Rainforest Solutions Project

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


Former foes celebrate rainforest plan

April 10, 2009

The “war in the woods” ended officially this week as provincial, aboriginal, forest industry and environmental leaders celebrated the completion of new sustainable resource rules for a vast region of the B.C. coast.

In the works for a decade following confrontations over logging in old-growth forests, the agreement establishes new rules that cover 6.5 million hectares, an area the size of Belgium.

About a third of that is in protected areas, including 114 conservancies that are off-limits to industrial logging, mining and large-scale hydroelectric development.

The Great Bear Rainforest agreement, as it has become known, also marks the first “government-to-government” agreement recognizing aboriginal rights and title to Crown land and working cooperatively to manage it. Premier Gordon Campbell has vowed to pass a new law that would formalize the approach on Crown land across the province.

Art Sterritt, representing the 15,000-member Coastal First Nations, credited the late Comox MLA Stan Hagen with pioneering the government’s approach, following a divisive referendum on treaties when the B.C. Liberals formed their first government.

That tribute was echoed by Dallas Smith, president of the Nanwakolas Council representing southern coastal aboriginal groups.

“I think of the future that my communities have now as a result of this foundation,” Smith said. “We’ve identified the variables that we seem to trip over, over the last 10 years that we’ve tried to rebuild a diversified economy that will last beyond generations.”

The final step was agreeing on new regulations for “ecosystem-based management” that will govern logging on the territory outside protected areas.

It relies heavily on selective logging, much of it by helicopter, and includes a break on stumpage fees paid to the province.

Port McNeill Mayor Gerry Furney, who represented coastal municipalities, was cautiously optimistic that the deal will help revitalize the ailing coastal logging industry.

“The mobilization costs to get into any of the areas that are available for logging are very expensive,” Furney said in an interview.

“You’ve got to barge equipment in and then fly men in and out. And so it’s going to be a challenge for the companies that undertake to actually harvest anything in that area, whether it’s forestry or mining or even aquaculture.”

Parties to the negotiations included Western Forest Products, Interfor, Catalyst, the Truck Loggers’ Association, the David Suzuki Foundation, ForestEthics, Sierra Club of B.C. and Greenpeace.

“Our organizations have worked as a team for over a decade now to get to a place where we can have a model that we can show the world how it can be done, how we can integrate economy and ecology together,” said Valerie Langer of ForestEthics.