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Old-growth forest activists launch new group

Edward Hill, Goldstream News Gazette, January 20, 2010

Old-growth forest activists launch new group
Backing against a giant Douglas fir in Francis King Regional Park, TJ Watt, Tara Sawatsky and Ken Wu have formed the Ancient Forest Alliance to draw attention to old-growth forests on Vancouver Island and in B.C.
Edward Hill, News staff

Prolific environmental activists have formed a fledgling old-growth forest watchdog group after parting ways with the Western Canada Wilderness Committee.

Amid the towering Douglas firs of Francis King Regional Park on Tuesday, Ken Wu announced the formation of the Ancient Forest Alliance (AFA) with former WCWC colleague Tara Sawatsky and photographer TJ Watt.

Wu, the long-standing public face of WCWC environmental campaigns in Greater Victoria, said the emerging group will seek to document intact and clear-cut old-growth forests on Vancouver Island and the southern Mainland.

Wu said the AFA also plans to advocate for B.C.-based value-added milling of second growth timber to preserve jobs while discouraging raw log exports.

“We’ll find in 10 to 15 years our ancient forests will be liquidated,” Wu said. “All that makes us special will be lost.”

Watt said he’s explored more than 100 different forest areas on Vancouver Island and has witnessed logging practices the group is trying to target.

“Our ancient forests hold some of the largest trees on Earth,” Watt said. “The most amazing places are lost before the public knows anything about them.”

Unlike the WCWC, the AFA will not seek charitable status, allowing the group to take partisan political stands. Registered Canadian charities are banned from political activity.

As of Tuesday, the AFA admittedly has little more than its name and a “G-mail account,” Wu said, but he expects online social networking to help build local awareness and support.

“Victoria stands out in the world as a stronghold of environmentally conscious people,” he said. “We don’t expect to get huge donations, but we can be honest and direct. I like the idea of not having charitable status.”

Wu announced his departure from WCWC last November, but launched the splinter group this month in response to wilderness committee plans to ramp down operations in Victoria. Wu said the WCWC is ending it’s old-growth campaign, “leaving a void that needed to be filled.”

“It’s a huge waste of time bickering back and forth,” Wu said. “You can fight for the organization or you can fight for the environment.”

Joe Foy, WCWC national campaign director in Vancouver, said when it comes to environmental activism, the more the merrier. By avoiding charitable status, Foy agreed the AFA has opened the door to blending political and environmental activism.

“Charitable status helps with fundraising, but restricts the kind of activities you can engage in,” Foy said. “(The AFA) helps create diversity of environmental groups in B.C. with a diversity of tactics. Both are good things.”

Foy described the state of old-growth on the Island as “absolutely grim." Ancient trees outside of parks and other managed forest areas are subject to few protections, he said.

“We view ourselves as having large, intact ecosystems, but Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland are long past that point,” Foy said. “We need to protect every fragment that’s left.”

Foy suggested Wu is overstating upheaval within the WCWC. Two people are being hired to manage campaigns and public outreach in Victoria. The old-growth campaign isn’t over, he said, but is being tied with the effort on the Mainland.

The WCWC Rainforest store in downtown Victoria is losing money will likely be closed by March, Foy said, but a Victoria WCWC office will be staffed and maintained.

“There’s a saying that with many people, you have to go slow. But if you want to go fast, go by yourself,” Foy said. “Ken wants to go fast. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

For more on the AFA, see www.ancientforestalliance.org.


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