Rainforest Solutions Project

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


Great Bear a critical carbon sink, study finds

March 3, 2009

(Vancouver, BC) – The Great Bear Rainforest, a vast tract of old-growth trees on the Central Coast of British Columbia, is playing a key role in combatting climate change, says a new report by three environmental groups.

A study funded by ForestEthics, Greenpeace and Sierra Club BC concludes that the six-million-hectare forest – which the government has promised to manage under a special logging plan – is storing massive amounts of carbon dioxide.

If the area were subject to standard logging, states the report by Rachel Holt, an independent biologist, an estimated 153 million tonnes of CO2 would be released into the atmosphere.

“This translates into three times what the province emits annually from the use of fossil fuels … or the emissions of 28 million cars on the road for a year,” Dr. Holt says in the study.

The groups are releasing the report to underscore the importance of the government plan, which is supposed to be in place by the end of this month.

In 2006, the B.C. government announced that about two million hectares of the forest would be exempted from logging, with the remaining four million hectares subject to logging under a special “ecosystem-based management” (EBM) plan that would use a new, lighter-touch form of forestry.

The study states that under EBM logging, enough of the forest will stay untouched that an estimated 108 million tonnes of CO2 will remain stored in the standing trees. And that storage vault is secure.

“The forests of the Great Bear Rainforest not only store massive volumes of carbon but this storage is a relatively safe bet,” the report says.

“Fires and insects, which can cause huge releases of carbon dioxide in some of B.C.‘s forests, are rare in coastal forests so the long-term certainty of storage is relatively high.”

The Great Bear Rainforest stretches about 400 kilometres along the deeply indented fjord land of B.C.‘s mainland coast, from near the northern tip of Vancouver Island to the southern tip of the Alaska Panhandle.

It is one of the largest intact tracts of temperate rain forest left in the world. It was given its evocative name by environmentalists in the early 1990s because of the white-coloured subspecies of black bear found there.

When the government announced special plans for the area, it unveiled a $120-million fund, which included $60-million in private donations, that would be used to manage the forest in a sustainable way.

The government’s EBM plan is supposed to be in place by March 31, and environmental groups are stepping up lobbying efforts this month to make sure the government sticks to its promise.

The release of the study coincides with a two-week action plan, launched on the weekend, that will see environmentalists holding rallies, protests and petition drives opposing old-growth logging and supporting the Great Bear Rainforest plan.

Dr. Holt’s report states that if the Great Bear Rainforest is properly managed, it will not only mitigate climate change by storing CO2, it will help maintain a natural area where species have a better chance of adapting to environmental changes.

Government officials have said the in-depth EBM plan is coming, but details have not been released.