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11-foot-wide, near-record size Sitka spruce tree found in Fern Gully Grove on Vancouver Island.

TJ Watt/Ancient Forest Alliance

A B.C.-based forest advocacy group has recently found an ancient grove, home to one of the biggest Sitka spruce trees in the country, on Vancouver Island.

A member of the Ancient Forest Alliance discovered the unprotected grove of giant Sitka spruce trees in the territory of the Pacheedaht First Nation that is near Port Renfrew, a town with the reputation of being the "tall tree capital of Canada."

Ken Wu, the group's executive director, said he has had his eyes on the forest for many years, but it wasn't until Dec. 4 on a hike that he found the 11-foot-diameter Sitka spruce tree, which is wider than the 10 widest spruce listed on the B.C. big tree registry.

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"[The grove] is one of the rarest types of old growth [and the] most beautiful forest," Mr. Wu said on Sunday.

He said that finding a forest of unprotected giant Sitka spruce is highly significant because the vast majority of them on Vancouver Island have been logged.

The forest has been nicknamed FernGully Grove because of its dense and extensive understorey of ferns and is located on lands owned by TimberWest Forest Corp., but the advocacy group is encouraging the company to sell the land to the province for better protection.

According to a statement sent to The Globe and Mail, TimberWest said it has protected the Sitka spruce tree and the surrounding stand for many years, and it isn't planning to change its operation.

"We are committed to the responsible stewardship of our working forest, and actively solicit the input of interested stakeholders to strike the appropriate balance between ecological, social and economic interests. There are no plans to deviate from the conservation status of this grove in our inventory management," TimberWest's spokeswoman Monica Bailey said in an e-mail.

The Ancient Forest Alliance is calling on the new BC NDP government to reimplement the provincial land acquisition fund, which was cancelled by the then-Liberal government in 2008, in order to purchase and protect private lands that have high conservation or recreation value.

"The B.C. government needs to implement a comprehensive, science-based plan to protect the remaining old-growth forests, while also supporting First Nations land-use plans and financing sustainable economic development and diversification in those communities in lieu of old-growth logging," said Andrea Inness, a campaigner from the Ancient Forest Alliance.

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She added that the FernGully Grove area is another key reason why the new provincial government needs to take action soon.

Mr. Wu said the forest has some of the most amazing wildlife population on Vancouver Island such as elk, deer, bear and cougar, and he hopes it can be kept as an ecological reserve rather than a provincial park.

"We don't want lots of people to hike here because there is so much wildlife; they will be driven away if it becomes a tourist area."

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