Rainforest Solutions Project

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


Rainforest clear-cuts persist, groups complain

March 30, 2007

(Vancouver, BC) – When Premier Gordon Campbell announced last year that nearly two million hectares in the heart of British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest were being protected, he promised a new type of ecosystem-based management would be developed to control logging in the remaining four million hectares.

But now three leading environmental groups, which helped work out the unprecedented deal to save a rain forest so ecologically rich it’s often compared with the Amazon, say that despite a lot of talk — and the raising of $120-million in private and government funding — little has been done to shift to the new “soft impact” logging that Mr. Campbell said would be in place by 2009.

The forest industry disagrees and argues that progress is being made, although changing to a new, more complex style of logging is taking longer than expected.

The Great Bear, which stretches along the B.C. coast from just north of Vancouver Island to the Alaska Panhandle, is the largest intact temperate rain forest left in the world.

It is an iconic wilderness that for 20 years was the focus of an environmental campaign to protect it. Last year’s announcement made headlines around the world because such a massive area was set aside and special management was promised for the rest.

Soft-impact logging, or ecosystem-based management, is expected to result in smaller, selective cuts and minimal impact on the environment, rather than in the controversial, sweeping clear-cuts that have long been found in B.C.‘s forests.

But little has changed so far on the ground, say representatives of Greenpeace, ForestEthics and the Sierra Club of Canada.

They complain that hillsides in the Great Bear Rainforest are still being clear-cut because industry is having trouble changing logging methods that have been in use for the past century.

The three groups are launching a web-based public information campaign today (www.greatbearwatch.ca) they hope will push the process forward.

“We are trying to spur progress,” said Valerie Langer of ForestEthics.

“If we don’t have success it’s going to be a disaster for the environment . . . and for the environmental movement.”

The three environmental groups became signatories to the Great Bear Rainforest deal only because they believed it would showcase a new, sustainable type of logging.

But Ms. Langer said getting past the talking stage, to actually implementing eco-based logging, is proving difficult.

“We have a structural problem,” she said.

“The industry here and the government that governs that industry, and the economy, are all based on maintaining an unsustainable level of cut. They want to take too much, too fast — and changing that is a real challenge. It requires a transition and transformation of an industry.”

Ms. Langer said ecosystem-based logging hasn’t been tried anywhere in the world on an industrial scale, so nobody is sure exactly how it will work or what it looks like.

But Lisa Matthaus, campaign director of the Sierra Club of Canada, said they know the new logging doesn’t look like the clear-cuts that are continuing to appear in the Great Bear Rainforest.

“We are seeing clear-cuts, landslides, the same old stuff. Right now the forest industry has a volume-driven model and we are talking about turning that on its head. . . . It’s complex, but we can’t duck the problem and we can’t afford to fail,” she said.

Stan Coleman, manager of strategic planning for Western Forest Products, one of five industry signatories to the Great Bear Rainforest deal, said the shift that’s envisioned is not going to be easy to accomplish, but he is confident it will happen.

“We are making progress. . . . We are seeing some stuff change on the ground. And we are all fully committed to making the 2009 deadline,” he said.

Mr. Coleman said the type of logging that is being talked about is far more environmentally complex than anything that’s been tried anywhere in the world before. At the same time industry has to weigh the social and economic factors, so that the logging operations are financially sustainable.

“We are basically looking now at how to put the whole system together,” he said.

And Mr. Coleman said there are no models out there for industry to follow.

“You can always learn from looking elsewhere, but we are definitely breaking new ground here.”