Rainforest Solutions Project

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


B.C. rainforest pact heralds new era

February 13, 2006

A remarkable agreement announced last week in British Columbia to protect a huge swath of the planet’s largest remaining intact temperate coastal rainforest couldn’t have been timed better.

The landmark deal, which saw B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell join environmentalists, leaders of First Nations and coastal communities, and the lumber industry shed a decade of confrontation and conflict to develop a resource-use plan, has the potential to become an international model.

It creates new parks amounting to 1.2 million hectares along a 400-kilometre stretch of the B.C. coast, extending from Alaska to Knight Inlet. Coupled with another 600,000 hectares already designated parkland, this will set aside an area three times the size of P.E.I. and contain 100 pristine river valleys and fjords that are home to a fifth of the world’s remaining wild salmon stocks.

The Kitasoo Spirit Bear Conservancy will be at the heart of the region labelled the Great Bear Rainforest by environmental groups after a population of bears whose rare recessive gene makes them snow-white.

As Merran Smith of the ForestEthics environmental group put it, the agreement marks a “revolution” on the part of everyone involved on how to do forestry, and about “approaching business with a conservation motive upfront, instead of taking an industrial approach.”

The agreement guarantees loggers the right to work in about 4 million hectares of forest, but obliges them to cut selectively, and away from critical watersheds, bear dens and spawning grounds. From the lumber industry’s standpoint, the issue is certainty, where it can make investments into the future knowing that what it faced in Clayoquot Sound, with environmentalists chaining themselves to equipment in order to prevent logging, isn’t going to be repeated.

Environmental groups have raised $60 million, which they want the federal and provincial governments to match in order to generate economic activity for regional communities through such activities as ecotourism and shellfish aquaculture.

Things are indeed looking up when stakeholders who just 10 years ago couldn’t agree on where to meet or what to have for lunch, were actually embracing during last Tuesday’s announcement.

With issues like global warming taking on immediacy — even the Bush administration is studying whether polar bears should be added to America’s list of endangered species due to shrinking habitat — any model that demonstrates politicians, environmentalists, industrialists and communities can compromise to achieve the greater good is worth applauding.