Rainforest Solutions Project

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


Deal reached in the Great Bear Rainforest

February 4, 2006

The British Columbia government has reached a landmark agreement with coastal first nations, paving the way for a resource-use plan protecting one third of a six million-hectare swath of rainforest on the province’s north and central coast.

The agreement is the culmination of 10 years of conflict and negotiation over the future of what has been dubbed the Great Bear Rainforest, one of the wildest and resource-rich regions of the province. It is to be officially announced Tuesday in Vancouver by Premier Gordon Campbell and representatives of the region’s first nations.

It is expected to pave the way for what Gitga’at First Nation leader Art Sterritt has called the “re-engineering an entire regional economy.”

And it is the key to a $60-million funding strategy environmental organizations have arranged with philanthropic foundations.

“This is going to be a transformation not just for this — the biggest rainforest conservation project in Canada — but in addition, we and our environmental partners have raised $60 million. We hope it will be matched by the federal and provincial governments to support a new kind of economy in this region,” said Merran Smith, of the environmental group ForestEthics.

Negotiating a plan acceptable to first nations within the region was the final hurdle. Earlier versions had already been accepted by environmental groups, forest companies and resource communities. Before these latest negotiations, plans showed one third of the region being protected from logging. The exact size of protected areas is one of the best-kept secrets in Tuesday’s announcement, but loggers say there will be less timber coming out of the north than they anticipated.

The plan, covering a region from the Alaska border in the north to Knight Inlet in the south, establishes:

  • New protected areas and parks.
  • Areas where First Nations interests will take priority.
  • Ecologically sound management principles that take into account social and economic interests.

A significant reduction in timber harvesting, however, could trigger changes in who does the harvesting. First Nations and community-based companies expect to benefit. Environmentalists describe the scale of the changes as “revolutionary.”

Supporters say the agreement should end a decade of economic, social and environmental conflict, but there are trade-offs: It remains to be seen how much logging will actually be possible and, to make logging economically feasible, forest companies and First Nations are going to want to export raw logs. Licensees also will re-evaluate their interests in the area as the eco-logging methods come into practice. Options include remaining in the region, joint-venturing with First Nations or turning licences over to new players or First Nations. The total volume of First Nations-controlled timber already rivals that of the major licensees.

“There’s no question. This is a new way of doing forest management,” said Bill Bourgeois, of the industry organization Coast Forest Conservation Initiative. “It’s going to bring significant change.”

“If there are some areas where we can’t (economically harvest) we will have to be up-front with people and say, ‘Here are some of the consequences of this,’” said Western Forest Products president Reynold Hert.

The major licensees operating in the region, Western Forest Products and Interfor, along with pulp and paper companies Canfor and Catalyst Papers, support the agreement. Other companies on board include loggers Triumph Timber and TimberWest.

The agreement will open the way to ecosystem-based logging, a controversial harvesting method that puts ecological considerations ahead of logging. Triumph Timber president Tom Olsen said his company is already adopting the practices.

Bourgeois said the emphasis will be on getting value out of the rainforest rather than volume. That includes selling some logs on export markets, Bourgeois said. “It’s part of the mix.”

Garry Wouters, consultant for Turning Point, the organization that represents seven of the participating First Nations, called the agreement a milestone. It finally addresses the issue of land-use in their territories, he said.

Saving the Great Bear Rainforest

Reaction to the deal that paves the way for a resource-use plan protecting one third of a six million-hectare swath of rainforest on the province’s north and central coast.

  • “The biggest thing, and part of the reason for working on this is certainty. It lets us really understand what the ground rules are that we can actually operate under in the area and be supported by the people with other interests in the area.”
    Reynold Hert, CEO Western Forest Products, largest licensee on the coast.
  • “We have introduced our own protected areas because we are right on the coast where that Spirit Bear is. That will be put aside. There will be no development of any kind. It will allow us to practise our rights. We will fish and hunt the way we used to do it.”
    Percy Starr, co-negotiator for the Kitasoo-Xai/Xais at Klemtu.
  • “This is the first step: By creating stability on the land base, so we have access to the fibre with the social licence to continue, it’s going to bring stability to the northern communities and stability to business to provide investment.”
    Tom Olsen, CEO Triumph Timber, a major coastal logging company.