Rainforest Solutions Project

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


Great Bear conservancy allows roads and hydro

April 25, 2006

(Victoria, BC) – The B.C. government is creating a new designation of protection for the so-called Great Bear Rainforest, one that seeks to protect biodiversity and address aboriginal needs while allowing for industrial roads and small hydro projects.

The province Monday introduced Bill 28, the Park (Conservancy Enabling) Amendment Act, creating 24 conservancy areas totalling 541,000 hectares, including 35,000 hectares of marine foreshore on the north and central coast.

An additional 85 conservancy areas are expected to be established by the end of 2007 for more than 650,000 hectares.

Environment Minister Barry Penner said the new conservancy designation satisfies the request of coastal aboriginal people for a level of protection that is less restrictive than a park, one that recognizes traditional aboriginal uses and allows for appropriate economic development for native communities.

A conservancy will allow small run-of-the-river hydro developments to provide electricity to remote native reserves. While commercial logging and mining are not allowed in a conservancy, the designation does allow for industrial roads where access is needed to extract natural resources beyond the conservancy borders.

Penner said no existing parks would be converted to conservancy areas, but could not rule out creation of additional conservancy areas as part of land-use planning processes elsewhere in the province.

Ian McAllister of the Raincoast Conservation Society complained that the level of protection being offered for the region does not meet the high standard envisaged for the globally recognized region.

McAllister is opposed to industrial roads in a conservancy, adding he fears the province’s commitment to the “protection and maintenance of recreational values” could mean that existing activities, everything from fishing to trophy hunting to heli-operations, can continue to flourish. “This is status-quo protection,” he said, while predicting the encroachment of large commercial lodges in pristine wilderness valleys. “We have huge problems with that.”

Claire Hutton of the Sierra Club of B.C. said she also is opposed to allowing industrial roads in the conservancy areas, but applauds the province for making biodiversity a keystone of its new legislation, alongside recreation and first nations.

She said the province has said that proposals for “low-impact economic development opportunities,” including tourism activities, will be subject to a review process to ensure compatibility. Management plans are still to be developed for the conservancy areas, she said, noting the legislation is the beginning not the end of the management process.

An industrial road is allowed for only one conservancy among the first 24 designated — the 1,261-hectare Kt’ll/Racey Conservancy on the west side of Princess Royal Island. But government officials told environmentalists during a briefing Monday that up to a dozen could ultimately be allowed when the other 85 areas are designated, McAllister said.

He criticized the province for lack of public consultation on the new conservancy areas, and for creating the areas piecemeal rather than together with all the information.

“It’s part of the Liberal strategy to keep the public guessing,” he said. “It seems like more posturing and spin doctoring. It’s much easier to have a feel-good announcement without the details getting in the way.”

Raincoast is involved in research in the area, which encompasses 6.4 million hectares and includes a unique population of wolves that exist largely on marine food such as salmon, even seals.