Rainforest Solutions Project

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


Saving the Great Bear Rainforest with good marketing

June 17, 2015

Sitting in an Italian restaurant in San Francisco in 1997, a gathering of environmental activists wrestled with a marketing challenge. They were mapping out an ambitious plan to prevent logging of old growth forests along the edge of British Columbia’s coastline.

The area is visually stunning, and is home to the rare Kermode bears, which survive only in pristine sections of B.C.’s temperate rain forest. The group knew that these ingredients, matched with its clout in international markets, could be used to put significant pressure on the forest industry.

A map of the proposed agreement for the Great Bear Rainforest MULTIMEDIA Map: Proposed boundary for Great Bear Rainforest David Garrick, alias Walrus Oakenbough an anthropologist and Kumi Naidoo executive director of Greenpeace International on Hanson island off of Vancouver Island March 8, 2015 in front of grandmother tree estimated to be 1,200 years old. MULTIMEDIA End in sight for decades-long battle to protect B.C.‘s Great Bear Rainforest The elusive Spirit Bear, or Kermode Bear, forages for food after a long hibernation along the Nisga’a Highway in northern B.C. MULTIMEDIA Caught on camera: The elusive Spirit Bear, or Kermode Bear, after hibernation The problem was the name of the region: The Central Mid-coast Timber Supply Area. The intent of the campaign was to persuade consumers in Europe and the United States to stop buying B.C. forest products from the region. Asking people to protest against logging in a timber supply area was not going to fly.

At the table were veterans of the battle over logging in Clayoquot Sound: Chris Hatch, Karen Mahon, Tzeporah Berman, Valerie Langer and Ian McAllister.

They were searching for something evocative, something that matched the Amazon, the Serengeti, the Grand Canyon, in offering a sense of place.

After a few glasses of wine, the paper tablecloth was covered with potential new names: The Great Salmon Forest, the Spirit Forest. The word “wilderness” was discarded because it implied the absence of human settlements – and First Nations have lived there for thousands of years.

One name stood out by the end of the night: The Great Bear Rainforest.

Mr. McAllister, a conservationist and wildlife photographer, has spent more than two decades living in the region, where he has captured iconic images of coastal wolves, grizzlies and, above all, the region’s rare black bears with white fur, dubbed the Spirit Bear.

His images would be a key component of the campaign.

The Great Bear Rainforest campaign was launched, and both industry and the provincial government were immediately on the defensive, trying to figure out a way to eradicate the phrase. When that did not work, they eventually jumped on the bandwagon and tried to make it a marketing asset for B.C.’s forest products.

Last week, when the government announced the final stage of the historic collaboration to preserve the Great Bear Rainforest, Mr. McAllister was in no mood for celebration.

“The first time I saw this place, I thought we would have this campaign wrapped up in a year. That’s how naïve I was,” he said.

What he sees out his window is discouraging. Trophy hunting of bears continues, logging operations still threaten salmon-bearing rivers. The province eagerly is pursuing resource development that could allow a network of pipelines to slice through the region.

“Many of the valleys that Greenpeace and others went to the wall over back in the day are now being dismantled without any opposition,” Mr. McAllister said. “What is so essential is that we are vigilant. The story behind the Great Bear Rainforest is that there will be other threats that will come up, things in 20 years that we can’t foresee now.”

One thing that can be foreseen is the need to combat climate change. Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International, met with B.C.’s Minister of Environment, Mary Polak, in March to urge the government to complete the deal that has taken so long to negotiate.

It was not part of the dialogue around the table in the 1990s, but Mr. Naidoo now hopes to tie this forestry battle to the government’s climate-change agenda.

The destruction of rainforests is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. But preserving forests, which help absorb the carbon emitted by human activities, can allow the government to claim credit for moderating climate change.

“The region is also an important carbon sink, and thus from a climate-change mitigation perspective, it is vital as much remain intact as possible,” Mr. Naidoo said.

He would like the Great Bear Rainforest pact sealed by the fall. As an incentive to the province, he pointed out to Ms. Polak that the next United Nations climate-change conference, coming up in November, would be an excellent time for the province to trumpet the Great Bear Rainforest as an example of its climate leadership.

Just as it began, the bid to save the Great Bear Rainforest once again relies on good marketing.