Rainforest Solutions Project

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


Scientists Urge BC to Speed up Protection of Iconic Rainforest

June 21, 2012

Half of Great Bear Rainforest remains open to logging

A group of international scientists is urging B.C. Premier Christy Clark to accelerate the fulfillment of an agreement to protect the Great Bear Rainforest that was first announced six years ago.

Currently half of Great Bear, nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Coast Mountain Range on B.C.’s west coast, remains open to logging, although a 2006 agreement recommended that 70 percent of the natural old-growth forest be set aside.

A letter to Clark, signed by 54 scientists from nine countries, said the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement will be highlighted at the 2012 Earth Summit taking place in Rio de Janeiro this week as a potential model for global forest sustainability.

Dominick DellaSala, the chief scientist at Oregon’s Geos Institute and an expert on temperate and boreal rainforests, says the issue provides an opportunity for Clark to demonstrate leadership by getting the agreement fully implemented within the next year.

“Most of the rare old-growth rainforests outside of the tropics have been logged, making it imperative that we safeguard the Great Bear Rainforest—the largest remaining temperate rainforest of its kind,” says DellaSala, who initiated the letter.

“Scientists are eager to have a model of conservation that can be replicated around the world, and while we have hope with the Great Bear agreement, six years later it remains an unfinished job.”

Spanning 70,000 square kilometres, the Great Bear is known for its unique, undisturbed beauty and wildlife. It is home to native populations of cougars, wolves, eagles, wild salmon, grizzly bears, and the Kermode (spirit) bear.

The spirit bear, a unique subspecies of black bear in which one in ten cubs display a white- or cream-coloured coat, is extremely rare and resides only in the central and northern coast of B.C, where it is believed around 400 remain.

The forest also features 1,000-year-old Western Red Cedar and 90-metre Sitka Spruce trees, and has been inhabited for centuries by First Nations people who live off the land.

One of the biggest concerns for conservationists and First Nations is that if the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline goes ahead, more than 200 tankers a year—up to three per week—would be navigating to and from Kitimat through the narrow channels and inlets of the Great Bear.

High Profile Promise

The Great Bear Rainforest Agreement was initially given a five-year timeline, to be fully implemented by March 2014. But environmental groups say the agreement must be implemented before the B.C. provincial election in May of next year in order to ensure the terms are honoured.

“What we are really asking of the provincial government is to follow through,” says Valerie Langer, director of British Columbia forest campaigns for ForestEthics.

“It would be unconscionable for them to go all the way through to the election without completing one of the most high-profile promises that they made to the world.”

Most urgent, says Langer, is to implement protection of the remaining 20 percent of rainforest from logging—the minimum amount necessary to curb forest decline.

“In order to maintain forest health in the Great Bear Rainforest, 70 percent of natural levels of old-growth have to be maintained, and we’re part way there—we’ve now protected 50 percent. But we are not at 70 percent, so that means that we are actually just at a slower decline than it used to be,” she says.

“What we want is to stop the rate of decline and maintain a steady forest health—we haven’t got there yet.”

The government says it can’t accelerate the agreement without endorsement from all parties involved, including First nations, industry, and environmental groups.

“The province supports a quicker timeline, but not at the expense of having unresolved issues from moving too quickly,” Brennan Clarke, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources, said in an email to The Epoch Times.

“The B.C. government is only one of the parties at the table.”

But Langer maintains the province could easily implement the agreement within a year if they wanted to.

“It’s all things that really could be done this year if there was the will to do it—whether they have the will and whether they have the leadership to pull all the players together. And I think they can, it is achievable.”