It's report card time and members of the British Columbia government will not be taking this one home to the family.
Two years ago, the world praised British Columbia for forging a
great consensus - the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement. In April
2001, the long and intense battle over the fate of BC's Great Bear
Rainforest, the largest area of intact temperate rainforest left on
Earth, resulted in what many viewed as a great first step and a win
The BC government, First Nations, rural communities, forestry
companies and people concerned about conserving ancient forests for
posterity all walked away in agreement. A comprehensive solution
unlike anything the world has seen could happen in British
A key component of the agreement was a commitment to a new way
of logging on the coast, one that valued the coast's unparalleled
ecological diversity, and abandoned relentless and indiscriminate
clearcut logging. And many of the most crucial areas of
biodiversity were set aside for future protection.
In turn, environmentalists suspended an international markets
campaign that resulted in high-profile customers like Home Depot
and IKEA agreeing to stop buying forest products from the Great
Bear Rainforest if clearcut logging continued.
Since then, what has the British Columbia government done to
ensure this unprecedented "peace in the woods" remains intact?
Along with other groups ForestEthics, Rainforest Action Network
and the Sierra Club of Canada all involved in forging the agreement
and working toward long-term solutions for the region, we have
evaluated the government's progress.
Contradictory direction and a lack of open communication from
the government are raising concerns about the fate of the Great
Bear Rainforest. Cases of inconsistent government timelines and
breaches of process are numerous. It appears that internal strife
within the government itself is holding back progress.
Opportunities for lasting solutions could be lost.
Although the province may be upholding, for now, the letter of
the agreement, the constant delays and frequent attempts to
undermine the process and their boosterism of unsustainable
development belies any real commitment to change.
Internationally, BC's market reputation is at stake. A lack of
strong direction and clear communication from the government
regarding their commitment to a conservation solution for the Great
Bear Rainforest creates a climate of uncertainty.
In fact, a new survey by IBM Business Consulting of buyers who
annually purchase more than $2 billion worth of BC wood found that
"there is clear evidence of a greenward shift in the market for
forest products, including those from BC. The shift is real, buyers
believe it will continue, and it will have a negative impact on
forest regions and producers that do not respond to it.
But extensive analysis by the David Suzuki Foundation, Global
Forest Watch and the Raincoast Conservation Society shows that on
the ground logging companies have not changed their practices,
despite commitments on paper to "conservation" and
Since the agreement was signed, 72 percent of the logging was
done through clearcutting. In other areas the trees left standing
in logging sites are too few to sustain old-growth dependent
species and these meagre patches of forest cannot be described as
Improvements to practices are virtually non-existent and
destructive clearcutting of the Great Bear Rainforest continues
outside of the agreed moratoria areas.
Right now, British Columbia has the opportunity to lead the
world and create lasting conservation solutions, as well as capture
new market share for environmentally responsible products. Will the
coming months be a time of unprecedented progress or increasing
uncertainty for BC's coast?
The Report Card
Two years after the historic "peace in the woods" agreement,
none of the valleys have been permanently protected. In May 2002,
the BC government placed the valleys in "interim" protection.
However, this expires in less than three months, then the valleys
will have no protection from development and logging could resume
Credible Science: C+
A strong team of biologists and ecologists has been pulled
together, and good work is being done on the ecosystem-based forest
management. But the work of this team remains underfunded and
behind schedule. The delays are due to government's sluggish
delivery of critical scientific data and analysis, largely because
of ill-advised reductions in technical capacity. It is unlikely
there will be enough time to understand or adequately incorporate
the team's work in to the final decisions for the Great Bear
Forest Policy: D-
Earlier this year the BC government announced a package of
forestry reforms to agreements that have governed the relationship
between communities and logging companies for more than half a
century. While communities saw their longstanding benefits from
this contract simply eliminated with little in return, the logging
companies' benefits were greatly increased and further
These momentous changes have been drafted with the forest
industry behind closed doors and with no community consultation.
The government's policy changes will increase corporate powers by
allowing forest tenures to be subdivided and sold, while companies
are released from their obligations to run local mills and sustain
Ecological Management and Planning: F
Regarding the Central Coast the government has been sluggish
providing essential data and analysis to the scientists who, in
turn, has been unable to meet the timetable for delivery of
information. Instead of delaying discussion until they have
credible information to use, the government is forcing the planning
table to go over old ground.
On the North Coast several issues are causing profound concerns
among environmentalists including the tight timelines for the
planning process, limited capacity for First Nations to engage
effectively in this process, the government's continued approval of
raw log exports from the area and the proposed rapid expansion of
aquaculture on the coast.
Last year the government temporarily reduced the rate of logging
by removing 1.5 million hecatres from the Annual Allowable Cut, but
this decision also expires the end of June.
Managing Change: B-
While there have been some positive steps, BC's government has
slashed existing community economic development programmes on the
coast and the infrastructure for assisting economic diversification
has not been replaced.
While little has been done in coastal communities, there are
various initiatives taking place, including development of
potential investment models to help fund economic transition for
communities that want to undertake conservation-based planning. To
date, these talks, while they are promising, have been slow. A
committee is working on this project and the government and others
have committed funds to develop new models and securing
First Nations Rights and Title: D
The government-to-government protocol, signed by eight coastal
First Nations and the province, establishes mechanisms for land-use
planning and commits the two parties to both a framework for
environmentally responsible development and implementing agreements
that would provide economic opportunities for First Nations.
The province and First Nations agreed to develop a range of
economic strategies for forestry, tourism and fisheries guided by
principles of ecologically responsible management. In the past year
progress has been made to plan activities, but First Nations still
have not had any direct benefits.
Meanwhile, the province's changes to forestry regulations will
further infringe on First Nations' rights through the weakening of
provincial oversight mechanisms, without which it is questionable
whether the government can fulfill its fiduciary obligations to
BC's indigenous peoples.
Finally, the government's commitment to massive expansion of the
aquaculture industry has proven to be an enormously contentious
issue in First Nation communities. While one or two First Nations
are receptive to, or engaged in, fin-fish aquaculture, the huge
majority are adamantly opposed to the siting of this high-risk
industry in their traditional territories.
Download the full version of the Great Bear
Rainforest Annual Report Card (pdf,551k).