At long last, today we celebrate the protection of the Great Bear Rainforest – one of the largest remaining coastal temperate rainforests on earth.
Greenpeace Canada began protesting against the destruction of the Great Bear Rainforest in the mid-1990s – exposing the story to the world through blockades, protests and banners. Along with other environmental organisations and Indigenous leaders, Greenpeace shined a light on the impacts of forest destruction on First Nations communities who have lived there for thousands of years and on wildlife like the rare white spirit bear. We used this spotlight to pressure logging companies and the local government to change their approach. And it worked!
After customers around the world threatened to cancel contracts that would cost millions and attract media attention, the major logging and pulp and paper companies agreed to sit down with us and work towards creative solutions.
A true team effort
Protecting the Great Bear Rainforest was far from a solo act. It took the work of many groups to take on this big challenge. Along with Sierra Club of BC and ForestEthics, we set up the Rainforest Solutions Project to take on finding solutions. And working closely with two major First Nations umbrella organisations – Nanwakolas Council and Coastal First Nations–Great Bear Initiative – we agreed with the companies on ways to best to protect the forest, advance community well-being and also ensure economic opportunities.
Together, we developed solutions to protect the integrity of the Great Bear Rainforest and support the community well-being for over twenty First Nations. Now these solutions are fully in place and will stand the test of time.
How is the Great Bear Rainforest being protected?
- 85 percent of the forests within the Great Bear Rainforest (much of it old-growth), totaling an incredible 3.1 million hectares, will now be off limits to industrial logging. When we started our campaign in the early 1990s less than 5 percent of the rainforest was protected.
- The remaining 15 percent of the forested areas of the Great Bear Rainforest that can be logged are now subject to the most stringent logging regulations in North America.
- Eight new protected areas have been established. Also, nine new ‘Restoration Reserves’ are being created for the southern areas of the Great Bear, which have been so badly damaged by industrial logging that they will be permanently set aside to allow ecosystems to bounce back.
- The rate of cut in the Great Bear Rainforest has gone WAY down – around a 40 percent reduction since Greenpeace’s campaign began.
- Better protections for bear dens and endangered micro-ecosystems are now in place.
- Greater transparency on how forestry will be occurring in the region through annual reporting and innovative monitoring approaches will now be the norm.
- The limits to industrial logging will be legislated in a new law to be called the Great Bear Rainforest Act. This will provide ecological as well as economic certainty long into the future.
Equally important is that community well-being measures designed to help First Nation’s leaders to uplift their communities have been put in place:
- First Nations shared decision-making with the British Columbia government is further solidified over land use in their traditional territories. There are now legal requirements to maintain areas of cultural, ecological and economic significance to the region’s First Nations.
- Economic opportunities for First Nations communities, including revenue sharing, are also part of the agreement.
What we now have in the Great Bear Rainforest is one of the most comprehensive conservation and forest management plans of this scale on Earth.
Today is a day to celebrate and be grateful for what has been accomplished in the Great Bear Rainforest. Our gratitude especially goes to the twenty plus First Nations who have shown leadership in planning for greater conservation for their traditional territories, taking a leap of faith that stewardship, ecology and good economic development can work hand in hand.
And a big thank you to the Greenpeace supporters and activists who have done so much over the past twenty years – from being on blockades and scaling freighters loaded with old growth logs, to stuffing envelopes and raising funds in order to allow our campaign to succeed. This is your celebration.
Please join us in sharing this incredible, groundbreaking achievement with your friends and family.
Eduardo Sousa is senior forest campaigner for Greenpeace Canada.
A version of this blog was originally posted by Greenpeace Canada.