There are almost 30 indigenous First Nations in the Great Bear Rainforest, with archaeological evidence dating their settlements back at least 10,000 years. Today, the total population of coastal First Nations is estimated at 18,000 to 20,000. The advent of European colonialism brought massive changes to social, spiritual and economic structures, and had a profound negative impact on peoples in the region. Despite the challenges, many are in the midst of a cultural and economic revival as they seek to exert and gain greater control in decisions over their unceded territories within the Great Bear Rainforest.
There have been many logging and pulp and paper companies operating within the Great Bear Rainforest. Currently the major operators are BC Timber Sales (BCTS), International Forest Products Ltd. (Interfor), Western Forest Products (WFP), Timberwest Forest Corporation, Catalyst Paper Corporation and Howe Sound Pulp & Paper.
In 2010 BCTS, Interfor and WFP received Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification for a significant part of their operations in the Great Bear Rainforest. Haida First Nation-owned Taan Forest is also FSC-certified.
In the mid-1990s, environmental groups and concerned individuals were creating a strong movement for forest protection. Building on the Clayoquot Sound forest campaign, environmental organizations including Greenpeace, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Rainforest Action Network (RAN), andSierra Club of Canada (BC Chapter) would lead the Great Bear Rainforest campaign targeting big wood and paper product customers in Europe, the US and Japan. Some would go on to form the Rainforest Solutions Project (RSP) as a key stakeholder group in 2000.
The BC government has been pivotal to the long term solution for the Great Bear Rainforest. In the early 1990s policies of allowing massive old-growth forest clear-cuts were the norm. However over the ensuing fifteen years these have been transformed into new logging practices for the Great Bear Rainforest- critical to the long-term health of the region and those who depend on it. It took the concerted efforts of environmental organisations, First Nations and the public to compel the BC government to establish a planning table for all parties. The 2001 Framework Agreement eventually led to the landmark Great Bear Rainforest Agreements of 2006 and 2009. The work to complete the Agreements, however, remains unfinished.
Non-indigenous communities in the Great Bear Rainforest also depend on the forest for their livelihoods – whether in fishing, logging or ecotourism. Concerned members of these communities and members of the public from all over the world converged in the rainforest in a show of strength and solidarity. Many were arrested as they stood up to protect what little there was left of old-growth forests.