Representing one-quarter of the world’s remaining coastal temperate rainforest, the Great Bear Rainforest stretches along the mainland coast of British Columbia from the Discovery Islands to the Alaska’s Tongass rainforest, covering an area the size of Switzerland. The region is both the traditional territories of many First Nations and also forms part of the country’s natural heritage and is a source of national pride.

The Great Bear Rainforest gets its name from the vast number of grizzlies, black bears and Kermodes — rare white bears found nowhere else on the planet — that call this magnificent region home. Along with bears, roam packs of unique coastal wolves, and endangered Mountain goats scale sheer rock cliffs. At-risk Marbled murrellets nest in dense moss found in the canopy of old-growth trees and soaring eagles keep watchful eyes over wild salmon. Five species of wild Pacific salmon close the interconnected link between forest and ocean.

Grizzly Bear in Great Bear Rainforest in Canada Great Bear Regenwald in Kanada © OLIVER SALGE

For thousands and thousands of years, coastal First Nations have also inhabited the rainforest- their stories, family names, ceremonies all bound in the intricate web of life created by land and sea in this magical place. But because of two hundred years of colonization that saw their lands and their rights stripped away followed by decades of unsustainable land management and industrial logging that spread destruction throughout their traditional territories, the ability of the land, water and wildlife to provide for future generations (not to mention social and cultural systems) was seriously compromised. This was the 1990s – a period marked by conflict between First Nations and the forestry industry as well as between environmental organizations and the forestry industry. This underpinned the ‘War in the Woods’, where only 5% of the Great Bear Rainforest was slated for protection.

 

Five years of effective markets-based and public campaigning which saw many protests at company headquarters and Canadian embassies around the world, as well as blockades of their operations forced the forestry industry to work with environmental organizations. In 2001 a "Standstill Agreement" was reached whereby companies agreed not to log in over 100 ecologically intact areas and environmental organizations suspended their campaigns targeting the companies. The companies and environmental organizations agreed to formally work together towards solutions.

In the interest of resolving the conflict permanently, the BC Government also set up a government-to-government process to address long-standing rights and title issues with the region’s First Nations and to function as a collaborative decision-maker table over the region’s future with respect to industrial logging issues.

Major alliances were formed by many of the region’s approximately 26 First Nations to interact with the provincial government at the government-to-government table. In particular, Coastal First Nations – Great Bear Initiative and Nanwakolas Council have represented two-thirds of the region’s nations.

These various processes began the 15 years of collaboration that sought long-terms solutions to ensure both the ecological integrity of the region and the uplifting of communities reliant on the rainforest.

All parties agreed to working towards the problems of industrial logging through engaging independent science experts. In 2004 a science panel recommended ‘Ecosystem-Based Management’ (EBM) as the new forestry framework, calling for a legalized network of protected areas, and additional ‘reserves’ - based on ecological and First Nations cultural values - to be developed and created in the rest of the region where companies would operate. The goal became 70% protection of old-growth ecosystems. The other goal of EBM sought to ensure and enhance the economic and social well-being of communities.

Aerial View of the Great Bear Rainforest © Greenpeace / Markus Mauthe

The goals of EBM were formally enshrined on February 7th 2006 with the provincial government announcing to the world the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements, committing to achieving these by 2009. Greenpeace proudly stood on stage with First Nations, our environmental partners, the B.C. government and forestry companies to celebrate the achievement.

Another milestone was announced in 2007 with the creation of the Coast Opportunity Funds: a $120 million fund for the region’s First Nations communities to use for both conservation projects and to kick-start a new conservation-based economy, as an alternative to relying solely on industrial logging throughout the rainforest.

Another milestone was announced in 2007 with the creation of the Coast Opportunity Funds: a $120 million fund for the region’s First Nations communities to use for both conservation projects and to kick-start a new conservation-based economy, as an alternative to relying solely on industrial logging throughout the rainforest.

By 2009, all parties realized that the laudable goals set three years earlier were not going to be met and that another five years would be required to plan out on the ground what 70% protection would look like andwhat a viable forest industry could look like. That said, that year 50% of old growth ecosystems were nevertheless set aside from industrial logging through a series of legalized protected areas; additional ecologically sensitive areas and places of First Nations interests were also set off-limits in the operating areas.

Although two years overdue, in 2016 both sets of parties have agreed on how the Great Bear Rainforest will be managed into the future in terms of industrial logging. As decision-makers, First Nations governments and the BC Government worked with recommendations provided to them in 2014 by the stakeholders - Greenpeace and its allies, and the group of forestry companies. The result is 85% (3.1 million ha) of the forested lands of the Great Bear being off-limits to industrial logging – an area the size of Vancouver Island. The remaining 15% (550,000 ha) that can be logged will be subject to the most stringent commercial logging legal standards in North America.

Great Bear Rainforest in B.C. © Markus Mauthe / Greenpeace

Although we have made long strides to protect the region, there are other threats to the Great Bear Rainforest that will need strong and resilient communities to take on these on, including mining, open-pen fish farms, and fossil fuel-based energy projects. Greenpeace will continue to monitor these and work with communities to arrest such developments.

Despite these threats, the campaign for the Great Bear Rainforst.is nevertheless a model for other seemingly intractable land-use conflicts in Canada and around the world – especially where indigenous rights are concerned.

To experience the story behind the Great Bear Rainforest, complete with interactive features, videos and stunning images and resources visit GreatBearSolutions.ca.

Topics