valuable lumber. Students are introduced to differing concepts of "old growth" before determining stake-holders in this true story. They hear real concerns presented by many of those affected in a mock town-hall meeting. Students discuss consequences to disrupting an intact stand of old growth forest, including those to the neighboring waterways and to several rare species. Finally, students work in small groups to predict a successional pathway when a secondary disruption such as logging occurs. Originally developed for a first-year science course as part of the biology unit focusing on ecology, the case can also be used in a general biology course with an ecology or conservation curriculum, or in an undergraduate ecology course.


  • Compare definitions of "old growth" and discuss when each might be used.
  • Discuss structure and composition as factors defining successional stages of a forest.
  • Identify stakeholders in a conservation issue.
  • Predict consequences of clear-cut logging on the community and nearby waterways.
  • Evaluate where a stand of trees likely sits in a succession pathway.
  • Predict the return of this ecosystem, based on either Gleason's or Clements' hypothesis for community structure.


Sitka spruce; Picea sitchensis; community; structure; ecosystem; old growth; logging; succession; interactive hypothesis; Clements; individualistic hypothesis; Gleason; Vancouver Island; Hu-ay-aht

Topical Areas

Policy issues

Educational Level

Undergraduate lower division



Type / Methods

Debate, Dilemma/Decision, Discussion, Interrupted, Journal Article, Public Hearing



Subject Headings

Anthropology  |   Biology (General)  |   Botany / Plant Science  |   Ecology  |   Forestry  |   Natural Resource Management  |  

Date Posted


Teaching Notes

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Teaching notes are intended to help teachers select and adopt a case. They typically include a summary of the case, teaching objectives, information about the intended audience, details about how the case may be taught, and a list of references and resources.

Supplemental Materials

Students read pp. 1-12 of the following publication by Silva Ecology Consultants (reproduced here with permission).

  Old Growth Literature Review

Answer Key

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Gina Brewer
Point Pleasant Borough High School
Point Pleasant NJ

I am having trouble reading the figure 5 in the "Last Spruce Grove" case study. It is very difficult to see the bars and the coding that is in them. I cannot get access to the study to see if it is more clear there. Any ideas?

Author’s Reply: This figure is as originally published. It is now archived by the ministry and this raw data is no longer available. However, the point can still be seen, and this is that Spruce are in the “other” category, and do not appear except at the 40 dbh category in immature forests. (Older forests in this climatic zone are predominately Western Hemlock and Western Red Cedar).