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Posted February 19, 2010

Environmental group: Protect rare forest giants marked for logging near Port Renfrew

By Judith Lavoie, Times Colonist, February 19, 2010

Environmental group: Protect rare forest giants marked for logging near Port Renfrew
TJ Watt on an old-growth tree yesterday near Port Renfrew
Photograph by: Debra Brash, Times Colonist

Some of the giants stretch straight to the sky for 80 metres, while others are bulbous and misshapen, the knots and gnarls betraying their age.

The old-growth Douglas firs and red cedars have stood in the valley beside the Gordon River for centuries, but now, in the almost undisturbed grove, the end is spelled out in spray paint and logging tape.

The approximately 10-hectare stand of trees on Crown land, 15 minutes outside Port Renfrew, is marked for logging, although a Forests Ministry spokeswoman says no cutting permit has yet been issued.

If the newly formed environmental group Ancient Forest Alliance has its way, logging plans for the area would be scrapped.

"This area is just about the most accessible and finest stand of ancient trees left in a wilderness setting on the south Island," said co-founder Ken Wu. "This is potentially a first-rate ecotourism gem and it's so close to Port Renfrew."

The stand, nicknamed Avatar Grove after the movie because of the twisted shapes, giant sword ferns and hanging mosses, was located by self-styled big-tree hunter TJ Watt in November. But when he and Wu returned this month, the biggest trees were surrounded by falling-boundary logging tape and marked with blue spray paint.

What make the grove different from other fragments of south Island old growth is the relatively flat terrain, nearby areas of protected old-growth such as the Carmanah-Walbran Provincial Park, and its proximity to Port Renfrew, a community attempting to attract eco-tourists.

"All other unprotected old-growth stands near Victoria are either on steep, rugged terrain, far along bumpy logging roads or are small isolated stands surrounded by clearcuts and second-growth and near human settlements," Wu said. "This is one of the last of the old-growth valley bottoms."

On Monday, the Ancient Forest Alliance will deliver a letter to Forests Minister Pat Bell asking that the stand be protected immediately by a Land Use Order, similar to the process being used to protect areas of Haida Gwaii and 1,600 hectares of coastal Douglas fir zones on the east side of Vancouver Island.

Watt is desperately hoping the province will step in.

"This is my passion. This is what gets me excited," he said, staring at the crazily twisted trees. "You can't help but develop a natural attachment to this area when you see it."

Getting up close and personal with the Avatar Grove is not a walk in the park. There is no defined trail, massive rotting trees litter the ground and unexpected holes are covered by moss.

But it's worth it, said Watt, hoisting himself up onto a giant burl.

"It would be a huge tragedy to lose something like this," he said.

"Tourists come from all over the world to visit the ancient forests of B.C. and Avatar Grove stands out as a first-rate potential destination if the B.C. Liberals don't let it fall."

Bell could not be contacted yesterday afternoon and there is uncertainty about which company is planning to log the area.

Surrey-based Teal-Jones Group is cutting in the area and Forests Ministry spokeswoman Vivian Thomas said the Pacheedaht First Nation has a licence to remove wind-throw nearby.

"But we haven't received a cutting-permit application in that area and you need an approved cutting permit before you can start logging," she said.


Photographer TJ Watt in Avatar Grove
T.J. Watt of the Ancient Forest Alliance stands by a stand of old growth forest just outside of Port Renfrew that is designated for logging
Photograph by: Debra Brash, Times Colonist


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