Rainforest Solutions Project

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


Land-use plan unveiled for B.C. coastal region dubbed Great Bear Rainforest

February 7, 2006

(Vancouver, BC) – A decade-long “war in the woods” by environmentalists and First Nations ended Tuesday as the B.C. government unveiled a plan to protect a huge swath of ecologically sensitive forest on the central and north coast.

Premier Gordon Campbell said the total protected areas under the land and resource management plan amount to 1.8 million hectares, more than three times the size of Prince Edward Island.

“This will forever preserve some of the largest, intact temperate rainforest in the world,” Campbell told representatives of 25 First Nations, three major environmental groups and industry stakeholders.

“The agreement reached on these areas represents an unprecedented collaboration between First Nations, industry, environmentalists, local governments and many other stakeholders in how we manage the vast richness of B.C.‘s coast for the benefit of all British Columbians,” Campbell said.

The result balances the needs of the environment with the need for sustainable jobs and a strong economic future for coastal communities, he said.

The agreement also gives First Nations a say in how resources in the 6.4-million-hectare region are managed, forging a new relationship with those who have lived in the area since time immemorial, Campbell said.

Since 1996, the region has been at the centre of a heated campaign – sometimes dubbed the war in the woods – by conservationists to protect the wilderness area from logging and mining.

Environmental groups scored public relations points by spurring Home Depot, IKEA and other international companies to cancel contracts worth millions of dollars after they refused to sell products that use wood from B.C.‘s old-growth forests.

Even the rock band U2 teamed up with Greenpeace five years ago to campaign against what they called the destruction of the rainforest.

Campbell said the deal preserves from logging some of B.C.‘s most spectacular wilderness and protects habitat for a number of species, including the spirit bear or kermode bear – a rare snow-white subspecies of black bear.

He promised legislation will be introduced to establish sustainable logging practices in the rest of the region, often referred to by environmentalists as the Great Bear Rainforest.

Full implementation is not expected until 2009.

But Eric Joseph of the Tsawataineuk First Nation said his group stepped back from the land-use process last year to protect Holden Creek in an area called Kingcome Inlet.

The Tsawataineuk and several other First Nations did not have the funding to deal with the technical aspects of ecosystem-based management, which supports environmentally sustainable planning, Joseph said.

Bill Wareham, acting director of marine conservation for the David Suzuki Foundation, cautioned that most wild salmon rivers on the coast are outside the protected areas and still at risk from destructive logging practices.

“For us that’s a big piece that’s missing,” Wareham said.

The protected areas were slightly less than what scientists recommended would be ideal and the forest industry isn’t being bound to do anything different other than saying they will commit to move toward ecosystem-based management, he said.

However, a coalition of environmental groups including ForestEthics, Greenpeace and the B.C. chapter of the Sierra Club of Canada backed the agreement.

Merran Smith of ForestEthics said that a decade ago, all the intact valleys in the area were slated to be logged or have roads built in them.

“Ten years ago we were at the blockades, the boycotts and in the board rooms and the war in the woods was heating up.”

That’s all changed now as literally hundreds of rainforest valleys have been saved from the chainsaw, leaving a blanket of rainforest with grizzly bears and wolves roaming freely and salmon spawning in every river, Smith said.

She said the environmental coalition will use the same model to save other endangered forests in Canada and the Amazon.

“The Great Bear Rainforest is Canada’s Amazon and today’s announcement is British Columbia’s gift to the planet.”

Dallas Smith, representing First Nations governments, said there was a great deal of animosity at the table when negotiations began.

“We remember when we went into that table and we were going to defend our rights and title if we had to die to do it,” Smith said.

The new agreement will allow for some mining and tourism – on three per cent of the central coast and 10 per cent of the north coast – and bring economic certainty for First Nations who have been struggling for too long, he said.

“The levels of unemployment, the social problems that we have are unacceptable but unfortunately it’s just been happening so long it’s been ingrained in status quo.”

Smith said the coalition of environmental groups has raised almost $60 million to support First Nations in implementing the land-use plan and is hoping the provincial and federal governments will match that amount.

“We’re hoping that the federal government is going to step up to the plate with a $30 million contribution,” she said.

Reynold Hert, president of Western Forest Products, said the new plan gives the industry, its customers and investors greater certainty about where they can and can’t operate.