A forest solution in the making

The Great Bear Rainforest is a lush coastal wilderness where the salmon teem and spirit bears roam free. Until recently, this picture-perfect setting was under threat from industrial logging. After waves of local and international protests, discussions were held by the Government of British Columbia (BC), representatives of indigenous First Nations groups, environmental organisations and forest industry leading to landmark decisions in 2006 and 2009. A series of conservation agreements committed to protecting 70% of the natural levels of old-growth forests, as well as logging controls, recognition of the rights of First Nations inhabitants and measures to improve community well-being.

How did we go from certain destruction to forest protection in Canada's Great Bear Rainforest?


Stretching along the west coast of Canada, the Great Bear Rainforest is a spectacular forest ecosystem - a rich, dense, primal rainforest of towering red cedars and full of life. Grizzly bears, black bears and their genetic variant, the rare white Kermode or 'spirit bear', also depend on the rainforest for their habitat.


First Nations communities have lived off the land and sea in the region for thousands of years. However, with European colonisation in the 1800s, local economies were shattered, communities displaced and stewardship of their territories removed. Since then the communities have been recovering culturally and economically, with more and varied groups having a stake in the Great Bear Rainforest, including the logging industry and environmental groups.


With increasing international attention, the BC government was under pressure to act fast. In 2001, a multi-stakeholder land-use planning table brought together First Nations representatives, the BC government, industry and environmental organisations. A moratorium was adopted preventing logging in untouched rainforest valleys. At the same time, the BC government and First Nations governments began a dialogue which resulted in First Nations communities having a greater say over their traditional territories and future decisions regarding the Great Bear Rainforest.

Patrick Armstrong
forest industry consultant

Merran Smith
former director Forest Ethics

Pat Bell
former minister of Forest and Lands

Art Sterritt
executive director Coastal First Nations

Jody Holmes - conservation biologist


In 2001, the Coast Information Team (CIT) was convened by the multi-stakeholder planning table to develop a scientific foundation in answering the key question of how much rainforest needs to be set aside. The answer, plus other research would form the basis for Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM) and would guide the establishment of protected areas and new logging practices. The system draws on independent science to aid land and resource planning for the region. EBM guides the creation of protected areas, reserves and ‘lighter touch’ logging regulations, which lowers the environmental impact of logging while allowing for economic, social and spiritual activities that enhance the human well-being of the region’s people.

Today, independent science remains a cornerstone of the Agreements, and scientific research is used to further refine the mandate to protect 70% of old-growth ecosystems in the Great Bear Rainforest. Science will continue to play an important role in the future of the region through 'adaptive management,' which recognises that science, like ecosystems themselves, is a dynamic field, and that constant monitoring and updating of practices is important to the ecological integrity of the Great Bear Rainforest.


The Coastal First Nations - Great Bear Initiative brings together nine coastal First Nations from the central and north coasts, and Haida Gwaii. Similarly, the Nanwakolas Council is an alliance of eight First Nations communities in the southern portion of the rainforest. The North Coast-Skeena First Nations Stewardship Society represents six First Nations communities in the northern-most part of the Great Bear Rainforest.

These alliances of First Nations engaged with the BC government to plan and agree on land use in the Great Bear Rainforest through a new ‘government-to-government’ relationship in a way that respected and recognized rights and title, traditional territorial maps and values. A further aim of the new relationships is to share decision-making and revenues that may be generated from use of the land. As a result, meaningful first steps towards community well-being and social justice for First Nations peoples are beginning to be made as are a number of long-standing grievances over lack of control in their traditional territories.


Overall, the agreements have led to better protection of the forest, and a land-use model demonstrating that large-scale conservation is possible next to appropriately-scaled economic activity. Take a look at the '360' image below showing a First Nations leader guiding tourists in the Great Bear Rainforest – it's a great example of the way these agreements are benefitting communities, nature and nature-lovers.


Drag the image horzontally to explore in 360˚


Here's some of the highlights from the Great Bear Rainforest campaign - click on the arrow on right or drag the timeline to navigate.


The Great Bear Rainforest campaign is a success story in the making built around five key pillars. Each pillar ensures the current and future health of both the rainforest and those who depend on it for their living. In all, it's a proven case of economy and ecology being able to work hand in hand.

Eduardo Sousa - Greenpeace


In 2005, a mere 5% of old-growth ecosystems in the Great Bear Rainforest was protected, but by 2009, that number had increased to 50%. But this is not enough because independent science has determined that 70% is required for full conservation of the region.

For First Nations communities, several signed agreements with the BC Government now guarantee joint decision-making and a greater share of revenues generated by limited industrial activity in the Great Bear Rainforest. Communities also have access to the Coast Opportunity Fund, a cash reserve to support responsible development and conservation projects in the region. In addition, limits have been placed on grizzly bear trophy hunting, and eco-tourism ventures have been established as further sources of income for indigenous communities.

For the logging industry, these changes mean that companies with a stake in the Great Bear Rainforest have had to become more diligent not only in how they operate in the forest, but in the way they work with First Nations communities. Achieving FSC-certification ensures the logging companies are globally recognized, ecologically and socialy, for their improved logging practices.

Full implementation of EBM principles underpinning the Agreements has not yet been achieved. Negotiations are currently underway to reach the goals of 70% conservation and higher levels of human well-being by 2014 or sooner.

Greenpeace continues to work with its conservation allies and forest industry in helping design a long-term solution for the Great Bear Rainforest. Greenpeace also continues to support the aspirations of First Nations leaders in seeking further measures to improve the well-being of their peoples and communities.

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