Rainforest Solutions Project

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


Protection of Canada’s Great Bear Rain Forest Can Be a Model for Future Conservation Efforts

February 22, 2006

(New Zealand) – Interview with Merran Smith, director of the British Columbia Coastal Program for Forest Ethics

On Feb. 7, an agreement was reached to protect the world’s largest remaining temperate coastal rain forest from destructive logging. Environmentalists, representatives of First Nations indigenous peoples, logging companies and the government of British Columbia, Canada, agreed to protect five million acres of the Great Bear Rain Forest — about the size of New Jersey — and to allow only sustainable logging in the 10 million remaining acres of the vast forest. The victory was built on a struggle in the early and mid-1990s to save the old-growth forest in Clayoquot Sound on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Merran Smith, director of the British Columbia Coastal Program for Forest Ethics, an organization based in Canada and the U.S. that is committed to protecting endangered forests. She discusses the evolution of the struggle and key elements in which it differed from past conservation efforts.

MERRAN SMITH: The protests on Clayoquot were the beginning of the campaign to protect the Great Bear Rain Forest, where we realized there were great wild ecosystems left, where we could protect not just the little bits that were left, but we could protect a whole intact ecosystem, where the predator-prey relationships — where the grizzly bears and the wolves and the salmon — could still roam.

BETWEEN THE LINES: How did you go about organizing the campaign to save the Great Bear Rain Forest?

MERRAN SMITH: It started with protests, and with groups like Forest Ethics going to the marketplace, to companies like Home Depot and Lowe’s, and saying, “This is what you’re buying; you’re buying the destruction of this globally significant temperate rain forest.” This area — the Great Bear Rain Forest — has one-quarter of the world’s remaining temperate rain forests. So it’s rare, and it’s enormously globally significant; it has grizzly bears, wild salmon — 20 percent of the world’s wild salmon spawn in this region — it has eagles, black bears, and you’ve probably heard about the rare spirit bear, which is a genetically unique black bear that’s white, and this is the only place where these bears live.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What are the lessons to be learned from your successful effort? What did the parties who wanted to save this huge area do differently from past campaigns that made it work?

MERRAN SMITH: I think there’s a few things that were key. For us, for the conservation sector, first, we had power. We had the power of the marketplace behind us.

We had Home Depot, and Lowe’s, and the German pulp and paper industry, and other buyers of B.C. wood products behind us, saying, “You know what” — and they’re talking to the logging companies and the B.C. government — and they’re saying, “What you’re doing here is not good enough. These forest practices are not good enough for this globally significant area.” And that changed the power dynamic, and that allowed us to really demand that a conservation orientation took place during the whole process of the decisions being made.

The second thing that was really important was everybody agreed at that point that we would have an independent science team that helped inform the land use decisions. So not the government scientists, not the forest company scientists, but we all agreed on a team of scientists who advised things going forward.

The third part was that the First Nations became — I don’t know if it’s right to say they were empowered enough, or that they were actually being listened to at this point — but they also created their own land use plan. And you know the First Nations — the indigenous people in the region — really have some strong conservation interests and wanted to see some of the significant areas from a biodiversity perspective were also significant areas for them, for their culture, and their history. So where the salmon runs were strong — the biodiversity, which was of interest to us, the conservation sector — that’s also where the First Nations were interested in having those areas protected. So that’s another significant factor.

And I think a very, very important thing, a very key factor, was that at some point we had to step out of ourselves and say, “Okay, let’s think creatively and innovatively and try to find a solution that is going to meet these other parties’ needs.” You know, I’m listening to these First Nations who live here, and who want jobs for their communities. How can we creatively come up with solutions for that? So, for instance, what we did then was turn to investors in the United States and Canada, and said, “Your interest is in conservation. Will you invest in these communities to develop conservation-based programs and conservation-based businesses?” And we have raised a total of almost $60 million right now, and we are looking to get that matched by government, both provincially and the federal government, so that there is a package of funds.

It’s not for compensation or anything like that for the First Nations, but it’s for their communities so they can create jobs based on conservation — it’s to help catalyze conservation-based businesses. This area is really Canada’s Amazon, and this agreement is going to be a gift to the planet, it’s British Columbia’s gift to the planet.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So, what’s the next step in this process?

MERRAN SMITH: I think it’s really important that we all remain vigilant and monitor and ensure that these agreements actually hit the ground, and aren’t just press announcement and great words last week, because making these agreements become a reality is the big challenge, making them change the way the economy and forest practices are. So, we hope everybody will maintain their interest and help us continue pressure on the government and industry to make sure this truly is a conservation victory.