Avatar Grove profile on the rise

  • Mar. 16, 2011 6:00 a.m.

The attraction hasn’t been promoted for long but the area near Port Renfrew dubbed “Avatar Grove” by the Ancient Forest Alliance (AFA) is being seen by growing numbers of visitors, many being guided there by Alliance members.

The environmental advocates with the AFA have worked steadily at publicizing the site of old growth trees they became aware of in late 2009. Some of the cedar and spruce trees located there are reportedly among the oldest and largest on the continent.

The alliance has gained support for its efforts to preserve the grove – first with a sympathetic report from the Forest Practices Board then comments from Forests, Lands and Mines Minister Pat Bell that measures to protect the grove are being considered.

“I’ve had the chief forester working with the Ancient Forest Alliance along with some other prominent NGOs (non-governmental organizations),” the Minister told the Sooke News Mirror on February 18.

“We’re considering what we might be able to do and also mapping out what’s been done already. A significant portion of Avatar Grove is already protected.”

Minister Bell said the nearby logging licensee, Teal-Jones “haven’t indicated any interest in harvesting in there anyway. But if people feel more comfortable having a higher level of protection it’s something I’m prepared to consider.”

The Minister stressed the importance of the area being “safe and secure” if growing numbers of visitors are to show up at the grove which is about a 10-minute drive from Port Renfrew on the way to Lake Cowichan. He concluded by saying he expects to hear back from the chief forester within “the next few weeks.”

A February 10 report from the BC Forest Practices Board had apparently been inspired by a complaint from a private citizen focusing on old growth harvesting.

T.J.Watt, an AFA photograher/campaigner expressed gratification with the report that adds to support for grove preservation so far expressed by MP Dr. Keith Martin, MLA John Horgan and CRD Juan de Fuca regional director Mike Hicks, the Sooke Region Tourism Association and the Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce.

“Wonderful,” is how Hicks described the news of possible government protection of the grove. On Feb. 17 Hicks said the grove is more valuable to local residents standing than cut.

“The loggers can survive on the second growth in the area,” added Hicks.

“It’s a positive step,” said Rose Betsworth of the Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce. “Avatar Grove has certainly put Port Renfrew on the map of late. Logging the grove would take away the good exposure we’re getting.”

Watt – the Alliance member credited with taking the hike that led to recent awareness of the grove said a preserved grove, over and above its value as a draw for nature lovers, would present other benefits as well.

“A key point is that old growth forests store two to three times more carbon per hectare than ensuing second-growth tree plantations,” Watt explained. “So keeping old growth forest around actually helps in the fight to stop climate change.”

Ken Wu, Ancient Forest Alliance executive director weighed in,

“How many jurisdictions on Earth still have trees that grow as wide as living rooms and as tall as downtown skyscrapers? And how many still say it’s good to cut down them down? We now have a major second-growth alternative, so it’s nuts to keep logging towards the end of the old-growth resource at this stage in our history.”

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