Rainforest Solutions Project

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


Finally, a deal on rainforest protection

February 4, 2006

A decade of negotiation and pressure will safeguard a huge swath of land

Every single estimate of when a final announcement might come or how long the process might take has been proven to be wildly optimistic, so treat this latest one with some skepticism.

But next week the B.C. government is expected to roll out with all due fanfare a final agreement on the Great Bear Rainforest. Premier Gordon Campbell and a big cast of characters are scheduled to appear at a Vancouver news conference on Tuesday to announce the deal. It’s one of those issues that has percolated so long in B.C. that many people are inured to it.

But it will be pitched internationally as a very big deal. The further away people are from this announcement, the bigger it looks.

A pro-business government in a province that lives off the forests has agreed with First Nations to set aside a vast swath of rainforest for grizzly bears, spirit bears and other wildlife, while accommodating a number of innovative deals to
upgrade logging practices and make up for the jobs and revenues that are foregone.

Campbell tripped up to the remote village of Klemtu this week to shoot some videos in the rainforest — a wilderness the size of several European countries that is home to slightly more than 4,000 people. It will be used to explain and promote the agreement.

The operative message throughout the announcement will be that everyone’s a winner. But it’s hard not to see it more as a monumental achievement by the environmental movement, an overwhelming victory after a decade-long struggle that at times looked like a war.

It was only a few years ago that environmentalists were collectively branded “enemies of B.C.” due to a highly organized and effective campaign to economically sabotage forest companies’ international markets. At that time, the argument revolved around what was known as the land and resource management plan process. Such regional plans were being thrashed out all over B.C., and the arguments over most of them were rancorous.

Several things propelled the Central Coast argument over the borders and turned it into an international event. One was the obvious grandeur of the coastal old-growth forest, now recognized as being globally significant. Another was the gradual emergence of the fascinating kermode, or spirit bear, as a symbol of the whole eco-system.

The devastating international boycott campaign, of course, carried the argument world-wide. And then there was the simple, but brilliant, re-branding strategy. Environmentalists started substituting “Great Bear Rainforest” for the previous
bureaucratic handle — “the central coast land and resource management” planning area.

It captured everyone’s imagination. There are still some people in the industry who choke on the phrase, so it will be interesting to see if Campbell uses it next week. He’s been reluctant to do so in the past. Former premier Ujjal Dosanjh
started using it in the last few months of his short term, during which an interim agreement was reached among the dozens of groups working on the land use plan. They’d been at it for four frustrating years by that point.

The big question that developed after the early agreement was: What would the Liberals do with it?

They spent a year after their 2001 election win studying the issue and found no alternative but reluctantly to go along with it.

Going along entailed years more work on complicated details, before a consensus agreement was reached two years ago. Then it was time to start government -to-government negotiations with the native bands whose members constitute most of the population in the region.

Woven through those events were important court decisions, and a course change toward a new relationship with natives. The culmination of all that work is expected to be unveiled next week.

The obvious effect will be a huge range of wilderness set aside for wildlife, and for its own sake. But the more unique aspects will include a commitment to eco-based management, a much more stringent approach to logging what land is left out of the preserve. There’s also a permanent scientific panel to study and oversee the region and any impacts that logging has on it.

Large U.S. philanthropic organizations committed $60 million to help with the human impact. Governments were to match that, but it’s unclear whether that agreement is firm enough to include in next week’s expected announcement. It’s a key part of the overall plan, though, since hundreds of direct jobs will be lost by the preservation, and by the more onerous requirements for careful logging.

Hundreds of people have worked on the idea for almost 10 years. If they can hold the agreement together for another few days, it should be quite a package when they unwrap it.

Just So You Know: The question on some industry minds is whether there’s any money to be made on the Central Coast, now that it’s the Great Bear. Large areas will be marked for resource industry use, but some wonder whether it will be economically worthwhile. There will be less wood available; it has to be harvested much more carefully — read, expensively — and somebody has to pay for the scientific panel and the operation and impact of the eco-based management system. Even after the deal is done, the argument will continue.