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Activists make “Avatar” pitch

Jim Sinclair - Sooke News Mirror, October 5, 2010

Activists make “Avatar” pitch
AFA's Ken Wu stands beside a giant endangered redcedar in the Upper Avatar Grove.
Photo by Jim Sinclair

Ken Wu and TJ Watt are committed to preserving as much of the natural environment as they can.

The two colleagues are key members of an outfit called the Ancient Forest Alliance. Wu may be better known to some as a longtime member of the Wilderness Committee, formerly the the Western Canada Wilderness Committee.

The Alliance staged a media event on September 28 at an area near Port Renfrew which has been dubbed “Avatar Grove.”

Global BC News was on the scene along with the Sooke News Mirror.

The Ancient Forest Alliance guided a group to an unprotected stand of old growth trees – starting with a 10-minute drive from the townsite and finishing with a hike of about the same length of time.

Juan de Fuca MLA John Horgan (NDP) and Mike Hicks, the CRD’s Juan de Fuca Regional Director, toured an area named for its spectacular trees, some estimated at over a thousand years of age. The name is borrowed from the blockbuster 3D movie Avatar which was released last winter.

Along with the group was John Cash of Port Renfrew – former head of the Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce and representative with the Sooke Region Tourism Association.

Standing out in a group of huge trees, a massive cedar described as the “gnarliest tree in Canada” was focused upon. Wu made on-camera statements in regard to the Alliance’s desire for some sort of provincial protection of areas such as the grove. The politicians in the party had clearly bought in... using their camera time to exhort the provincial government to waste no time in placing the grove off limits to timber harvesting.

“BC’s endangered ancient forests are incredibly valuable for many reasons,” stated alliance co-founder Watt in a press release which had preceded the expedition. “Not only are they among the most at-risk ecosystems in the world but they’re probably some of the most beautiful places on the planet.”

As it happened, the visit to Avatar Grove took place on a spectacular sunny day in Port Renfrew.

The 36-year-old Wu is a graduate from UBC’s Ecological Science department. He has worked as a treeplanter and flying squirrel biologist in the old-growth forests on the mainland coast, and was the executive director and campaign director of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee in Victoria for over 10 years. He left them in January and founded the Ancient Forest Alliance with Watt and a couple other former WCWC activists.

Watt, 26, has been photographing for about 10 years and has a diploma in professional photography.

“Growing up in rural Metchosin near Sooke gave me a strong appreciation for the intricacies our native ecosystems and the fine balance required to keep them flourishing,” he told the Sooke News Mirror. “I spent a lot of time exploring the backwoods around home looking for big trees or unique natural features which led me to expand my search area to include the rest of B.C., where I now scout for the remaining groves of old-growth forests, record sized trees, and, unfortunately, giant stumps.”

Regarding the unofficial name given to the area, Wu explained the connection with the James Cameron movie (reportedly the top grossing movie of all time), comparing the local rain forest environment with the fictitious setting of the story in which resources from a heavily-forested planet are targeted for extraction. Wu made no bones about the advantages his cause could realize by adopting such a well-known name. He also dismissed the suggestion that the environmental group would ever be taken to task over copyright infringement in using it.

Ancient Forest Alliance campaign director Wu, in the aforementioned press release referred to Federal Member of Parliament Dr. Keith Martin as having expressed support for old growth preservation in the past.

“Whether by supporting their (forests’) protection in new CRD regional parks, provincial protected areas, or in an expanded Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, local politicians like Hicks, Horgan and Martin are vital to ensure that a solution is implemented that protects the last remnants of ancient forests here while a sustainable second-growth forest industry is developed.”

John Horgan, in his post-tour comments, said,

“It’s a good opportunity for me, as the local MLA, to be out here in Renfrew, just minutes from town, in a spectacular grove of old growth trees. I certainly support encouraging more activity (logging) in the second-growth forest... for jobs on the land base. But when we find giants like this, the province has an obligation to protect them and I’ll do everything I can to make sure that happens.”

Regional director Mike Hicks described the behemoths as “world class,” especially in terms of their accessibility.

“It’ll be the biggest draw,” said Hicks, “much like Clayoquot Sound was for Tofino, this is a draw for Port Renfrew. So it just has to stay... simple as that.”

Input for this article had been sought from the Ministry of Forests, but no response had been received as of press time.


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