A victory we won in 2006 has come to fruition this month. Tamara Stark, now the communications director at our office in the UK was one of the Greenpeace forest campaigners who won protection for Canada's Great Bear rainforest. She wrote this piece for our UK website.
An era ended for me this week when the government of the Canadian province of British Columbia finally protected my extraordinarily beautiful Great Bear Rainforest. Today, more than one-third of the largest intact area of temperate rainforest left in the world is legally off-limits to logging - an area half the size of Switzerland. For many people it's a pretty emotional moment.I say "my" somewhat facetiously, because clearly I'm conscious of the fact that this is a global treasure that belongs to us all. And yet because I'm from British Columbia, and because the Great Bear campaign is where I cut my teeth as a campaigner, it feels a bit like it is my forest. It was a long, hard slog to get to this week, I must say, but along the way we 'baby' campaigners certainly learned a lot.
It was back in 1997 when we first started working to stop the destruction of the Canadian rainforest, which is amongst the longest-lived forests in the world. It contains trees that can grow to be over 1,000 years old, with healthy populations of grizzly bears and the white spirit bear also calling it home. Clearcutting - a logging practice that fells all trees in a given area - was common practice then, and we'd already lost a lot of the forest when Greenpeace and our allies decided enough was enough.
At the time, the logging companies were firmly entrenched and not prepared to give up what were some of the most economically valuable forests in the world. We were equally determined that they would and, as a result, it was years and years of struggle. Many people, including First Nations leaders whose people had lived in these rainforests for thousands of years, were arrested for peacefully protesting.
The logging companies sued us a number of times, in the lawsuits naming both Greenpeace as well as some of us individually (which really freaked out my mother, I have to say!) At one point the premier of the province called Greenpeace an "enemy of British Columbia", while at the same time the leading newspaper said we were "on the side of the angels" for stopping the clearcutting. It was a hugely contentious issue in Canada - although not so much in other countries, such as the UK.
Here, customers ranging from the magazine publication arm of the BBC, conservatory maker Amdega and DIY giant B&Q pressed the governments and logging companies in Canada to change, and thousands of people from here and around the world raised their voices in support of the Great Bear.
Finally, after about five years of struggle, we got them to call a temporary halt to logging the intact rainforest valleys, and a land-use planning process got underway.
It's taken another five or six years to produce the best possible scientific analyses and to negotiate with the logging companies and unions to agree to protect large tracts of the rainforest. Greenpeace worked with other environmental groups to raise $120 million to help enable First Nation communities to kick-start a conservation economy as an alternative to logging - something we don't often do, but found necessary in this case to support the local communities' development.
To the very best of our understanding, this is the most stringent conservation model in the world, and one we hope can be advanced elsewhere - because it's pretty obvious we still have a lot to do in places such as Indonesia, the Amazon and the Congo! But for the Great Bear Rainforest, today let's breathe a sigh of relief and savour this moment.
A couple of years ago I was working for the Greenpeace office in China but I returned to Canada for a planning meeting with our colleagues in an intact valley called the Koeye. Quite sanely, we built in some time to hike in the rainforest and canoe the Koeye River, when out of nowhere a white wolf and her mate appeared and began howling to each other - singing, really.
It was one of the most magical moments of my life, and today I'm so completely and utterly grateful that now the forest's future is assured, many of you could also experience the same in your lifetime. For so many of you who helped get us to this moment, I can only say thank you so much for caring and contributing. Your voices mattered and makes today a day to celebrate.