Rainforest Solutions Project

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


Landmark deal protects huge swath of central B.C. coast from logging

January 31, 2016

Originally published in the Vancouver Sun

Aboriginal chanting and drum beats heralded an end to the province’s war in the woods and a new era of cooperation in B.C.‘s Great Bear Rainforest.

In a ceremony at the University of B.C.‘s Museum of Anthropology on Monday, First Nations, environmentalists, forestry companies, and the province announced a long-awaited landmark agreement that prohibits industrial logging across 85 per cent of forested lands on the central and north coast.

Dallas Smith, president of the Nanwakolas Council, which speaks for eight Kwakwaka’wakw First Nations on resource issues, said he has been working on land-use policies on the coast for close to 20 years.

“I am proud and happy but still a little upset it took this long. Our communities are still not better places to live, yet.”

Wearing ermine-wool-cedar head gear, he joked that when he began the coastal land-use planning process in 1997 he was told it would be a two-year exercise. Ultimately, it spanned the terms of three premiers and an estimated 86 chiefs from 26 First Nations, he said.

Smith noted there has also been a significant evolution over the years as court cases have recognized First Nations rights in management of natural resources in their traditional territories.

“It’s been an interesting transition, a different world back then,” he said in an interview.

He added his people are interested in developing clean-energy projects within the Great Bear Rainforest, as well as earning money from increased tourism as well as carbon offsets for eco-based forestry and land conservation, and a potential forest tenure. Although there is nothing in the agreement that would specifically prohibit an oil pipeline, coastal natives remain staunchly against it.

Logging will be allowed on only about 550,000 hectares of the 3.65 million hectares of forested lands within the Great Bear Rainforest.

In addition to 15 per cent to be labelled “managed forest,” 43 per cent is designated “natural forest” and 42 per cent protected areas. The annual rate of cut is set at 2.5 million cubic metres. All parties commit to annual monitoring reports and five-year and 10-year reviews of the agreement.

The overall Great Bear Rainforest covers an area of 6.4 million hectares, including non-timber lands, from approximately Quadra Island to the border with southeastern Alaska. The agreement represents an end to commercial trophy hunting of grizzly bears by guide outfitters within the traditional territories of members of the Coastal First Nations, representing less than half of the Great Bear Rainforest.

Trophy hunting by B.C. residents will continue, but the province commits that commercial grizzly quotas won’t be transferred to residents as First Nations purchase remaining commercial quotas on a willing-buyer, willing-seller basis.

In an interview, Minister of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations Steve Thomson said the province continues to believe the grizzly trophy hunt is sustainable and scientifically justified. He rejected any suggestion the Liberal government is refusing to ban grizzly hunting outright for fear of alienating rural voters.

“Hunting provides significant economic benefits across the province … and the hunt is very carefully managed.”

He also noted that more than 1.1 million hectares of the Great Bear Rainforest is already closed to grizzly hunting.

The ecosystem-based management agreement is designed to protect biodiversity of B.C.‘s coastal temperate rainforest while allowing a certain amount of commercial logging and respecting the wishes of the First Nations who have lived on the coast for millennia.

The five forest companies on board are Interfor, Western Forest Products, BC Timber Sales, Catalyst Paper, and Howe Sound Pulp and Paper.

“There’ve been a lot of challenges along the way,” Ric Slaco, chief forester for Interfor and chair of the Coast Forest Conservation Initiative, said in an interview. “It didn’t just happen. It was an experiment within a cloud of conflict. It was very taxing on individuals involved in the process.

“If I have grey hair, there’s definitely a reason for it.”

Slaco said he has been involved in land-use issues on the coast since the mid-1990s. While the agreement results in a 40-per-cent reduction in logging in the Great Bear Rainforest, he said, it also gives companies a social licence to log and an expectation their operations won’t be interrupted.

ForestEthics Solutions, Greenpeace, and Sierra Club BC represented the environmental sector.

Not everyone is happy with the agreement. A total of 88 scientists from around the world sought unsuccessfully to have 20,000-hectare Gribbell Island fully protected due to its unique importance for Spirit Bears, the white phase of the black bear.

Ian McAllister, of the mid-coast environmental group Pacific Wild, said that despite positive aspects to the agreement “it is hard to describe the destruction” of 2.5 million cubic meters of coastal forest every year a conservation success. “We simply have to find a faster transition towards the full protection of our remaining ancient forest,” said McAllister, who coined the term Great Bear Rainforest.

Jens Wieting, forest and climate campaigner for Sierra Club B.C., said he grew up in Germany and enjoyed none of the wilderness values still embodied in B.C.‘s coast. “We don’t have wolves, bears and eagles,” he said. “But they’re still in the Great Bear Rainforest because it’s so intact.”

The process leading to the agreement was defined by how much landed needed to be protected to ensure the region’s ecological integrity, not the amount needed for logging, he said. “It also represents a very significant shift in political power for the First Nations.”

Valerie Langer, B.C. campaigner for ForestEthics Solutions, described the agreement as “one of the strongest forest management plans on this scale on Earth,” setting a “new legal, scientific and moral standard for maintaining forest health.” The agreement will also keep millions of tonnes of carbon locked up in unlogged old-growth forests, she said.