Rainforest Solutions Project

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


Great Bear Rainforest deal at risk if Liberals don’t follow through

April 4, 2002

It was a historic truce. Environmentalists and the forestry industry negotiated a groundbreaking peace in the “war in the woods” over British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest.

However, one year later, the biggest threat to the most significant forestry agreement ever seen in British Columbia is not a lack of cooperation between industry and environmental groups, but government inaction.

The April 4, 2001, agreement was supported by the province, First Nations, local communities, forest companies, their international customers, workers and environmental groups. It halted years of conflict and an international-markets campaign that saw major customers such as Home Depot and Ikea resolve to stop buying forest products from the Great Bear Rainforest if unsustainable logging continues.

It was a critical first step toward protecting this internationally renowned wilderness — home to grizzlies, wild salmon runs, genetically unique coastal wolves, and the only place in the world where the rare Kermode, or Spirit Bear, lives.

Now a critical question looms. Does B.C.‘s Liberal government understand the importance of meeting its obligations under this agreement?

Regrettably, the Liberals have made little progress in implementing this made-in-B.C. solution, which holds the potential to permanently end the war that has pitted coastal forest companies and environmentalists against each other for so long.

What’s more, the lack of progress since the agreement was signed may undermine efforts to showcase the Great Bear Rainforest agreement, at several planned international forestry conferences, as an example of what can be achieved with goodwill between the industry and environmentalists.

In late April, the agreement will be featured at the Forest Leadership Forum in Atlanta, Ga., a conference that brings together environmentalists, the forest-products industry, retailers and buyers from around the world to highlight shared values and opportunities to promote trade in responsible forest products.

Those attending the forum have heard the good news that British Columbia made history with the Great Bear Rainforest agreement. This month, they will hear that the agreement remains only a paper victory, thanks to government inaction, and is not yet a working reality.

However, it’s not too late to ensure that the enormous potential of the agreement is realized and for B.C.‘s forest-industry customers around the world to see that the province is committed to developing new sustainable forestry practices that could help revitalize the coastal forest industry.

Here’s what the B.C. government needs to do, and soon:

- Formalize, through orders in council, the 20 protected areas designated last year.

- Implement the government-to-government protocol signed with eight coastal First Nations last April.

- Reduce logging rates immediately to take into account new protected areas and logging deferrals as planning continues — not push logging into other sensitive areas.

- Make sure that the independent scientific and economic team, set up under the agreement, has enough time to provide advice to land-use planning panels currently working on tight timelines.

- Distribute mitigation and transition funds to workers, contractors and communities.

These important steps are very achievable goals for the province to meet in the near future. And it is critical for not only international customers, but all the parties committed to the Great Bear Rainforest agreement, to see some real progress from the Liberal government.

Investing in the future of sustainable forestry is not just a good policy decision, it’s British Columbia’s only option to guarantee long-term market viability for our forest products. Environmentalists, the forest industry and First Nations are all in agreement — shouldn’t the province be leading the way instead of dragging its feet?

British Columbia has the unique opportunity to show the world that globally endangered rainforests can be protected while, at the same time, sustainable forestry can continue to provide employment to workers and their communities. It can be done — this agreement between long-time adversaries is proof anything is possible — but only with the active encouragement and support of the provincial government.

The world is watching, and waiting.