Rainforest Solutions Project

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


Delay stirs trouble in Great Bear Rainforest

April 4, 2002

Standstill on landmark agreement angers environmentalists, natives

Landmark agreements signed one year ago today to end the war in the woods on a vast swath of British Columbia’s coastal forestlands could fail if the Liberal government does not take the accords more seriously, environmental groups and First Nations warned Wednesday.

Eco-groups say their patience is growing thin in the area they dubbed the Great Bear Rainforest and First Nations are talking about resorting to a court-imposed decision to establish their economic rights in area, which stretches from Knight Inlet near Port Hardy in the south to Princess Royal Island, near Prince Rupert, in the north.

A year ago, the same groups referred to the Great Bear agreement as a landmark decision that overnight turned B.C. from a global pariah into an eco-hero. But Merran Smith, of ForestEthics, said the government has paid too little attention to the coast since then. Legislation protecting the rainforest is still not in place. It is the key to moving forward on other issues, she said.

“There is a risk of people’s patience wearing thin,” said Smith of the delays. Eco-groups called off their international campaign against coastal forest companies after signing the April 4 agreement. Under pressure from Greenpeace, companies like Home Depot and IKEA had told coastal logging companies to change forest practices if they wanted their business. The pressure worked and forest companies sat down with their old foes to work out a peace plan.

The four international eco-groups who signed the accord with the government have given the Liberals an “F” for not following through with legislation protecting the area and for failing to deal with First Nations rights and title.

The eco-groups, ForestEthics, Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network and The Sierra Club, were more generous in how they rated the role of forest companies, communities and government measures to develop ecological standards and economic alternatives for the region. Those elements received Cs.

“It’s bizarre that the government would receive an F,” said Stan Hagen, minister of sustainable resource management.

Hagen said the agreements the Liberals inherited were flawed and rushed through by the NDP within days of calling the election. He agreed the Liberals had taken time to review the protocols — one covering eco issues, the other First Nations — but he denied the government had been moving slowly since proceeding.

Art Sterritt, co-chair of Turning Point, a First Nations initiative supported by seven native communities on the coast and the Queen Charlotte Islands, raised the spectre of a court-imposed decision if the government does not move more quickly on the economic protocol they signed April 4.

Hagen said that protocol has been “re-done” by the Liberals. The new document remains unsigned. He said he has met with Turning Point leaders and believes they are satisfied with the progress made so far.

“There’s been lots of good talk, but really nothing is happening on the ground,” said Sterritt. “This is really leaving a sour taste in the mouths of First Nations. We have the feeling we are being screwed again.”

Logging in much of the region has come to a virtual standstill, largely because of lumber duties imposed by the U.S. government but even forest companies acknowledge the province has been slow at completing the pledges made one year ago today. Steve Crombie, director of public affairs for Interfor, one of four forest companies that signed the accord, said the pace of change has been slow.