Rainforest Solutions Project

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


Canada to protect wildlife, logging in huge B.C. park

February 7, 2006

(Vancouver, BC) – Canada unveiled a 16 million-acre preserve Tuesday, including parkland covering an area twice the size of Yellowstone, teeming with grizzly bears, wolves and wild salmon in the ancestral home of many native tribes.

Closing another chapter of the wars between environmentalists and loggers, the Great Bear Rainforest is the result of an accord between governments, aboriginal First Nations, the logging industry and environmentalists.

It will stretch 250 miles along British Columbia’s rugged Pacific coastline — the ancestral home of groups whose cultures date back thousands of years. The area also sustains a rare white bear found only in British Columbia, called “spirit bears” by the Gitga’at people of the region.

“The agreement on these areas represents an unprecedented collaboration between First Nations, industry, local governments and many other stakeholders in how we manage the vast richness of B.C.‘s coast for the benefit of all British Columbians,” said Premier Gordon Campbell, who was accompanied by native dancers and drummers for the announcement and formal First Nations blessing.

“The result is a strong marriage that balances the needs of the environment with the need for sustainable jobs and a strong economic future for coastal communities,” he said.

Campbell said 4.4 million acres would be protected outright and managed as parkland, with another 11.6 million run under an ecosystem management plan to ensure sustainable forestry with minimal impact on the environment. Yellowstone National Park is 2.2 million acres. Full implementation of the project is not expected until 2009.

“British Columbians are showing that it is possible to protect the environment and provide the economic foundation for healthy communities,” said Lisa Matthaus, coast campaign coordinator for the Sierra Club of Canada’s British Columbia chapter. “This innovative rain forest agreement provides a real world example of how people and wilderness can prosper together.”

Speaking on behalf of the 25 aboriginal groups involved in the project, Art Sterritt of the North Coast First Nations said the agreement would allow for controlled use of the land and let natives continue their traditional lifestyles.

“It wasn’t an easy job,” he said. “Everyone had to make compromises here and there.”

The agreement comes after more than a decade of talks, international boycott campaigns against Great Bear wood products and sit-ins in the forests by Native Canadians and environmentalists, who chained themselves to logging equipment.

The process has already inspired similar efforts to save the Canadian boreal forest, to the north, and suggestions that the agreement could be a model for preservation in the Amazon and other threatened forests.

Scientists say the agreement should preserve not only the few hundred spirit bears and other black bears, but also one of the highest concentrations of grizzly bears in North America as well as unique subspecies of goshawks, coastal wolves, Sitka black-tail deer and mountain goats.

“It’s like a revolution,” said Merran Smith, director of the British Columbia Coastal Program of Forest Ethics, an environmental group. “It’s a new way of thinking about how you do forestry. It’s about approaching business with a conservation motive upfront, instead of an industrial approach to the forest.”

Under the agreement, the loggers will be guaranteed a right to work in 10 million acres of the forest, which some environmentalists criticize. But they will be obliged to cut selectively: away from critical watersheds, bear dens and fish spawning grounds, negotiators said.

As a sign of new Native power gained in recent court cases, many areas that will be preserved or selectively logged have been chosen based on the oral tradition of Native groups and the opinions of their elders. These include areas with cultural significance such as ancient cemeteries, or areas that contain medicinal herbs and cedars big enough to make totem poles, canoes and longhouses.

If the federal government agrees, more than $100 million also will be raised by governments and foundations to start ecotourism lodges, shellfish aquaculture and other environmentally sustainable economic activities for the 25,000 people who live in the region.

“Now we can manage our destiny,” said Ross Wilson, chairman of the tribal council of the Heiltsuk, one of the Native nations involved. “Without this agreement, we would be going to court forever and we would have to put our children and old ladies dressed in button blankets in the way of the chain saws,” he added, referring to the ceremonial dress worn in past protests.

Among the supporters of the agreement are some of the biggest players in Canadian lumber and paper, including Western Forest Products, Interfor and Canfor.

“It’s a cultural shift,” said Shawn Kenmuir, an area manager for Triumph Timber, which has already forsaken old clearcut practices and begun consulting with the Gitga’at before cutting on their traditional lands. “We’ve started the transition from entitlement to collaboration.”
The forest represents a quarter of the world’s coastal temperate rain forests.

Because 15 feet of rain can fall in a year, the Great Bear has never suffered a major forest fire. That has allowed some of the tallest and oldest trees on Earth to thrive, including cedars more than 1,000 years old.

An estimated 20 percent of the world’s remaining wild salmon swim through the forest’s fjords, including coho and sockeye, whose spawning grounds were threatened by erosion caused by past logging. Largely intact because of its remoteness, the forest contains an abundance of wolverines, bats, peregrine falcons, marbled murrelet sea birds and coastal tailed frogs.

The ecological richness is immediately apparent to the few people who visit.

Within minutes of a recent helicopter visit to Princess Royal Island, in the heart of the rain forest, a group of visitors saw a pack of six gray and black wolves, a seal, numerous bald eagles and swans.

“Look at the forest move,” said Marven Robinson, 36, a Gitga’at guide, as eagles glided through the moist air and the wolf pack played hide and seek with the visitors along a channel of diaphanous water. “As long as there is a spirit bear, we’re going the right way.”

The efforts to save the rain forest began a decade ago, as lumber companies that had already cut most of the old-growth forest around British Columbia, by far Canada’s richest forestry province, began moving into the Great Bear.

A deluge of postcards and demonstrations by groups such as the Sierra Club and Greenpeace at shareholder meetings and retail outlets pressed American, Japanese and European hardware chains to shun products from the area.

By 1999, when Home Depot announced it would phase out sales of wood from the Great Bear and other endangered old forests, some lumber companies were shifting their approach, agreeing to work with the environmentalists.

MacMillan Bloedel, before it was acquired by Weyerhaeuser, broke ranks with the industry and promised in 1998 to phase out clearcutting on the British Columbia coast. Other companies gradually fell into line.