Rainforest Solutions Project

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


Great Bear deal marks new world

February 10, 2006

A remarkable agreement announced this week in British Columbia to protect a huge swath of the planet’s largest remaining intact temperate coastal rainforest couldn’t have been timed better.

The landmark deal, which saw B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell join environmentalists, leaders of First Nations and coastal communities, and the lumber industry shed a decade of confrontation and conflict to develop a resource-use plan, has the potential to become an international model.

It creates new parks amounting to 1.2 million hectares along a 400-kilometre stretch of the B.C. coast, extending from Alaska to the Knight Inlet. Coupled with another 600,000 hectares already designated parkland, this will set aside an area three times the size of P.E.I. and contain 100 pristine river valleys and fjords that are home to a fifth of the world’s remaining wild salmon stocks.

The Kitasoo Spirit Bear Conservancy will be at the heart of the region labelled the Great Bear Rainforest by environmental groups. Named for a population of a few hundred black bears found only along the coast whose rare recessive gene makes them snow-white, the area also harbours other black bears, a dense population of grizzlies, a unique subspecies of goshawks, wolves, blacktail deer and mountain goats.

As Merran Smith of the ForestEthics environmental group put it, the agreement marks a “revolution” on the part of everyone involved on how to do forestry, and about “approaching business with a conservation motive up-front, instead of taking an industrial approach.”

The agreement guarantees loggers the right to work in about four million hectares of forest, but obliges them to cut selectively, and away from critical watersheds, bear dens and spawning grounds. From the lumber industry’s standpoint, the issue is certainty, where it can make investments into the future knowing that what it faced in Clayoquot Sound, with environmentalists chaining themselves to equipment in order to prevent logging, isn’t going to be repeated.

Campbell, too, has come a long way, shedding his pugnacious approach to dealing with aboriginal groups’ demands for accommodation of their rights in favour of a consultative approach, and going so far as to give credit to former NDP premier Mike Harcourt for having done the tough spadework to get the agreement in place.
Granted, the lumber industry was under the gun to change its ways, given that large domestic customers such as Home Depot and foreign buyers in Europe and Japan were heeding protests from environmental groups and refusing to buy products from old-growth forests. And old growth is the key for Great Bear, where major forest fires are mitigated by annual rainfalls that can amount to five metres, resulting in some of the globe’s tallest and oldest trees — including 1,000-year-old cedars.

Environmental groups have raised $60 million which they want the federal and provincial governments to match in order to generate economic activity for regional communities through such things as ecotourism and shellfish aquaculture.

Things are indeed looking up when stakeholders who just 10 years ago couldn’t agree on where to meet or what to have for lunch, were actually embracing during Tuesday’s announcement, .

The B.C. announcement coincides with the discovery in western New Guinea of what scientists are proclaiming as a “Garden of Eden.” There, an expedition that reached a part of the globe previously untrodden by humans found dozens of new species of flora and fauna, among them a giant rhododendron, tailed frogs, butterflies, an orange-faced honeyeater. Large mammals hunted to near extinction elsewhere were plentiful here, as well as golden-mantled tree kangaroos.

The New Guinea discovery serves as stark example of the biodiversity the Earth has lost already by allowing irresponsible exploitation of pristine areas in the past, while the Great Bear agreement showcases an approach that can be applied everywhere from Canada’s North to the Amazon to balance human needs and environmental stewardship.

With such issues as global warming taking on immediacy — even the Bush administration is studying whether polar bears should be added to America’s list of endangered species because of their shrinking habitat — any model that demonstrates politicians, environmentalists, industrialists and communities can compromise to achieve the greater good is worth applauding.