Salt Spring Islanders who care about preserving old-growth forests and love world-class photography won’t want to miss an event coming to the island next week.
From Oct. 26 to 30, an exhibition of photographs by TJ Watt titled Ancient Forests of B.C. will be on display at Mahon Hall from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
On Thursday, Oct. 27, a fundraising event from 6:30 to 9 p.m. will feature a presentation by both Watt and Ken Wu, who are co-founders of the Ancient Forest Alliance and continue to work on saving B.C.’s old-growth forests and other valued ecosystems.
Wu is also founder and executive director of the Endangered Ecosystems Alliance and also created the Nature-Based Solutions Foundation (NBSF), which are the two groups benefitting from the Ancient Forests of B.C. fundraiser.
The Salt Spring event is the first large-scale photography show Watt has done in more than a decade.
“Some images are of the beautiful, coastal old-growth landscapes of British Columbia, as well as some of the before and after images that I’ve shot, which show those contrasting images of a tree standing and then cut down . . . . and then some wildlife shots as well.”
As a photographer and campaigner for Ancient Forest Alliance, along with other environmental activism commitments, he has been too busy to mount an exhibition of any kind. But then he met Salt Spring Islanders Sibeal Foyle and Peter Pierobon, who he says were “the right people at the right time” to organize an exhibit.
“So right away we started working together to put this on and decided to do it as a fundraiser for the Endangered Ecosystems Alliance and our conservation initiatives in forests in B.C. and across Canada.”
Wu said that the Endangered Ecosystems Alliance, formed in 2018, primarily organizes policy and legislative campaigns to protect endangered ecosystems and old-growth forests.
The Nature-Based Solutions Foundation is even younger, having been established last December. Wu explained that its role is to help transition “land-embedded communities” into undertaking economic activities that don’t damage environmentally sensitive lands. First Nations communities, primarily, but also ranchers, trappers or woodlot owners are involved, he said.
“Funding is needed for those communities in order for them to have economic alternatives and some softer-touch economic activities that are consistent with protected areas. We can help build eco-tourism and non-timber forest product industries, sustainable seafood, or clean energy industries, in some areas.”
Just last week the NBSF announced it had purchased an eight-acre property of diverse old-growth forest in the Fraser Canyon, which it is gifting to the Kanaka Bar first nation with a conservation covenant to guarantee its preservation. The Kanaka Bar Band is already working on major conservation projects throughout their territory.
Watt got into photography shortly after finishing high school and ended up taking photos in the Walbran Valley in about 2005 after meeting Wu in Victoria.
“That was my first introduction to both old-growth forests and old-growth logging,” said Watt.
“It just totally blew my mind to see these trees that were 16 feet or five metres in diameter, well over 1,000 years old, but also, stumps of the same size from trees that had just been cut down.”
After going to photography school he focused on using his images as a powerful storytelling tool for conservation.
“And it was a great intersection of my interest in and love for adventure and exploring, hiking and art.”
Tickets ($35) for the Oct. 27 event are available by scanning the QR code in the poster, through www.endangeredecosystemsalliance.org/about or for purchase at the door. Wine and appetizers are included in the price.
While influencing people who are not already committed environmentalists is an important part of their work, Wu and Watt are looking forward to their visit to supportive territory.
“Salt Spring is tree-hugger central,” said Wu. “It’s got the biggest environmental consciousness per capita of just about anywhere in North America.”
For people who can’t attend the event, donations may also be made on the Endangered Ecosystems Alliance website.