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BC Government Takes Important Step towards Protecting Vancouver Island’s “Avatar Grove”

The BC government has committed to take an important step towards protecting the Avatar Grove near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island.

Ancient Forest Alliance Media Release, July 25, 2011

BC Government Takes Important Step towards Protecting Vancouver Island’s “Avatar Grove”
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A rare old-growth Douglas-fir (left) and gnarly redcedar in the Lower Avatar Grove.
Photo by TJ Watt

For Immediate Release

July 25, 2011

BC Government Takes Important Step towards Protecting Vancouver Island’s “Avatar Grove”

The BC government has committed to take an important step towards protecting the Avatar Grove near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island. On Saturday, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations publicly stated their commitment to designate the entire Avatar Grove off limits to logging through an Old-Growth Management Area (OGMA). The official designation of an OGMA will be pending the outcome of a public review period, the details of which will be announced in the future. See the Globe and Mail (July 23): http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/british-columbia/hunt-for-trophy-trees-yields-a-treasure-trove-on-vancouver-island/article2107118/

“This is good news and is a great success for our campaign - but it’s not the final victory yet for the Avatar Grove. An Old-Growth Management Area is an important step forward and is essentially an interim protection that keeps away logging for now. It’s sort of like wearing a bear costume while foraging alongside grizzlies – you’re never really confident the protection will last,” stated Ken Wu, Ancient Forest Alliance co-founder. “Ultimately the Avatar Grove will require stronger, more permanent legislated protection as a provincial park or conservancy. In the larger picture, of course, we really need an end to all logging of BC’s endangered old-growth forests, including an immediate ban on old-growth logging on southern Vancouver Island where almost 90% is gone.”

“It’s hard to believe how far, how fast, the campaign to protect the Avatar Grove has come in just a year and a half ago when I stumbled across this incredible stand of ancient trees. In a short time it has become all the rage for thousands of nature-loving tourists coming from far and wide. Avatar Grove has quickly become the ‘Cathedral Grove of Port Renfrew’,” stated TJ Watt, Ancient Forest Alliance campaigner and photographer who found the Avatar Grove in December, 2009. “The Ancient Forest Alliance will continue working with the Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce and conducting regular public tours until Avatar Grove receives legislated protection.”

Old-Growth Management Areas (OGMA’s) are regulatory protections in a category similar to Riparian Reserves, Wildlife Habitat Areas, and Ungulate (deer) Wintering Ranges and are not true protected areas. For the most part they prohibit logging, with some minor exceptions. They are established by the Ministry of Forests and can be quietly modified or removed by the bureaucracy or minister without any Legislative vote or debate. They do not show up on any highway maps, and are essentially out of sight and out of mind of the BC public. They do serve as important interim measures against old-growth logging when located in productive stands (ie. commercially valuable stands with large trees, as opposed to marginal, stunted old-growth stands where they are often located as well) and as stepping stones towards more permanent legislated protection.

Provincial parks, provincial conservancies, and ecological reserves on the other hand are legislated protected areas and therefore are stronger and more permanent than regulatory protections like OGMA’s. They are created through a majority vote of MLA’s in the Legislative Assembly – and therefore require a majority vote of MLA’s to be eliminated. They also usually exist on provincial highway maps, which fosters major public awareness, tourism, and environmental concern for their well-being. This makes it extremely difficult if not next to impossible to eliminate parks and legislated protected areas in BC these days, especially with today’s high level of environmental awareness.

The Avatar Grove is an exceptional ancient forest for many reasons. It has some of Canada’s largest trees, including scores of giant western redcedars - some over 4 meters (14 feet) wide, including “Canada’s Gnarliest Tree” with its 3 meter (10 feet) wide burl. It is easy to get to, being only a 15 minute drive from Port Renfrew mostly along paved roads. The Grove itself is found on gentle terrain in the valley bottom and lower slopes, most of which have been logged in southern BC. Virtually all other remaining old-growth stands are far along bumpy logging roads, on steep slopes. It is home to Vancouver Island’s largest wildlife species:  wolves, cougars, black bears, elk, and deer. Since the Grove was found marked for logging in 2010, thousands of tourists have come to meander among its mossy giants. The local Chamber of Commerce and businesses in Port Renfrew, Sooke, and Victoria are championing the Avatar Grove’s protection.

In March, former Minister of Forests Pat Bell stated that the BC government was considering devising a new legal tool to protect the province’s largest trees and monumental groves. See: http://www.ancientforestalliance.org/news-item.php?ID=198

So far no announcement has been made about this designation or which unprotected groves will be protected.

“The BC government should be commended for committing to designate the Avatar Grove off limits to logging and to devise a new legal tool to protect BC’s largest heritage trees and groves. We look forward to the details of their progress on these initiatives,” stated Ken Wu. “However, most importantly, Christy Clark’s BC Liberal government fundamentally has a responsibility to undertake a much more comprehensive Provincial Old-Growth Strategy to end logging BC’s endangered old-growth forests because so little remains - it’s nuts to log until the end of the resource, especially when there is a major second-growth alternative now.”

See spectacular photo galleries of Canada’s largest trees at:

http://www.ancientforestalliance.org/galleries.php

See “before” and “after” old-growth forest maps of Vancouver Island at: http://www.ancientforestalliance.org/old-growth-maps.php

See the AFA’s “Largest Trees” series of 1 minute video clips:

- “Canada’s Largest Tree – the Cheewhat Cedar”: http://youtu.be/Xw2Im8nSOdg

- “Canada’s Gnarliest Tree – Save the Avatar Grove”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_uPkAWsvVw

- “World’s Largest Douglas Fir – the Red Creek Fir”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfBWLVj-Xjg

- “Canada’s Largest Spruce – the San Juan Spruce”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lql9_hWuFLA&NR=1


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