Rainforest Solutions Project

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


Radical land-use plan proposed on central coast

January 16, 2004

Large areas will be set aside for grizzlies and other wildlife

B.C. environmental groups are giving strong support to a radical land-use plan that could restructure economic, environmental and aboriginal issues on the province’s massive central coast.

The plan, which has not yet been released in complete form, includes a reduction of about one million cubic metres in the annual allowable cut for forestry, large amounts of land set aside for the protection of grizzly bears and other creatures, and a land-management system based on ecological principles.

The full version of the plan is expected to be released by the Ministry of Sustainable Resources around the end of January.

The information contained in it forms the basis for talks between the provincial government and the First Nations of the central coast.

Those talks, which are expected to conclude by the end of April, are intended to draw the final blueprint for environmental and economic activity along the coast.

The land-use plan is the result of two years’ work by the Central Coast Land and Resource Management Planning table, made up of representatives from 17 interest groups, including coastal communities, First Nations, forestry companies, mining companies, the tourism industry, environmental organizations and the provincial government.

“This citizens’ consensus is a remarkable step forward for all parties,” said Catherine Stewart, a veteran Greenpeace forest campaigner who was involved with the talks.

“It lays the groundwork for peace in the woods, certainty in the marketplace and sustainability for communities.”

Sustainable Resources Minister Stan Hagen, whose ministry has shepherded the talks along, believes the agreement is unprecedented in its scope.

“This is the first time I’m aware of this sort of agreement being reached in an area that has so many challenges from an environmental point of view, and at the same time we needed to protect the health of the communities involved and work with First Nations.”

The group has been meeting regularly to seek solutions to the problems that have left the 11-million-hectare area, which stretches from northern Vancouver Island to Princess Royal Island, with high unemployment, a declining economy and frequent strife over environmental issues, some of which have brought the province critical international attention.

Jim Lornie, a former mayor of Campbell River who chaired the discussions, says the draft plan is very significant. “It’s a very strong agreement because it’s based on a consensus decision.”

Rick Slaco, vice president and chief forester for Interfor, the largest forestry company in the area, said the issues the group dealt with were tough, and the process involved changing attitudes to achieve outcomes that made sense to “the vast majority of people.”

The plan would reduce the annual allowable cut in the area from about four million cubic metres to about three million, and Slaco said forest companies and contractors have been told they can expect some form of compensation from the province.

“I think it’s a tremendous achievement, given the divergent interests,” he said. “I believe it’s something our industry can live with. The beauty of this coming to agreement is the fact that you actually have the optics of the people involved giving it the blessing to say it has met that public test.”

Hagen said the table has done “an outstanding job” and that the process gave the First Nations an increased voice in issues that directly affect them.

“I take my hat off to them: they showed real leadership and many good suggestions at the table that moved the process along. I’ve got nothing but respect for them for what they’ve achieved.”

Dallas Smith, co-chairman of the Kwakiutl District Council, Musgamawgw Tsawataineuk Tribal Council and Tlowitsis First Nation, who represented 14 First Nations from the northern end of Vancouver Island and the central coast mainland in the planning talks, said they provided clear direction for government-to-First Nations talks now under way.

“It’s hard to speak for all the nations I represent,” he said, “but I think the principal message will stay in the [final] documents.”