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 governments, environmental organisations and the forestry industry leading to landmark agreements in 2006 and 2009. These conservation agreements provided a foundation for the final set of conservation measures announced in 2016 that result in 85% of the forested landbase of the Great Bear Rainforest off limits to industrial logging, with additional social-cultural measures to enhance First Nations 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
Former Minister of Forest and Lands
Art Sterritt – Former Executive Director Coastal First Nations
Jody Holmes – conservation biologist
SOLUTIONS BASED ON SCIENCE
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 seven First Nations communities in the southern portion of the rainforest (the remainder make up the 26 First Nations 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 steps towards community well-being and social justice for First Nations peoples are have been made towards re-establishing control in their traditional territories.
ON THE GROUND
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˚
TIMELINE OF EVENTS
Here’s some of the highlights from the Great Bear Rainforest campaign – click on the arrow on right or drag the timeline to navigate.
Eduardo Sousa – Greenpeace
CELEBRATING SUCCESS IN THE GREAT BEAR RAINFOREST
After almost two decades of initial conflict and then collaboration, a coalition of environmental groups, First Nations communities, logging companies and the government of British Columbia have come to a final long-term agreement on how to safeguard the beautiful Great Bear Rainforest into the future.
In the 1990s only 5% of the Great Bear Rainforest was protected. First Nations, whose traditional territories cover the whole region had virtually no say over the clearcutting of their territories and benefitted little from such operations. Both factors led to a “War in the Woods” that garnered worldwide attention as a result of protests, blockades of logging operations and world-wide markets campaigns. Eventually the controversies, First Nations assertions of rights and title over their lands, and loss of market access for the companies led to the creation of collaborative tables (First Nations and the BC Government as decision-makers, and environmental groups and industry as stakeholders).
Always outstanding however was a ‘nuts-and-bolts’ plan that both ensured the long-term ecological health of the rainforest and also furthered the well-being of coastal indigenous communities who have relied on these ecosystems.
We are happy to report that now a package of solutions has been achieved between the government of British Columbia and the region’s First Nations governments, with support from the forestry industry, and Greenpeace and environmental allies (ForestEthics Solutions and Sierra Club BC). It legally sets 85% of the forested landbase off limits to industrial logging and limits that logging to only 15% of the region. We also celebrate the fact that First Nations governments have now revitalized and solidified their say over land use decisions with the BC Government, along with increased revenue-sharing. Communities continue to 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. This is a dramatic turnaround from the 1990s and worth celebrating internationally – a model for complex land-use solutions in an increasingly complex world.