This amazing planet of ours has so many special places of great natural beauty, especially those enmeshed within a web of ecological relationships. I have been privileged to work in one such place of beauty and power: the Great Bear Rainforest. When I enter some of the intact forested areas within the Great Bear, I am awed and humbled, not just by the silent majesty of the trees but also by an almost palpable energy that is hard to put into words. If you have had the good fortune to spend time in an old-growth forest you probably understand what I mean.
Working with communities and alongside allies, I can truly say that campaigning to safeguard the Great Bear Rainforest as a true ecological and cultural gem has been, and is, a highlight of my professional career. Although I have been with the campaign for the past four years, the work to protect this magnificent region goes back almost twenty years. However it has really been the two goals arising out of the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements of 2006 and 2009 that have provided the framework to a long-term solution to the region: achieving low ecological risk while ensuring high levels of wellbeing in the communities of the Great Bear.
I have felt it wonderfully challenging and rewarding to help bring the promise of the Agreements to full fruition. Implementing one of the largest land-use conservation agreements on the planet through multi-stakeholder land use planning is no mean feat. Land use planning on such a large scale embedded within conservation principles involving indigenous and non-indigenous governments, is complex and challenging in terms of competing interests and visions, unreconciled colonial histories, and contested boundaries. And yet here we are, on the verge of fully realizing the vision of the Agreements: healthy forests and healthy communities.
As far as I know this has never but attempted on such a scale anywhere else in the world. But as the Great Bear Rainforest has shown it is possible to move from conflict to collaboration and innovation and the platform released by Greenpeace weaves the various strands of interests and visions into a remarkable tapestry that inspires once one immerses oneself in it.
The tapestry is a rich one, and I have been very lucky to be part of the many strands that make up part of it: the hard core intense negotiations, the visits to lush rainforests, witnessing potlatches (incredibly important cultural events in First Nations communities), taking a group of inner city Dutch rappers into the depths of the rainforest with a bear guide.
In essence, it all comes down to relationships- between people, between people and place, between non-human species, and between non-human species and place. It is a foundational principle of this work – that we are all in relationship with each other – there is no lone-wolf, no vacuum. And thus underlying this is the notion of respect – for the right of people to a happy and healthy life within ecological boundaries, for the right of other species to exist. And intrinsic to this is the importance of listening, really listening to other points of view. In the context of First Nations, it is so important to listen and respect their worldviews with regards to the land they have inhabited for millennia. And understanding these worldviews in the context of European colonization is also so critical, which severed not only ties to the land, but also between people, between families, between tribes.
Equally as important is reciprocity - that is, in seeking solutions, there has to be an understanding and need to act on providing equitable alternatives to status quo economic development.
The story this rich virtual tapestry depicts is, however, incomplete as the goals of the Agreement, 70% protection of natural levels of old-growth ecosystems and increased levels of human well-being in communities, remain outstanding. We are close – at least to reaching the 70% benchmark for ecological integrity. The logging industry and Greenpeace and its environmental allies are intensely developing a set of recommendations indicating what 70% will look like on the land-base to go to First Nations government and the provincial government of British Columbia. You can track progress by taking the pledge at Take It Taller.
Relationships, respect, listening, reciprocity, commitment to the long-term. These are just a few of the lessons learned on this journey. I still find it remarkable that, having grown up a Portuguese immigrant kid in the dense inner city of Toronto and going on to work in community planning and development, that I would find myself on the coast being interwoven into this tapestry, drawing explicitly on what I came to understand implicitly in the concrete jungle: the absolute importance of relationships, whether social, cultural or ecological.
I am really excited that what we have here on the west coast of the North American continent is a solution in the making that both inspires others around the world to apply these lessons to their own place-specific situation, and completes a huge land-use conservation-based planning process going well beyond conservation. Join us in exploring this exciting multi-media platform as it weaves these wonderful strands into a powerful, visionary tapestry that tells at least one major story of the unfolding Great Bear Rainforest saga.