Logging is already prohibited in part of a stand of massive old-growth trees near Port Renfrew that the community and environmentalists want protected, but it’s not nearly enough, say members of the Ancient Forest Alliance.
A section of the stand, nicknamed Avatar Grove, is in an old-growth management area, meaning no cutting is allowed, Forests Ministry spokeswoman Vivian Thomas said yesterday.
However, TJ Watt, co-founder of the environmental group, said ministry maps show only a small ribbon along the Gordon River is protected, while most of the biggest trees are marked for cutting.
“The most valuable stands of cedars and firs are outside the old-growth management area,” he said. “The only way that area is going to function as a proper ecosystem is if the whole area is protected. Putting a ribbon down the creek fractures everything.”
The ministry map shows three small sections of old-growth management areas in the immediate vicinity of the stand of huge and twisted trees.
Ken Wu of the alliance said the government should consider expanding the management area, intended to protect biodiversity, to cover the entire stand.
Surrey-based Teal-Jones Group has cutting rights and has marked the area for logging, but did not respond to numerous calls yesterday. Thomas said the company is in the preliminary planning stages, and has not yet submitted a cutting-permit request.
John Cash, president of the Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce, said protecting extraordinary stands of old-growth, such as Avatar Grove, is the best way forward for the struggling community.
A survey five years ago found the biggest tourist draw in Port Renfrew is Botanical Beach and the biggest money draw is fishing — although that industry is having difficulties — but most people also want to see the big trees, Cash said.
“Everyone wants to see the Red Creek Fir and it’s almost inaccessible,” said Cash, who recently put together a big-tree tour map so tourists wouldn’t get lost on the logging roads.
“Every attraction we can bring in is one more day we can keep people here.”
Cathedral Grove draws 1.5 million people a year, but shows only a small sliver of old-growth, while areas near Port Renfrew show the entire natural habitat, Cash said.
The Pacific Marine Circle Route is beginning to bring people into the community of 270 people, he said. “But we have to have something to show people, otherwise we are dying.”
Jessica Hicks, owner of the Coastal Kitchen Cafe, is hoping the grove and other spectacular stands of old-growth will be protected. “The trees are such a draw. People want any excuse to just get out there for the day and seeing the big trees is pretty amazing,” she said.
Nearby Carmanah-Walbran Provincial Park is difficult to reach, so a nearby attraction would provide the wow factor, she said. “This could be the future of Port Renfrew.”