Last week Greenpeace launched Forest Solutions: An insider’s look at Greenpeace collaborations in forest regions around the world. Eduardo Sousa, a Senior Forests Campaigner for Greenpeace shares his perspectives on the Great Bear Rainforest collaboration in the second of a four part series on forest-based collaborations for conservation.

Grizzly Bear in Great Bear Rainforest in Canada. 10/07/2013 © Oliver Salge / Greenpeace

The cultural and ecological richness of the Great Bear Rainforest is so profound that the only way to begin to truly understand and deeply feel the scope and scale of the ecology and embedded cultures, and how these intersect, is to spend time in the rainforests and communities of the region. As a forest campaigner helping to implement the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements I have had the privilege and pleasure of spending time with the majesty of old growth forests and the open-hearts of First Nations communities.

We are fortunate today that, despite ongoing threats to the region by oil tankers and pipelines, trophy hunting of bears, commercial overfishing, fish farms and climate change, 50% of the Great Bear Rainforest has been protected from industrial logging, and that coastal First Nations communities are increasingly witnessing a cultural revival, and improving quality of life- albeit way too slowly. However we didn’t get here overnight. In addition to numerous court cases validating First Nations rights and title in the 1980s and 1990s, it has taken almost two decades of campaigning towards solutions on the conservation side of things (the early battles against the commercial forest industry running roughshod in the rainforests are still vivid in the minds of many). And the work continues apace to complete the two goals of the Agreements: low ecological risk over time to old-growth ecosystems (getting to 70% protection of the natural levels of old-growth) and high levels of community well-being.

We are close though in realizing (at least) the conservation goal. Earlier this year we and our allies (Sierra Club BC and ForestEthics Solutions) reached a set of recommendations with industry on how to achieve low ecological risk while allowing for a viable commercial forest industry. This was provided to First Nations governments and the BC Government in their Government-to-Government deliberations. Governments responded last week on March 31 to our recommendations with a letter committing to best efforts to examine and implement the recommendations to reach both goals of the Agreements by the end of this year, and we welcomed this solid commitment.

March 31 is a significant date for many of us that have sought to successfully implement the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements. The ambitious Agreements first announced to the world in 2006 aimed for completion by March 31 2009. On that date in 2009, we didn’t reach our goal but rather succeeded in having 50% of old-growth ecosystems set aside from logging, with a five-year extension on developing a plan to get to 70%, and further commitments to improve well-being in First Nations communities.

March 31, 2014 - five years to the day - has come and gone. We still haven’t reached the 2 goals and this underscores how complex the planning and related issues have been, and continue to be. However given that we and our allies did reach a set of recommendations to get to low risk (the ultimate goal), coupled with the letter of commitments from First Nations governments (represented by Nanwakolas Council, Coastal First Nations–Great Bear Initiative) and the BC Government, we have moved significantly further ahead to the degree that we expect to finish by the end of the year.

In reflecting on all the work that has gotten us to this point, in terms of my time on the campaign in the past five years and on its almost-twenty-year duration, is that it takes a long time to develop and implement long term solutions to large-scale, complex land use issues, especially those involving conservation and indigenous rights and title to unceded lands. It takes a long time to get it right and even then there is a continuous process of adapting to decisions made this year and next, to unforeseen circumstances brought about by, for example, the ever-increasing impacts of climate change. 

But throughout the campaign and moving forward remains Greenpeace’s steadfast commitment to solutions-oriented campaigning. We would not have stayed the course for close to two decades if we weren’t committed to seeking solutions with decision-makers, and stakeholders such as members of the industry we were once in conflict with. Indeed our most recent forest report points out the importance of such solutions-based campaigning of our forests work around the world. I also feel a certain amount of pride in knowing the type of campaigning based on markets and solutions by working through bilateral and multi-lateral approaches in much of our work around the world was pioneered through the Great Bear Rainforest campaign.

Greenpeace Germany forest campaigner Oliver Salge standing next to a tree in the temperate Great Bear Rainforest. 10/07/2013 © Oliver Salge / Greenpeace

In a world of increasing social and ecological complexity marked by the very real effects of climate change and dwindling natural resources, solutions for global gems like the Great Bear Rainforest are more important than ever to inspire and move collectively towards a world many of us want to see – one where communities are able to live sustainably off the bounty of land and water, where inherent rights and title of indigenous peoples are meaningfully honoured and abided by, where the complex interplay of biodiversity and cultural diversity is upheld and deepened. Notwithstanding other ecological (and social) challenges, moving steadily forward with commitments made and kept, with solutions developed and implemented, we will get there. 

Eduardo Sousa (photo: Stephanie Goodwin)Eduardo Sousa is a Senior Forest Campaigner for Greenpeace Canada and is in love with the peoples, places and all matter of nature in the Great Bear Rainforest.