Rainforest Solutions Project

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


BC’s ‘Great Bear Rainforest’ gets protection

March 31, 2009

(British Columbia) – When the whole world is watching, your market is global, and your government is up for re-election, doing the “Green” thing can be good for business and smart politics.

A ceremony in Victoria at noon on Tuesday proves the point.

The British Columbia government will announce sweeping plans to protect key areas and lessen damage to old growth watersheds along its West Coast, a land of fjords and mountains and islands that environmentalists have dubbed the Great Bear Rainforest.

The protection will extend to much of Princess Royal Island, home to the Kermode or “spirit bear,” a genetically unique subspecies of black bear that white or cream-colored. The Khutzeymateen Park, a famed grizzly bear sanctuary north of Prince Rupert, will grow substantially.

A master stream that carves a path between summits and icefields of the Coast Range, the Klinaklini River, is largely protected. So are such streams as the Nascall River, near Bella Coola, and the Ecstall River near Prince Rupert.

The political tug-of-war over the Great Bear Rainforest has lasted more than a decade.

It began at a time intensive clear cutting up and down the B.C. coast. In one of the few protected areas, Tweedsmuir Park, a hiking party came to a dramatic overlook of the Talchako River, and witnessed devastation.

The river marked the park’s western boundary. The west side of the Talchako, an important fishing stream, had been stripped for miles. Environmentalists threatened to mount a boycott of British Columbia forest products in Europe and the United States.

They also brought in celebrities (e.g. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.), tourists and National Geographic photographers to record kermode bears, grizzly bears, wolf packs and whales.

The agreement, announced Tuesday, means 5 million acres along the province’s North and Central Coast are now formally protected. The province has divvied up these lands as “conservancies,” “biodiversity areas” and provincial parks.

Conservancies allow native groups to pursue “low impact economic activities” but ban commercial logging, mining and power generation. On non-protected lands, the provincial government, First Nations governments, greens and logging companies have committed to a new forestry approach.

Restrictions will cover how much old growth timber can be extracted. In areas being logged, between 30 and 70 percent of ancient forests will be left standing.

The new logging regulations put over 1.7 million acres of rainforest — not in protected areas — off limits to logging. Increased buffers along lakes, rivers and wetlands will protect the Coast’s salmon runs. Important grizzly habitat will be maintained.

The accord also gives greens and First Nations governments a role in planning the future of the coast, best known as the Inside Passage route to Alaska.

In years past, the coast was simply marked as a “Timber Supply Area”, with a resource extraction economy and logging companies given free rein.

A British Columbia cabinet minister of yesteryear, Phil Gaglardi, once intoned: “God didn’t put those trees there for man to worship. He put them there to be cut down.”

The tide began to turn in the early 1990’s under B.C. Premier Mike Harcourt, when an 850,000-acres preserve was created in the Kitlope Valley. A royal visitor, Prince Philip, dedicated the Khutzeymateen Park.

The latest accord has been worked out with the right-of-center B.C. government of Premier Gordon Campbell. Elected in 2001, Campbell initially took such actions as letting timber companies police their own environmental practices.

Campbell has since taken a green turn, instituting a carbon tax with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and creating new parks.

The premier is seeking a third term when British Columbia holds a provincial election in early May. He is facing a tough contest with the left-of-center New Democratic Party.

Premier Campbell has already announced that the Kermode bear will be British Columbia’s official animal.