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Posted February 11, 2011

Forests minister to protect ancient trees

Forests minister Pat Bell said Friday that ancient trees in British Columbia need more protection than they now have under existing legislation.

Vancouver Sun - Gordon Hamilton, February 11, 2011

Forests minister to protect ancient trees
Click for larger image

An ancient Douglas-fir and redcedar stand in the endangered Avatar Grove near Port Renfrew, BC. The grove, which is flagged and surveyed for logging, is only 1.5km away from the clearcut filled with giant stumps that spurred the complaint to the Forest Pr
Photo by TJ Watt

Forests minister Pat Bell said Friday that ancient trees in British Columbia need more protection than they now have under existing legislation.

The minister's acknowledgment that more needs to be done to protect monumental trees is not exactly a revelation. Environmental groups, particularly the Ancient Forest Alliance and the Wilderness Committee have been pushing for it for years.

However, it took the government's own advisory group, the independent Forest Practices Board to climb on board before Victoria responded. (see story here) In a report released Thursday the board recommended  that the province, forest professionals and timber companies "seek creative means to preserve trees of exceptional size or form, age or historical significance when they encounter them."

 The board waded into the ancient tree fight after a private citizen, University of Victoria professor Hans Tammemagi, filed a formal complaint about logging in the so-called "Avatar Grove" near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island. The complaint was the mechanism that launched the review. The board's finding lifted the issue beyond the usual polarization that characterizes most of the debate over just how much old-growth needs to be saved.

Bell said in an interview Friday that he has asked the province's chief forester to review existing regulations and to develop new "tools" for protecting trees that, because of their age, have values that make them worth preserving.

"Certainly we have been hearing the message for some time from different organizations that we should be considering some tools, perhaps new tools that we could use when particularly unique trees are identified. They may be individual tees or small areas like the Avatar Grove that provide incremental value over and above the timber resource value," the minister said.

He said the tools would likely be surgical in nature, permitting the forests ministry to protect individual trees and the forest patch around them. What these tools will look like, however, will be up to the chief forester.

The move was supported by the leading environmental group in the fight over Vancouver Island old growth, the Victoria-based Ancient Forest Alliance.

"That's good, considering they appointed the board. It's their advisory group. The question is, what tools are they going to use to protect monumental trees," said the alliance's Ken Wu.

He said the fight is not over, though. Monumental trees are the symbol the alliance is focusing in its fight to protect more old-growth eco-systems.

The trees in question are not just old-growth, which the province characterizes as anything more than 250 years old. The board uses the term "ancient" meaning they are over 500 years old.

The Avatar Grove was named by the alliance after the movie of the same name because the tree trunks are so huge and gnarly. The ancient trees are scattered throughout a much younger forest that likely originated because of fire or high winds about 100 years ago. Some of the area is protected from logging through the government's old-growth management strategy for the Gordon River watershed. It requires five to 14 per cent of the trees to be protected as wildlife trees patches.

The board found that although the government has a strategy in place to manage the old-growth forest in the Gordon River watershed, there was not sufficient data to estimate the extent of ancient forest on the landscape. Inventories are not that detailed.

The board's report states that if the government is to manage more precisely for ancient trees, more detailed inventories are required.

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