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Posted March 25, 2010

“Canada’s Gnarliest Tree” Discovered in the Endangered “Avatar Grove” of Enormous Old-Growth Trees on Vancouver Island, Canada

New Images of the Avatar Grove uploaded onto Facebook in preparation for Saturday’s Avatar-themed Rally for Ancient Forest and Forestry Jobs in Vancouver

March 25, 2010

“Canada’s Gnarliest Tree” Discovered in the Endangered “Avatar Grove” of Enormous Old-Growth Trees on Vancouver Island, Canada
Click for larger image

Ancient Forest Alliance photographer and big tree hunter TJ Watt, stands next to what is being called Canada's Gnarliest Tree. The old-growth Red Cedar measuring 12ft accross is covered with contorted alien-shaped burls and is threatened by logging.
Photo by TJ Watt

A new Canadian environmental organization, the Ancient Forest Alliance (www.ancientforestalliance.org), is claiming to have found what may be the “gnarliest tree in Canada” in the endangered “Avatar Grove” on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.

Set amidst a hundred or so of some of Canada’s largest old-growth trees in the extraordinarily spectacular but threatened Avatar Grove temperate rainforest, the tree with what may be the largest and most contorted burl (wooden lump) in Canada was discovered in mid-February on a bushwacking expedition by TJ Watt and Ken Wu, both co-founders of the Ancient Forest Alliance (AFA). The incredible and unique old-growth western redcedar measures 37 feet or 11 meters in circumference (12 feet or almost 4 meters in diameter) near the base of its trunk. The burl, created by a non-lethal fungal infection that causes the tree trunk to grow giant contorted lumps, is about10 feet or 3 meters in diameter. An image of the tree and of the various other endangered old-growth redcedars and Douglas firs in the Avatar Grove have been uploaded onto a new Facebook Group at:
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?v=photos&gid=480609145246

The release of the Avatar Grove images, taken in February, also coincides with the upcoming “Rally for BC’s Ancient Forests and Forestry Jobs” in Vancouver this Saturday, March 27 (12:00 pm Protesters meet at Canada Place, 12:30 pm March begins, 1:00 pm Arrive at Vancouver Art Gallery for speeches by Ken Wu of the Ancient Forest Alliance, Stephanie Goodwin of Greenpeace, Jens Wieting of the Sierra Club, Dr. Judith Sayers former chief of the Hupacasath First Nation, and others). The rally will have an Avatar-theme, with participants encouraged to dress in blue and put on tails like the “Na’vi” rainforest humanoids in the film.

“This could very well be Canada's gnarliest tree, if you consider both the enormous size and crazy shape of its burl. The bizarre shape of its burl may resemble various creatures, such as a Nightmare Rabbit with a Cane, Jabba the Hut, or some say Elvis – everyone has their own take on what they can see in the tree’s burl. The official name for the tree will be determined by an online competition and vote in the future,” states Ken Wu, Ancient Forest Alliance co-founder. “But the most important thing right now is to ensure that the Avatar Grove is not turned into a sea of giant stumps in the near future. The BC Liberal government needs to take action to protect this incredible ancient grove and the remaining endangered old-growth forests in southern BC before they are destroyed. British Columbia’s old-growth temperate rainforests, with their four meter wide ancient trees draped in moss and ferns and its incredible wildlife, are the real Pandora here on Earth.”

Named after James Cameron’s blockbuster, environmentally-themed movie which has become history’s highest grossing film at the box office, the exceptionally spectacular and accessible stand of old growth redcedars and Douglas firs, typically with trunks 6 to 13 feet in diameter and often covered in giant contorted burls and hanging mosses as in an alien rainforest, is about 10 kilometers north of Port Renfrew in the Gordon River Valley in Tree Farm License #46 (the Teal-Jones Group based in Surrey has logging rights there). It was discovered in early December last year by Vancouver Island photographer and “big tree hunter” TJ Watt and a friend. In a return visit in February by Watt and Wu, both co-founders of the new Ancient Forest Alliance, the Avatar Grove was found to be slated for logging, with many of its trees spray painted and bearing falling-boundary flagging tape, while road location ribbons have been strung throughout the entire area. Small portions of the Grove are tenuously protected in an Old-Growth Management Area, but the vast majority of its largest trees are unprotected and marked for logging.

“This area is just about the most accessible and finest stand of ancient trees left in a wilderness setting on southern Vancouver Island,” stated TJ Watt, AFA photographer. “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. This area is a wild region on vast Crown lands, in a complex of perhaps 1500 hectares of old-growth in the Gordon River Valley – only 5 minutes off the paved road, right beside the main logging road, and on relatively flat terrain. This could become a first rate eco-tourism gem if the BC government had the foresight to spare it. We’ll be putting in a formal request that they enact a Land Use Order to protect it quickly before it falls.”

Old-growth forests are important for sustaining species at risk, tourism, clean water, and First Nations traditional cultures. Avatar Grove is in close proximity to the Gordon River, home to steelhead and salmon runs, and evidence of cougars and elk were apparent in the Grove.

Based upon an analysis of satellite photographs, about 88% of the original, productive old-growth forests on southern Vancouver Island (south of Barkley Sound and Port Alberni) have already been logged, including 95% of the productive old-growth on low, flat terrain. Across the Island as a whole, about 75% of the original productive old-growth forests have been logged, including 90% of the valley bottoms where the largest trees grow. Avatar Grove is one of the very few flat, valley-bottom old-growth forests left on the entire South Island.

With so little of our ancient forests remaining, the Ancient Forest Alliance is calling on the BC Liberal government to:

· Immediately protect the most at-risk old-growth forests – such as those on the South Island where only 12% remains and on eastern Vancouver Island where only 1% remains.
· Undertake a Provincial Old-Growth Strategy that will inventory the old-growth forests across the province and protect them where they are scarce through legislated timelines to quickly phase-out old-growth logging in those regions (ie. Vancouver Island, Lower Mainland, southern Interior, etc.).
· Ensure that second-growth forests are logged at a sustainable rate of cut
· End the export of raw logs in order to create guaranteed log supplies for local milling and value-added industries.
· Assist in the retooling and development of mills and value-added facilities to handle second-growth logs.
· Undertake new land-use planning initiatives based on First Nations land-use plans, ecosystem-based scientific assessments, and climate mitigation strategies involving forest protection.

“Tourists come from all over the world to visit the ancient forests of BC and Avatar Grove stands out as a first rate potential destination if the BC Liberal government doesn’t let it fall. But if the government chooses to allow this rare and impressive area to be logged, they will need to re-write the tourism business plan for the area to say 'ideal location for world class Provincial Park...in 500 years time' ,” stated TJ Watt.


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