This past week marked the seventh anniversary of the announcement of the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements by First Nations, the BC Government, the logging industry and environmental organizations including Greenpeace.
The landmark agreements have sought to enable high levels of conservation over vast stretches of intact old growth rainforest in a way that also enables the region’s First Nations to prosper on their traditional territories.
It has been a privilege to be involved in a project and campaign that has had such laudable goals. I have been involved in the work over the past four years and without question it has been the most challenging and rewarding in my career as community organizer, planner, campaigner.
The campaign itself has been running for a close twenty years however, so it is understandable that conservation of the Great Bear Rainforest is not in the public eye in the way it once was. This is especially so, given that a significant amount of rainforest has already been safeguarded. But the 50% that has been set aside is not enough given that a science panel years ago determined that 70% of natural range of old-growth is the target. And so we continue to negotiate with the companies in the hopes we can sooner than later come up with a set of recommendations to go to First Nations governments and the BC government for their deliberation.
Notwithstanding the fact that the high public profile the Great Bear Rainforest receives is as a result of being threatened by the proposed Enbridge pipeline and super oil-tankers, I was heartened to see the results of a poll recently undertaken by Justason Market Intelligence which found that 68% of British Columbians really want the Great Bear Rainforest conservation agreements fully completed. People care about the region – the land, the water and the communities who have called the area home for millennia.
As a result of the poll, Greenpeace and its allies have sent open letters to each of British Columbia's main political parties asking for their respective commitments to completing the Agreements within the first 100 days post the May 14 BC election. We are hopeful the parties will include the conservation agreements in their platforms. Thus far we have heard from the BC Green Party and await formal replies from the other political parties.
I think this can be a fairly easy win. Much work has been done, and continues to this day, in order to try and achieve the two goals. While governments await recommendations from the joint work we are doing with our allies ForestEthics Solutions and Sierra Club BC and the forest companies on the forest conservation side, on the human well-being side progress has been slow with the BC government. The onus is really on the Province to demonstrate leadership and move on the needed economic and social measures that First Nations in the region need, and have identified, for community self-empowerment.
Eighteen years after the initial forest conflicts and seven years since the initial announcement of the agreements, it’s more than time to fully seize the moment and nurture the seedlings planted so long ago: healthy forests and healthy communities. That's the essence of the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements.