|Marked tree in Upper Avatar Grove preparing for logging|
Media Release - Ancient Forest Alliance
Port Renfrew, BC – To mark the one year anniversary since the discovery of the spectacular but endangered Avatar Grove (see the stunning photo gallery here: http://www.ancientforestalliance.org/photos.php?gID=6 ) the Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce is repeating its request to the provincial government to protect the Grove while the Ancient Forest Alliance (AFA) is planning to organize monthly public hikes to the Grove until it is saved.
“Since the name ‘Avatar Grove’ was first uttered, we have seen tourist numbers increase and that means exposure for Port Renfrew and tourist dollars spent” states Rosie Betsworth, president of the Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce. “To save our beautiful old-growth forests and to stimulate tourism in our community is a win-win for us all.”
The 50 hectare stand of lush old-growth temperate rainforest on public (Crown) lands near Port Renfrew has become a major attraction due to the ease of access to its giant, alien shaped redcedars - including “Canada’s Gnarliest Tree” with a massive,12ft diameter burl - and enormous Douglas firs. (For directions visit: http://www.ancientforestalliance.org/directions-avatar-grove.php ). The Grove exists just 5 minutes past the end of a paved road on relatively gentle terrain, only a 15 minute drive from Port Renfrew. This contrasts to most other old-growth stands that are found in remote areas and on steep slopes which require travel along rough logging roads for considerable distances.
“The BC government could immediately protect the Avatar Grove from logging through a new Land Use Order, and later, through a legislated provincial conservancy. It’s the holiday season and everyone is looking for the perfect gift. Saving the Avatar Grove would be the ‘gift that keeps on giving’ – for tourism, recreation, wildlife, and for future generations of Canadians,” says TJ Watt, the AFA campaigner who found the Avatar Grove a year ago.
The Avatar Grove was found in December 2009 by AFA Watt and a friend exploring scattered patches of lowland old-growth forest in the Gordon River Valley on southern Vancouver Island.
“Near the end of our trip we were getting quite discouraged after finding mostly clear-cuts with giant stumps and second-growth tree plantations,” reflects Watt, “but about 15 minutes before Port Renfrew some massive trees appeared alongside the road and we could see the forked tops of the old-growth redcedars. As soon as we started hiking, we spotted one giant cedar about 10 feet wide at its base, then another, and it just continued. It baffled me that such a spectacular forest is still standing so close to town, on low flat terrain, yet hasn’t been logged. Right away, I knew it had the potential to be the Cathedral Grove of Port Renfrew.”
Two months later in February, 2010, Watt and Ken Wu, campaign director of the newly-formed Ancient Forest Alliance, found falling boundary and road location flagging tape throughout the Grove. “I was so eager to share the magnificence of this forest but as we entered we were shocked to find fresh spray paint on all the largest trees and flagging tape around the Grove marked ‘falling boundary’. The timing was uncanny” recalls Watt.
Since then, the fight to protect this eco-treasure has become Canada’s fastest growing ancient forest campaign, featured in scores of provincial and national news stories. The AFA has taken hundreds of people to the Grove, while thousands more have visited on their own.
“No matter what time of year, nearly each time I visit the Avatar Grove there’s a line-up of cars. Being only a 2.5 hour drive from Victoria, literally every day people from all walks of life are visiting the Avatar Grove, including families with kids, young couples, older folks, solo hikers, nature groups, tourists, students. You name it, they’ve made a point to see the spectacular, endangered temperate rainforest that BC has to offer. Sadly, despite losing so much of these rare areas already, ongoing old-growth logging means we stand to lose much of what remains,” notes Watt.
The movement to save the Avatar Grove has also garnered political support at all levels. Federal, provincial and regional political representatives in the Juan de Fuca area have all joined the call for its protection, including federal Liberal MP Keith Martin, provincial NDP MLA John Horgan, and Regional Director Mike Hicks, who notes the Avatar Grove would make an excellent side visit for those traveling along the newly completed Pacific Marine Circle Route.
The Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce and the Sooke Regional Tourism Association have also requested that the BC government protect the Avatar Grove, recognizing the economic significance of eco-tourism in their communities.
Yet, despite virtually unanimous support, the BC government has not stepped up to the plate to ensure that the area is spared from logging by the Surrey-based Teal-Jones Group.
“The response we’ve received so far from Premier Gordon Campbell and Minister Pat Bell is that 24% of the Avatar Grove is within an Old-Growth Management Area which will not be logged, so ‘don’t worry,’” says Watt. “What they fail to mention is that virtually all of the biggest and best trees on the most accessible terrain where everyone hikes are not protected. If the Avatar Grove falls, Port Renfrew and the region won’t get another chance like this for another thousand years.”
The Ancient Forest Alliance is calling on the BC government to protect our endangered old-growth forests, ensure the sustainable logging of second-growth forests, end the export of raw logs, and assist in the retooling and development of sawmills and value-added facilities to handle second-growth logs.