Rainforest Solutions Project

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


They’re not out of the woods yet, but Great Bear is quite an achievement

February 13, 2006

The war of the wood on B.C.‘s central coast was ultimately won by the best slogan.

Once the resource management area became known around the world as the Great Bear Rainforest, the fight was essentially over.

Still, negotiating the terms of surrender is a magnificent achievement for all the parties involved, given the blows they have exchanged over the past 15 years.

Premier Gordon Campbell made the announcement, but he acknowledged the work of former New Democratic Party premier Mike Harcourt, who started the land-use planning process, environmental groups that made it an international issue, the forest industry and native groups, all of which made significant concessions to reach the historic agreement.

They came out with more than 100 new parks and protected areas covering an immense area, large enough to get attention around the world. An awe-struck New York Times reporter called it larger than New Jersey. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer noted it was twice the size of Yellowstone National Park.

A much larger area is designated for some resource development — with severe restrictions. Some areas allow mining but not logging. Others allow limited logging with restrictions to protect wildlife and view corridors.

The total protected and managed area in the coastal region that starts halfway up Vancouver Island and runs to the tip of the Alaskan panhandle is twice the size of Belgium.

Everything about it invites superlatives and there is little doubt, based on the initial press coverage, that it has the potential to be significant asset as a tourist destination.

But the superlatives also extend to the size and complexity of the issues still to be resolved.

The agreement creates a management area, but the details of the management plan have yet to be worked out. That means the potential for the kind of disagreements that sparked the region-wide war in the woods still exists on a smaller scale.

In addition, some first nations have yet to endorse the plan, which means more work still needs to be done.
And there are still some costs yet to be assessed, including compensation to forest companies that are giving up cutting rights. To their credit, environmental groups that forced the forestry industry to come to the table through their international campaigns have tapped some of those supporters for $60 million.

With matching provincial and possibly federal dollars, they hope to help local first nations transform the economy so that, through tourism and careful forest management, the natural qualities of the coastal rainforest can be retained.

Despite the challenges ahead, British Columbians should be celebrating this accord. No doubt some will lament that the government and forest industry and to some extent first nations have caved in to the pressure tactics of environmentalists.

But the reality is the pressure that came from a global market can now be tapped to capitalize on what they have forced us to recognize is a tremendous asset.