Being part of positive environmental change can be a rewarding experience, but also exhausting. For those who find themselves worn out from all the petition-signing or phone-calling, the third annual Tree Huggers Ball is being held at Felicita’s on Saturday, March 23, by the UVic Ancient Forest Committee and promises to put the fun back in fundraiser.
“The goal is about fun — we have great music from local artists, and everyone can come and have a good time,” says TJ Watt, co-founder of the Ancient Forest Alliance (AFA). “In the world of activism, it’s easy to be bombarded with bad news, so it’s important to put time aside for friends and dancing.” The Tree Huggers Ball will include local bands such as Redwood Green, Rough Child, Co-Captain, (as the) Crow Flies and The Moonshine Gang.
The UVic Ancient Forest Committee puts on the event as a fundraiser for the AFA. The AFA is a non-profit organization that works to protect B.C.’s endangered old-growth forests, ensure sustainable second-growth forestry (forests that have been planted in clear-cut areas) and end the export of raw logs.
“We’re pushing the B.C. Liberal government and the NDP opposition to create a new provincial old-growth policy that would protect endangered old-growth forests in B.C.,” says Watt. Watt, who grew up in Victoria, is the forest campaigner and photographer with the AFA, which just celebrated its three-year anniversary this month. Watt spends much of his time exploring valleys on Vancouver Island and documenting the state of the forests, using photos and videos to capture the oldest trees — as well as the oldest stumps. Watt won the Martlet’s inaugural photo feature contest this year with his photo of a man standing on an enormous stump in the midst of a clearcut. “We’re losing the old-growth forest ecosystems and endangered species,” he says. “They are hugely important for clean air, clean water and the climate.”
The AFA began humbly. “The Ancient Forest Alliance started out with a Gmail account,” says Watt. But the organization developed quickly as support grew for its first project: protecting Avatar Grove, a 59-hectare stand of giant old-growth Douglas fir and Western redcedar just outside Port Renfrew. One of the giant cedars in Avatar Grove has been dubbed “Canada’s gnarliest tree” due to a 12-foot-wide burl growing on its trunk. The AFA worked with the local business community and Chamber of Commerce in Port Renfrew while campaigning to raise awareness, which led to the grove’s protection in early 2012. “It was the hottest campaign for a specific old-growth forest in the past decade,” states Watt, “and our first major victory.”
Other recent achievements includes staving off logging in the Walbran Valley’s Castle Grove, protecting approximately half of the world’s largest night roosting site for bald eagles around Echo Lake on the Lower Mainland and helping stop the B.C. government’s recent plan to expand Tree Farm Licenses (TFLs) in the province through Bill 8. To do this, the AFA led media campaigns and encouraged its supporters to write letters and call representatives. “We have over 20 000 supporters,” says Watt. “That includes many students, but also small business owners and even forestry workers. We have speakers from the pulp, paper and woodworkers union and have support from various First Nations. We work to include as wide a demographic as possible and bring about change by running solutions-based campaigns.”
Despite widespread support, the AFA still faces challenges in convincing the government that old-growth forests are indeed endangered and shouldn’t be cut down. “The public is largely supportive, but the B.C. Liberal government maintains that old-growth forests are somehow not endangered, even after 150 years of logging,” says Watt.
In an effort to protect endangered private lands, the AFA is calling for the creation of a B.C. park acquisition fund that sees $40 million set aside each year with which to purchase endangered old-growth forests or areas of high recreational value.
Last year, the Tree Huggers Ball raised upwards of $3 000 with the aid of an anonymous donor who matched all other donations. Watt hopes for another successful event this year.
“We run AFA on a shoestring budget,” he says. “So an event like this really goes a long way for us, and we’re very grateful for the support.”
The funds go toward endeavours such as exploring old-growth areas, creating new maps and reports and delivering information throughout the province with slideshow tours.
Although there is no official dress code, Watt encourages people to be creative and have fun with the tree theme of the event. “We encourage people to dress up like the forest. Wear your green or wear your tree stuff. Wear branches. Be forest friendly!”
Tree Huggers Ball
Felicita’s Pub — UVic Student Union Building (SUB)
March 23, 7:30 p.m. – 1 a.m.
$10 at the door and at UVSS info booth (SUB)