Rainforest Solutions Project

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


Environmentalists, forest industry struggle to complete Great Bear Rainforest conservation plan

January 18, 2013

The forest industry is not moving quickly enough to achieve ecological and economic goals in the world’s largest temperate rainforest, environmental coalition says

(Vancouver, BC) – Environmentalists are ready to give up on negotiations over the acclaimed Great Bear Rainforest conservation agreement, saying the forest industry is not moving quickly enough to achieve ecological and economic goals in the world’s largest temperate rainforest.

The forest industry says a final agreement is achievable and that the industry has come a long way toward getting there. It’s proving difficult, but not impossible, to develop models that reach the conservation goals, given the restraints logging is now under.

At issue, said Valerie Langer, spokeswoman for the three environmental groups working with industry to protect the globally-significant rainforest, is an inability to reach the scientifically agreed-upon target of preserving 70 per cent of the rainforest’s old-growth while maintaining the second agreed-upon target: a timber harvest of 2.7 million cubic metres of logs a year.

The plan to protect the Great Bear Rainforest is now in the final stages.

Langer said after working on 160 computer-modelled scenarios with industry on ways to find the timber when 70 per cent of the old growth is protected, the environmental groups no longer believe the goals are achievable. She said failure at this point is putting at risk the social and ecological experiment that ended the so-called War in the Woods of the 1990s.

Fifteen years ago, the region from the northern end of Vancouver Island to the Alaska Panhandle was called the Mid Coast and North Coast Timber Supply Area, reflecting the dominance of logging.

Environmental activists created the name Great Bear Rainforest to market their cause, that it is an ecological treasure, to a worldwide audience. Although it is not an official designation, the name stuck and industry agreed to negotiate a settlement that would make the region world-renowned as an example of co-operative solutions to environmental issues.

Now, said Langer, it’s up to industry to make a further sacrifice.

“Something’s got to give,” she said. “What is at stake is whether we have sustainable levels of logging in the Great Bear Rainforest or not. The challenge to do that is that industry has to figure out how to maintain a viable business on a lot less wood.”

The environmental groups, Greenpeace Canada, ForestEthics Solutions and the Sierra Club BC have been working collaboratively with five forestry producers, Interfor, Western Forest Products, Catalyst Paper, Howe Sound Pulp and Paper and B.C. Timber Sales to develop a new approach to conservation and forest management. The groups have been meeting for over 10 years and in 2009, the province of B.C., local communities and First Nations endorsed a plan that would, over time, achieve the twin goals of forest conservation and sustainable levels of logging.

“These are the challenges of our times,” said Langer. “Do we actually make businesses adapt, even though it is difficult, and even though it is coming faster than they would prefer, in order to maintain eco-systems?”

Rick Jeffrey, president of the Coast Forest Products Association and chief industry negotiator, said the challenges of achieving the twin goals are daunting, but that the industry is determined to achieve them by the 2014 target date established by the government.

He said industry has no intention of abandoning efforts to make both goals work.

“We have completely changed the way we do business there,” he said.

Forest consultant Patrick Armstrong, who helped negotiate the original agreement that brought the two parties to the table, said what is being attempted in the Great Bear Rainforest is unique.

“If you look around the world, and say where can I point to elsewhere to something of this magnitude in this kind of ecosystem, I don’t think you are going to find many examples,” he said. He described the twin goals as “trying to get to low ecological risk combined with high degrees of human well-being.

He noted that logging operators have been using ecosystem-based logging in the region for a decade and have learned from their experiences.

Already 50 per cent of the old-growth timber in the 64,000 square kilometres encompassed in the Great Bear Rainforest, has been preserved, Jeffrey said.

However, Langer said the 50 per cent figure itself is controversial. She didn’t dispute that level of logging is preserving 50 per cent of the old growth, but maps don’t exist yet showing exactly where the protected forests are, making it more difficult to pinpoint where the additional protected stands will be.

“Right now, 50 per cent is just in writing,” she said.

On the part of the land base where harvesting is taking place, ecosystem-based management – a harvesting practice that emphasizes leaving an intact ecosystem after loggers leave – is in place. Almost three quarters of the cutblocks are less than 10 hectares in size.

The harvest level has dropped by almost a third since 2001, but a further 16 per cent reduction is needed if the goal of preserving 70 per cent of the old growth is to be achieved.

The difficulty, Jeffery said, is that the industry needs to find the timber to sustain sawmills and jobs on 16 per cent of the land base.

Under the land-use orders signed by the government in 2009, the objective is to go from 50 per cent protection to make meaningful increments towards 70 per cent by March 31, 2014. To achieve that, the environmental groups and industry need to reach agreement on a final road map to hit 70 per cent, which must then go to government and First Nations for approval. Nobody expects that logging will be at a level to protect 70 per cent of the old growth by that time.

“It says 70 per cent over time. That’s the objective, That’s what we are trying to do,” said Jeffrey. “There are a lot of challenges and difficulties in that. Not all landscape units and ecosystems are the same. Some of them are going to take longer to get to 70 per cent. Some of them are going to get to 70 per cent right away, but the agreement is to get there over time.

“We are working on that plan to try to get there while maintaining human well-being, and providing economic benefits, jobs, economic activity in the Great Bear Rainforest as well as the people downstream who are reliant on that wood in the mills.

“Finding the balance is what the agreement charges the parties to do and that’s what we are doing. Yeah, it’s tough work, and yeah, they may be frustrated but the work’s ongoing and progress is being made.”

He said industry is committed to having a workable plan ready to take to government by the spring of 2013, ahead of the 2014 deadline.

Langer said the eco-groups’ skepticism comes from a concern that the industry has not reduced harvesting by any “meaningful increments” towards achieving the 70 per cent old-growth retention target, despite the time that has passed since the 2009 land-use orders were passed.

“We are both trying to solve a problem that is intractable. The issue is this: Who takes the hit in this, the last stage of the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement?”