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British Columbia: Clearcutting the "Avatar Forest"

Exceptional Old-Growth Stand, the “Avatar Grove” Marked for Destruction:
Another Potential First Rate Eco-Tourism Gem about to be Squandered Through BC Liberal Government’s Complicity?

Pacific Free Press, February 19, 2010

An exceptionally spectacular and accessible stand of newly discovered old growth redcedars and Douglas firs near Port Renfrew has recently been marked for logging. The unprotected forest on Crown lands about 10 kilometers north of Port Renfrew, nicknamed the “Avatar Grove” after the hit movie for its awe-inspiring beauty and alien-shaped, enormous trees covered in burls, was discovered in early December last year by Vancouver Island photographer and “big tree hunter” TJ Watt and a friend.

In a return visit made last week by Watt and environmentalist Ken Wu, both co-founders of the new Ancient Forest Alliance (, Avatar Grove was found to be marked for logging, with many of its trees spray painted and bearing falling-boundary flagging tape.

“This area is just about the most accessible and finest stand of ancient trees left in a wilderness setting on the South Island,” stated Ken Wu. “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.”

Avatar Grove is in Tree Farm License (TFL) 46. TFL 46 is being logged by Surrey-based Teal Jones and through the BC government’s BC Timber Sales program involving smaller companies. The Grove is home to dozens of some of the South Island's largest redcedars and Douglas firs, including several trees with trunks that are over 12 feet in diameter. Moreover, several of the cedars have incredible, alien shapes. With giant bulbous burls ballooning out from their trunks, winding, snake-like roots of hemlock trees growing up their sides, and giant limbs draped in mosses and hanging ferns, many of the trees seem to be from the rainforests of the fictional planet of “Pandora” in James Cameron’s hit movie, “Avatar”. Yet despite its magnificence and easy access, the Grove is slated for logging any day now.

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.

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