Rainforest Solutions Project

Promoting conservation and economic alternatives in British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest


A victory in the fight to preserve B.C.‘s rainforest

February 7, 2006

Government to announce plans to protect two million hectares of wildlife sanctuary

(Vancouver, BC) – Wildlife biologist Wayne McCrory felt as though he was dreaming one evening, 18 years ago, when he gazed out on the dark, forested shore of British Columbia’s central coast and saw a white bear emerge from the mist.

There are no polar bears in the temperate rainforest that cloaks the Pacific Coast, but for 10,000 years a rare strain of white-phased black bear has existed in a remote archipelago between the north end of Vancouver Island and the Alaska Panhandle.

“It’s like Canada’s Galapagos up there,” Mr. McCrory said of the area that is now known as the Great Bear Rainforest.

The bear he saw, on Princess Royal Island, vanished almost as quickly as it had appeared. But the image had such a powerful impact on him that he was inspired to help launch what became an international environmental campaign involving Greenpeace, ForestEthics, the Rainforest Action Network and the Sierra Club.

“The moon was up and the wolves were howling. We were so struck by the pristine nature of the area, with salmon streams everywhere and bears and wolves, that we just couldn’t leave the area without drawing some lines on the map,” said Mr. McCrory of his first step in the campaign.

Some of the areas he set out on the map that evening will today be officially recognized by the government when Premier Gordon Campbell unveils plans to save large areas of the Great Bear Rainforest.

According to several sources, the government will preserve two million hectares from logging.

A key piece will be a new Spirit Bear Conservancy on Princess Royal Island, and it is expected that throughout the Great Bear Rainforest region, some 1.3 million hectares will be designated as new parks or conservancies.

No-logging zones will cover an additional 297,000 hectares, and some large no-hunting areas will be established.

In all, the government will protect an area about eight times the size of Luxembourg within the Great Bear Rainforest, a region that, in total, covers 6.4 million hectares on B.C.‘s north and central coast.

“We’ve been waiting a long time for this,” Mr. McCrory said yesterday from his home in New Denver, B.C., where he runs a biological consulting business and helps maintain the Valhalla Wilderness Society.

He credited aboriginal leaders and environmental groups with pushing the government to reach a settlement. Among other things, the campaign involved a market boycott that convinced Home Depot, Staples, Ikea and about 80 other companies to stop selling products made from B.C.‘s old-growth forests.

Over the years, Mr. McCrory completed 11 scientific studies documenting the rich biological diversity of the Great Bear Rainforest, all of which were used to urge the government to protect the area from logging.

In 1994, Mr. McCrory’s studies were instrumental in convincing the government to create Canada’s only grizzly bear sanctuary, a 45,000-hectare protected zone in the Khutzeymateen Valley.

The Khutzeymateen sanctuary is in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest and it will be tripled in size after today’s announcement.

In addition to setting aside land, the government is also expected to join an effort to shift the region’s economy away from clear-cut logging and toward a more sustainable model. It is understood a $120-million conservation financing package will be part of the deal. Most of that money, $60-million, will come from several private U.S. and Canadian foundations; $30-million will come from B.C., and Ottawa is being asked to match the provincial funds.

Logging will be allowed in many areas in the Great Bear Rainforest, but it will take place under “ecosystem-based management.”

The new logging approach is supposed to protect the environment while permitting up to 50 per cent of the timber to be removed from some areas.

Mr. McCrory said one of the things he’s concerned about is how ecosystem-based management is defined. “We have to see what that is actually going to look like,” he said.

Nonetheless, Mr. McCrory said he expects today’s announcement to be “a landmark decision” in terms of wilderness protection.

The large areas being set aside mean that the grizzly bears and white-phased black bears should have enough habitat to survive indefinitely, he said. “One hundred years from now, we’ll still find [these] bears on the coast.”