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Hunting the ancient giants

Edward Hill, Goldstream News Gazette, June 3, 2010

Hunting the ancient giants
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A giant redcedar over 40ft around found recently along the Gordon River near Port Renfrew, BC. Hiking through the valley bottoms in these areas is sure to turn up undiscovered giants such as this one in the few areas yet to have been logged.
Photo by TJ Watt

They don’t have much in the way of money, equipment or people, but Ken Wu says big tree hunting is drawing critical attention to the plight of old growth forests.

Wu, the former public face for the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, helped found a splinter group three months ago called the Ancient Forest Alliance.

On a shoestring budget and spending weekends tromping through remote forests on the south Island, the group has become the new watchdog for the back country.

Near Port Renfrew, Wu said they’ve located and documented some of the biggest trees in Canada, notably in an area nicknamed “Avatar Grove” after the popular sci-fi movie. They’ve also found clearcut remains of what they are calling “Canada’s biggest stumps.”

In April in Gordon River Valley north of Port Renfrew, the group found stumps up to 15 feet in diameter cut within tree farm licence 46, under the tenure of Teal Jones. Wu argues that the forest industry should focus on second growth and value-added timber products.

“There are few jurisdictions or governments that feel companies are entitled to take 1,000 year old-growth that are taller than a skyscraper,” Wu said. “Having these kind of trees on Vancouver Island is globally exceptional. To be cutting down 2,000-year-old trees is nuts.”

Wu helped found the AFA with the specific intent to avoid charitable status to allow it to engage in political activism. The group recently demonstrated outside the office of Liberal MLA Ida Chong, calling for better protection of old growth forests.

Wu admits being new and not having charitable status has its pitfalls. Non-profit WCWC had million dollar budgets, he said, where the AFA has a modest goal of raising $40,000 this year.

“Not being constrained by charitable status allows us a stronger presence. Sometimes to protect something you’ve got to act,” he said.

Part of the public awareness strategy is leading tours into Avatar Grove and other big tree forests near Port Renfrew to highlight out-of-sight old growth in the Capital Region.

Photographer and big tree hunter TJ Watt, of Metchosin, found Avatar Grove last December, calling it comparable to the popular Cathedral Grove forest near Port Alberni.

Watt said he spends weekends typically hiking rougher terrain to hunt and photograph ancient trees too remote and inaccessible to the public.

“We feel the photo aspect brings eyes and ears to areas that normally go unprotected, but are relatively close at the same time. We want to show what is going on in our backyard.”

For more, see The AFA also has a Facebook page called “Canada’s Biggest Stumps Competition.”

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