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Posted February 16, 2011

B.C. looking for new ways to protect ancient trees

The province is looking at new ways to safeguard ancient trees or groves of forest giants in response to the wishes of British Columbians, says Forest Minister Pat Bell.

Vancouver Sun - Judith Lavoie, February 16, 2011

B.C. looking for new ways to protect ancient trees
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AFA Campaign Director Ken Wu sits atop a massive, 14ft diameter redcedar stump found in the endangered Upper Walbran Valley west of Lake Cowichan. Vancouver Island, BC.
Photo by TJ Watt

VICTORIA — The province is looking at new ways to safeguard ancient trees or groves of forest giants in response to the wishes of British Columbians, says Forest Minister Pat Bell.

In the wake of a report from the Forest Practices Board last week that said creative ways should be found to protect giant trees, Bell has asked the province's chief forester to look into the matter.

Bell, who has previously emphasized that B.C. has ample protection for old-growth trees, said the change is driven by the public mood.

"For me, what has changed is not whether or not there's protection for the 10 largest trees or for unique situations such as Avatar Grove. There's just a public desire to see something stronger than what already exists," he said.

Any tweaking of existing rules or new protection tools will be "surgical" in nature, allowing the ministry to protect unique individual trees or specific patches of forest around them, Bell said.

A complaint about giant trees cut adjacent to a stand of massive trees nicknamed Avatar Grove, near Port Renfrew, sparked the Forest Practices Board report. Bell said Avatar Grove could be considered a unique circumstance.

"It is certainly one of the areas which could fall within a measure of this sort," he said.

However, realistically, there was little chance Avatar Grove would have been logged because of the quality of the wood, said Bell, who has been in contact with the Teal-Jones Group, which holds the cutting licence.

"I have had a chat with them and they are quite interested in working with us on it," he said.

Rick Jeffery, Coast Forest Products Association president, said he is looking forward to hearing what rule changes might be proposed, but the vast majority of monumental trees and groves are already protected by existing regulations.

"Every once in awhile you run across something like Avatar Grove that hasn't been captured by those rules and it brings all sort of controversy," Jeffery said.

"But something like that is by far and away the exception, not the rule."

Regulations for operating in B.C.'s forests are stringent and the 3.5 million hectares set aside for parks and conservancies contain old-growth and monumental trees, Jeffery said.

"The forest industry operates on only 2.5 million hectares and, in any given year, we are cutting about one per cent of that," he said.

Bell's apparent change of heart has surprised Ken Wu of the Ancient Forest Alliance, who has campaigned for protection of old-growth ecosystems.

"I have to admit this was an unexpected surprise considering the rocky relationship the B.C. government has had with our campaign for so long," Wu said.

"If this is genuine, minister Bell should be commended for taking the first steps toward positive change here. Let's see if this pans out."

He argued there is an urgent need to protect old-growth ecosystems on a larger scale.

But Bell said any new protection for special trees will not include a ban on logging old-growth or a new old-growth strategy.

"B.C. has more old-growth today than we ever have had," Bell said.

"We are not running out of old growth on Vancouver Island or in B.C. They are maturing at a level that exceeds any harvest that is taking place."

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