Like the main character Jake Sully in 2009’s blockbuster movie Avatar, Ken Wu, founder of the Ancient Forest Alliance, feels drawn to protect a primeval wilderness. In Wu’s case, it’s Avatar Grove in Port Renfrew — which is now one step closer to protection.
The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations has drafted a proposal for an amendment that would add 49 hectares in the Avatar Grove area as an old growth management area (OGMA), and an additional 10.4 hectares in nearby Axe Creek, making them both off-limits to logging.
“Certainly it’s an excellent step forward,” said Wu. “(But) we would like to see additional legislation for a provincial conservancy or park which would be more permanent protection.”
OGMAs fall under regulatory protection meaning it could potentially be modified or removed by the government without a vote. Parks and conservancies provide more permanent protection because they are created —and can only be eliminated —through a majority MLA vote, said Wu. Most parks also get designations on highway maps.
“It’s sort of like wearing a bear costume while you forage alongside grizzly bears. You’re never sure how long the protection’s going to last.”
The Ancient Forest Alliance has been pushing for government action since the organization formed in January 2010. Their goal is for B.C. to implement an old growth strategy that will inventory and protect all old growth forests and ensure sustainable second growth forestry. Prior to starting the AFA, Wu was the executive director of the Western Canada Wilderness Community in Victoria.
Wu said the town of Port Renfrew has been instrumental in helping turn Avatar Grove — named after the movie that coincidentally came out the same time the grove was discovered — into “an ancient forest campaign on steroids.” Everyday, it draws people locally and from all over the world to see the gigantic, gnarled trees.
Rosie Betsworth, president of the Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce, confirmed that there has been a “big increase” in their tourism industry.
“I was up there about a month ago, there were probably 25 people or so (visiting),” said Betsworth. “It’s brought a lot of business to Port Renfrew.”
There is, however, one caveat to the proposal.
With the combined 59.4 hectares that would be added to OGMAs, 57.4 hectares of mixed old growth/second growth is also being taken out from higher-elevation “bits and pieces” within Tree Farm License 46 owned by the Teal-Jones Group, said Wu.
“We’re not in favour of any kind of land swap scenario,” he said.
“We’ve already lost 90 per cent of the ancient forest on the southern Island, none of that should get logged. The other 90 per cent is already second growth now, they can log that sustainably and leave the last of the old growth.”
The amendment is now open to public comment. Comments can be emailed to RenfrewOGMA@gov.bc.ca until Nov. 9.