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Rare cougar sighting – Mother and juvenile filmed and photographed in the Walbran Valley’s endangered old-growth forest

Ancient Forest Alliance Media Release, August 4, 2016

 Rare cougar sighting – Mother and juvenile filmed and photographed in the Walbran Valley’s endangered old-growth forest
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A rare photo of a cougar captured in the endangered Walbran Valley through the front window of AFA photographer TJ Watt's car.
TJ Watt

 
For Immediate Release
August 4, 2016
 
Rare cougar sighting – Mother and juvenile filmed and photographed in the Walbran Valley’s endangered old-growth forest
 
At a rare encounter earlier this week, Ancient Forest Alliance photographer TJ Watt filmed and photographed two cougars, a mother and a juvenile, in the endangered old-growth forest of the Walbran Valley on southwestern Vancouver Island. Activists continue to push for the valley’s full protection.
 
See the photograph of the large cougar here: http://ancientforestalliance.org/pic.php?pID=122
 
See the video of the juvenile cougar here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x7QbQHE6Nv0
 
 
Port Renfrew, Vancouver Island - This past weekend in the Walbran Valley’s endangered old-growth forest, conservation photographer TJ Watt of the Ancient Forest Alliance captured a photograph and video of a rare cougar encounter – two cougars in fact, a large and smaller one, likely a mother with her juvenile offspring. In the brief encounter, the large adult cougar casually bounded across the road, pausing in one instant long enough for Watt to get a somewhat blurry photo through his front window, while the juvenile meandered for about 20 seconds along the road, allowing Watt to capture several seconds of shaky video. Watt had been returning in his van with a group of volunteers after giving a workshop at the Walbran Valley Convergence, a celebration organized by the Friends of Carmanah-Walbran of the 1991 environmental protests in the valley. He was driving through a section of old-growth forest near a steep canyon in the endangered “Special Management Zone”, an area that is still being logged by licensee Teal-Jones.
 
“I’ve always dreamed of seeing a cougar, let alone photograph and film one! I’ve spent over a decade exploring the old-growth forests of Vancouver Island several times a week, and I grew up here – but I never saw a cougar until this past weekend. It was a very brief encounter, which explains the shaky photo and video - but certainly breathtaking and magnificent all the same! To see these elusive large carnivores is rare – few people, including those who spend a lifetime working in or exploring the woods on Vancouver Island, get to see them, let alone photograph or film them! I feel lucky, but the sighting underscores the great need for the BC government to protect the remaining old-growth forests of the Walbran Valley – and across the province - before it is turned into a sea of stumps,” stated TJ Watt, Ancient Forest Alliance campaigner and photographer.
 
Research of cougars on Vancouver Island show they tend to avoid clearcuts, while old-growth forests provide cover for them and wintering habitat for their main prey, black-tailed deer.  Estimates for cougars on Vancouver Island have ranged from roughly 300 to 800 individuals. The Walbran and adjacent Carmanah Valley’s old-growth forests are also home to wolves, black bears, Roosevelt elk, and spawning coho, chum and steelhead in the river, as well as species at risk that are associated with old-growth forests, like the marbled murrelet, northern goshawk, Vaux’s swift, long-eared bats, and hundreds of new species of arthropods (insects, spiders, mites) found in the mossy old-growth canopy.
 
“The old-growth forests in the endangered Central Walbran Valley are the grandest in the country, akin to being the ‘Redwoods of Canada’! Not only are they home to gargantuan red cedars, Sitka spruce, and Douglas-fir trees 500 to a thousand years old, they sustain charismatic large carnivores, herbivores, and many old-growth dependent species. Industrial encroachment into Vancouver Island’s last old-growth forests like the Walbran Valley is jeopardizing the wildlife,” stated Ken Wu, Ancient Forest Alliance executive director. “It’s time the BC Liberal government update the 22 year old Vancouver Island Land Use Plan to protect the remaining old-growth forests, and to ensure a sustainable second-growth forest industry instead.”
 
More Background Info:
 
40% of the Walbran, the Lower Valley, was protected in 1994 in the Carmanah-Walbran Provincial Park, while the other 60% in the Central and Upper Valley was left outside of the park and is the centre of much environmental concern and controversy about the old-growth logging taking place there. The total Walbran watershed is 13,000 hectares, while the protected Lower Walbran Valley is about 5500 hectares, the Central Valley is 500 hectares and the Upper Valley is 7000 hectares. 2600 hectares including the Central Valley and part of the Upper Valley is a “Special Management Zone” – which still allows for major old-growth logging and fragmentation through smaller but more numerous clearcuts. The cougar was spotted in the Special Management Zone, an area which has seen environmental protests and blockades over the past year. The most intact portion of the Special Management Zone is the 500 hectare Central Walbran, which includes the largest tracts of contiguous old-growth forests and many of the largest trees and groves, including the Castle Grove, Castle Giant, Tolkien Giant, and Karst Giant.
 
Logging licensee Teal-Jones has 8 cutblocks planned for the Central Walbran Valley, of which one, Cutblock 4424, has been granted a cutting permit by the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations. The company has stated that they are not pursuing logging plans in the Central Walbran Valley for now, a positive step forward at this time. The company has been logging in other parts of the Special Management Zone, an activity condemned by the conservationists. The Walbran Valley is in the unceded territory of the Pacheedaht band in Tree Farm Licences 44 and 46 on Crown lands.
 
Over the past few months, resolutions for the protection of the Walbran Valley and/or the old-growth forests of Vancouver Island have been passed or supported by major business associations and local governments, including the BC Chamber of Commerce, representing 36,000 BC businesses; local Chambers of Commerce in Port Renfrew, Sooke, and the WestShore (Langford, Colwood, Metchosin, Highlands, View Royal); the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC), representing 53 municipal, town, and regional district councils; the district councils of Victoria, Metchosin, and Tofino; and by Federation of BC Naturalists (BC Nature), representing 53 naturalist clubs with over 6000 members.  See a media release: www.ancientforestalliance.org/news-item.php?ID=1010   and an article: www.timescolonist.com/news/local/b-c-chamber-of-commerce-hugs-old-growth-trees-1.2267701
 
Port Renfrew, formerly a logging town, has been transformed in recent years into a big tree tourism destination as hundreds of thousands of tourists have come from around the world to visit some of Canada’s largest trees in the nearby Avatar Grove, the Red Creek Fir (the world’s largest Douglas-fir tree), Big Lonely Doug (Canada’s 2nd largest Douglas-fir tree), San Juan Spruce (until recently Canada’s largest Sitka spruce tree – its top broke off in a recent storm unfortunately), the Harris Creek spruce (one of the largest Sitka spruce trees in Canada), and the Central Walbran Valley.
 
On BC’s southern coast (Vancouver Island and the southwest mainland), 75% of the original, productive old-growth forests have already been logged, including over 90% of the valley bottoms where the largest trees grow. 3.3 million hectares of productive old-growth forests once stood on the southern coast, and today 860,000 hectares remain, while only 260,000 hectares are protected in parks and Old-Growth Management Areas. Second-growth forests now dominate 75% of Vancouver Island's productive forest lands, including 90% of southern Vancouver Island, and can be sustainably logged to support the forest industry. See maps and stats at: www.ancientforestalliance.org/old-growth-maps.php 


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