Rainforest Solutions Project

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


Preserve half of rainforest, scientists urge

November 20, 2003

Study reveals millions of hectares of rainforest should be protected

(Vancouver, BC) – A team of scientists examining British Columbia’s coastal rainforest-an 11-million hectare swath of green stretching from northern Vancouver Island to Alaska- say at least 44 to 50 per cent of the land needs to be protected to maintain healthy eco-systems.

The scientific findings, a key element in determining the future of logging on the coast, go beyond what is currently being considered for protection and beyond even environmental demands for protected areas.

A draft version of the team’s report, which was commissioned by the provincial government, is the culmination of two year’s work and is first time such a comprehensive study has been undertaken to determine how much land it takes to support fragile coastal eco-systems.

It was released this week at a two-day conservation seminar at the University of B.C., prompting calls from environmentalists for greater protection of the region, termed the Great Bear Rainforest.

“We don’t think we can turn our backs on the science, which is painting a very clear picture that some large-scale protection on the coast is going to be important to maintain the unique bio-diversity there,” said Merran Smith of the eco-group ForestEthics.

“Our hope is that this doesn’t lead us back into conflict but the science is telling us a direction we need to go in. And that direction is large-scale protection and some lighter-touch forestry practices.”

In commissioning the science team’s work, the province committed to incorporate its findings in its final land-use decision for the region.

Sustainable Resource Minister Stan Hagen said Wednesday the report is only one piece of information in determining the final outcome for the coast. A table of stakeholders is drawing up land-use recommendations for the region, to be presented to the government by Dec. 31.

The provincial government then intends to hold negotiations with the regions First Nations before making the final land-use determination.

“I understand that is the science team’s view, but all of the other views have to be considered while this (land-use) discussion is taking place,” Hagen said. “I am certainly going to pay attention to this because it is important. We are committed to incorporating the science-based information. We helped fund it to make sure we get the best science available. But at the same time you have to balance that with community well-being and with the economy.”

Hagan was critical of eco-groups for promoting the report’s findings. “This is somewhat frustrating to me. Environmental groups are part of the land-use planning table. I can only assume they are playing some politics here which I find disappointing.”

To put the science team’s findings in perspective, the land and resource-use management table for the central coast is considering at the most, no more than 32 per cent of the land base.

The team of 17 scientists was commissioned by the province to identify priority areas for conservation in the 11-million-hectares of coast extending north from Knight Inlet to the Alaska border and the Queen Charlotte Islands. Their $3-million budget was funded equally by government, industry and eco-groups.

It is the first time an independent body of scientists has examined the coastal rainforest in such depth.

The key finding in the study of the coast is that between 44 and 50 per cent of the land base needs to be to be set aside for conservation to ensure at least 30 per cent of the habitat is maintained.

Setting aside up to 50 per cent of the land base to protect 30 per cent of the habitat of rare and threatened species is the minimum for ensuring species survival, said biologist Chuck Rumsey, manager of the scientific team.

He said the science team is not making recommendations but is pointing out the consequences of certain land-use decisions.

“We are talking about thresholds beyond which the long-term viability of species and eco-systems cannot be guaranteed,” he said. “If you want a healthy functioning coastal forestry system and you want to feel safe about it, then you are going to need more than that 30 per cent. If you go below 30 per cent, we are saying, as scientists, that we don’t feel with any certainty at all that you are doing enough to ensure those species and forest types are going to be there long-term.”

Planning table chair Jim Lornie said the science report is the first of three reports the table is going to take into consideration. The other two, yet to be completed, deal with social and economic needs. He did not want to speculate on the report’s implications for land-use decisions, saying it is up to the table of stakeholders.

Forest industry representative Ric Slaco said the scientific findings need to be taken into account with new logging systems using eco-based management, the “lighter-touch” forestry practices, along with social and economic needs.

“We are still in the information-gathering phase,” said Slaco, chief forester at International Forest Products, one the companies that will be most affected by the land-use outcome.

Slaco said he would like to see the report’s findings “field-tested” on the ground in conjunction with eco-based forest management before jumping to the conclusion that larger landscapes need to be put off-limits to development.

He said the social choices will have to be made based on the science and human and economic factors.