Rainforest Solutions Project

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


B.C. may see return to war in the woods

June 17, 2003

Environmentalists talk tough in bid to preserve so-called Great Bear Rainforest

(Vancouver, BC) – British Columbia could see a return to a war in the woods if the Liberal government doesn’t expedite the process to continue preservation of 600,000 hectares of coastal rainforest, environmentalists say.

The agreement to protect the central coastal valleys in what environmentalists have dubbed the Great Bear Rainforest came into effect April 4, 2001, under the previous NDP administration.

Before that agreement, environmentalists had staged an international campaign to boycott wood products from B.C.‘s ancient forests.

Now groups like Greenpeace, the B.C. chapter of the Sierra Club and ForestEthics say the Liberals have created uncertainty by refusing to divulge what will happen when the legal aspect of the agreement expires June 30.

Greenpeace spokesman Gavin Edwards said he’s wondering why the government hasn’t extended the agreement to the end of the year in keeping with the land-use planning process, which now expires Dec. 31.

Various environmental groups, 18 First Nations, four forestry companies, government and community representatives are working together to decide how to deal with the area that is home to the so-called spirit bear, a rare subspecies of the black bear.

Edwards said the government’s foot-dragging on the issue means it hasn’t been able to meet its own deadline.

“We’ve made it very clear that any moves by logging companies endorsed by government to go back into the rainforest would turn the clock back on the Great Bear agreement and potentially see another war in the woods,” he said.

While logging companies such as Weyerhaeuser and Interfor have said they won’t move into the area without a land-use plan agreed to by all sides, the Liberals haven’t been that specific, Edwards said.

Merran Smith of San Francisco-based ForestEthics also said the Liberals should extend the agreement to the end of the year to protect a valuable area with rare species, diverse plant life and ancient trees that are 1,000 years old.

“We expect, and one would assume, that it’s in the government’s interest not to destabilize the process,” Smith said.

“This area is a globally unique area,” she said. “We have one quarter of the world’s remaining temperate rainforest in British Columbia.

“I expect that the marketplace will respond negatively to any poor decisions that are made in British Columbia.”

In the past, environmental groups have spurred Home Depot, IKEA and other international companies to cancel contracts worth millions of dollars after they refused to sell products that use wood from B.C.‘s old-growth forests.

While the last few years have seen a return to peace in the woods as a joint agreement is worked out on how the land should be used, Smith said the government has withheld information from a team of independent scientists studying the area.

Sustainable Resource Management Minister Stan Hagen refuted that, saying it’s not in the government’s interest to stall the process.

“My ministry is responsible for all of that data collection they’ve made that data available,” Hagen said.

“It’s a very important process as far as bringing certainty to the land base so that we can attract investment back to the province.”

Hagen said the legal part of the agreement designates the area protected under the Land Use Act, while Section 13 of the Forest Act prohibits logging there.

“Before the end of June I have to make a decision whether I’m going to extend one or both or neither and that’s the process I’m in right now,” he said.

Ric Slaco, vice-president and chief forester of Interfor, said he would support the government’s decision to extend the legal agreement to coincide with the land-use process “because that just makes sense.”

“(We want) to have some areas where we can carry out our sustainable harvesting activities and to work in collaboration with the various stakeholders involved to promote the products that are generated from this area as being a source of wood from well managed forests,” Slaco said.

Interfor exports finished products used to make doors, stairs and windows to the United States, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

Simon Jackson, who at 20 has been crusading for eight years to have a protected habitat for the spirit bear, said he’d be happy if the government permanently protected at least 170,000 hectares inhabited by the white bear.

“We’re on the brink of losing these bears but there’s no public policy on it,” Jackson said.

He is also promoting the spirit bear, scientifically known as the Kermode bear, as a mascot for B.C. if the province wins the Olympic Games in a decision to be announced July 2.