11/10/2010

Avatar Grove - Accessible Ancient Forest Marked For Logging

Baird Creek Bridge and Avatar Grove  (see truck on right)
As I approached the Baird Creek bridge 20 minutes north of Port Renfrew on the Gordon River Main logging road, I realized I had been here before. A few years ago I stopped, took pictures, and sat on the bridge for a while. I admired the view of the canyon below, as well as the tops of huge trees and candelabra Western red-cedar poking out of the forest canopy. But unlike a recent trip, back then I didn't take a few steps off the road and enter the forest. But back then it wasn't called Avatar Grove.

Shady, moist forest floor and big trees everywhere

Take those few steps off dusty Gordon River Main and you step into a different realm. From civilization, gravel and harsh sunlight you descend into a wild, moist, lush, shady forest. A forest that grows some of the biggest trees on Earth, and contains the most biomass of any forest anywhere. This is Avatar Grove.




Members of the Ancient Rainforest Alliance (AFA) stepped off the logging road in December of 2009, and when they did they found massive old growth trees. They were looking at a forest that has survived over 100 years of industrial logging in the Port Renfrew area.

Recognizing its value as a standing forest, they named it Avatar Grove after James Cameron's movie and began to push for protection. But they found more. The AFA team also discovered that the area was surveyed and flagged for logging.

A survey blaze on a small tree in Upper Avatar Grove
I thought I had better take a look before it was gone, and mounted a fall field trip to Port Renfrew on a glorious, crisp, sunny day.

Mushroom and moss



At the grove, as soon as I was through the thick barrier of bush growing alongside the road I stepped out under a shady canopy far above. The ground was moist and spongy and my feet sunk into the thick layer of debris. Everything was covered in moss, which can hold 1000 times its own weight in moisture. Once logged such areas all but dry out in the harsh direct sunlight.




In Lower Avatar Grove the ground is sloped gently down to the Gordon River. A rough trail has been flagged out, but there are also many logging survey flags so one must exercise caution. I forged ahead, excited to finally be checking out this wonder so close to home.

After my eyes adjusted to the shade I began to see giant trees spread around the forest below. All the tell-tale signs of old growth forest are here: a variety of ages of trees from seedlings to seniors, standing dead trees (or snags), large diameter woody debris (fallen giants), and a deep layer of decaying matter on the forest floor.

Large diameter woody debris is everywhere - downed logs can take centuries to decay
The rough path leads the big tree hunter to some spectacular individual behemoths. There are some very large Douglas-fir, but the real stars here are the amply aged and weathered Western red-cedars. They are big and gnarly, and unlike any cedars I have seen. Most of the largest cedars are festooned with burls and whorls that are unique in their twisted beauty.

Ancient Western red-cedar in Lower Avatar Grove
The big Douglas-firs are dark and ominous looking, and far above the twisted and broken tree-tops poke out of the canopy and catch the last light of the day.

Big Douglas-fir in Lower Avatar Grove

I lost the trail on the way back up to the road, but there is little undergrowth and many fallen logs to walk along. It is hard to get lost here as all you need to do is point yourself uphill and hike till you hit Gordon Main, which is what I successfully did.

Giant tree broken off at the top, but still tall enough to poke above the rest


Back on the dusty gravel it seemed hard to believe that I have drove right through the middle of this old growth forest several times over the years without ever knowing what treasures lurked just a meter off the road. I ran up into the upper grove for a few brief minutes and look forward to returning at a later date for a more extensive upper grove excursion.


Lower Grove - big moss covered trees everywhere

See Avatar Grove

Leave Victoria and take Hiway 14 to Sooke, check gas gauge, then continue to Port Renfrew.
At Port Renfrew turn RIGHT onto Deering Rd. Follow Deering Rd. until the T intersection, then turn LEFT (right is toward Lake Cowichan). Follow road until the bridge over the Gordon River. Cross the bridge and stay on Gordon River Main for about 1.5 km. Right after you cross over the single lane bridge at Baird Creek, pull off to the right and park. Trail access has been marked by AFA on both sides of the road. Visit gently - be respectful. Enjoy the trees.


View Avatar Grove in a larger map

Save Avatar Grove

You would think that a bit of ancient forest on a well kept main logging road only 20 minutes from Port Renfrew would make someone in government think about preservation and tourism potential. Avatar Grove is on Crown land, so saving this valuable forest treasure would not entail purchasing land from a greedy logging/development company.

Please consider contacting elected officials to let them know preservation is the most logical thing to do with this increasingly rare piece of primeval forest, and the massive trees that thrive in it. Let them know that cutting thousand year old trees for pulp, paper, and deck lumber is greedy and unnecessary.
 

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