Old-growth group helping push forest policy changes

The increasingly famous Avatar Grove old-growth forest has gained some political backing.

Pat Bell, minister of forests, mines and lands, announced in early February that pockets of ancient B.C. forests need more protection.

Bell’s announcement came on the heels of a similar recommendation released by the Forest Practices Board, an independent advisory group for the B.C. government.

FPB recommended the government protect a section of trees in the Gordon River drainage area north of Port Renfrew. Environmental activists from Ancient Forests Alliance named the area Avatar Grove, after the popular 2009 sci-fi movie. The report issued by the FPB also references Avatar Grove in its document.

“This is just a recommendation,” said TJ Watt, AFA cofounder and Metchosin-based photographer. “Until concrete actions are taken there is still more work to be done.”

The recommendation is based upon the 60-hectare area the AFA has been heavily promoting for more than a year. Ken Wu, AFA cofounder, said his group’s work has certainly played a part in this.

“We’ve popularized it,” Wu said. The areas discussed in the report, Avatar Grove and a nearby cut block, have been main focus of the AFA.

After receiving a complaint from an individual, the FPB recommended “certain individual, or small groups, of exceptional trees” at Avatar Grove could be more valuable if they are spared from logging. Watt introduced the complainant to the area.

In the recommendation, the FPB wants government, forest professionals and licensees to find creative ways to save these trees.

“We want supporters to flood the government (offices with letters),” Wu said. “I am encouraged by Minister Pat Bell’s statements, let’s see if he does good on them.”

While the AFA approves of the recommendation its members think it still isn’t enough. “They need to go further, we have so little of the productive old growth forest on Vancouver Island left,” Watt said.

The report stated about 25 per cent of the area is already protected and the remaining land is available for logging.

“The overall feeling I’ve got is most everyone gets it,” Watt said. “Local businesses get it, tourist associations get it, various politicians are taking stances on it.

“On Vancouver Island 75 per cent of the productive old growth forest has been logged. When so little remains you need to protect that.”

Watt was exploring the Gordon River valley about a year ago to see what old growth remained, when he found what had been dubbed Avatar Grove.

“Unfortunately we found giant tree stumps instead of giant trees,” he said.

“We just started finding big tree after big tree. It boggled my mind that it was still there. Everything had been logged behind it, beside it and on all sides. I knew it had the potential to be the Cathedral Grove of Port Renfrew.”

On a return trip Watt and Wu noticed the area had been surveyed with flagging tape and spray paint markings on the trees.

Watt speculated trees at Avatar Grove are still standing due to the attention the forest has received.

“There is a high chance that if no one had discovered it, it wouldn’t be standing right now.”

For more on the Ancient Forest Alliance, see www.ancientforestalliance.org.

reporter@goldstreamgazette.com

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