Rainforest Solutions Project

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


Best chance for coastal rainforest

October 27, 2005

Some continue to claim the proposed land use agreements to protect B.C.‘s Central and North Coast — also known as the Great Bear Rainforest — and the islands of Haida Gwaii don’t go far enough. Others think it goes too far.

As 12 first nations who live in these regions, our traditional territory, and who have 8,000 years of on-the-ground management experience, we believe those who make those claims fail to consider one critical question.

How do we integrate the needs of natural systems with the needs of the people who depend upon them for their livelihoods and way of life?

We live and work on this coast, where the forest and waters are a vital natural, cultural and economic resource for first nations, coastal communities and B.C. as a whole.

To be successful, land use agreements must not only preserve the land and protect its ecological integrity — they must also respect indigenous cultures and strengthen local economies.

To be successful, conservation must be sustainable, both ecologically and economically.

The coastal land use agreements, currently awaiting cabinet approval, do both.

In these agreements, the total size of protected areas would be quadrupled to secure many of its most sensitive and intact valleys and islands.

This will be more than seven million acres of area protected from logging on the Central and North Coast and Haida Gwaii.

When approved, it will be the largest temperate rainforest protection package in Canadian history. The agreements also represent the first effort to apply ecosystem-based management on all areas outside the protected areas.

This amounts to re-engineering an entire regional economy, tuning it to measurable indicators of ecological health and human well-being.

Through a declaration signed in June 2000, Coastal First Nations committed to making decisions that ensure the well-being of our lands and waters, and to preserve and renew their territories and cultures through tradition, knowledge, and authority.

Since then, this position has not changed, only strengthened, as we seek to find more opportunities for conservation approaches based on independent science and local and traditional knowledge.

As well, we are looking for approaches for our coastal communities where unemployment and poverty rates are well above national averages.

The intricate process that has led to this stage represents a commitment to a new relationship between the provincial government and first nations.

Beyond mere consultation, this government-to-government relationship will allow for a more just approach to land use decisions today and in the future.

We believe the application of these land use agreements present the world with its best chance yet to integrate conservation, community development and first nations self-determination. We are supported by Greenpeace, ForestEthics, the Sierra Club of Canada B.C. Chapter, the Rainforest Action Network, the Nature Conservancy and others.

We are proud to support these agreements and are working with the British Columbia overnment to develop legal and legislative tools to make them a reality.

Art Sterritt is executive director of the Coastal First Nations of the Turning Point Initiative Society. Guujaaw is the president of the Council of Haida Nation.