The Dominion  [Printer-friendly version]
March 7, 2006


A decade of negotiations give way to an unprecedented agreement

[Rachel's introduction: A stunning new agreement, negotiated over the
past 10 years, allows millions of acres of land in Canada to be
managed in accordance with ecosystem-based guidelines, including
the precautionary principle.]

By Yuill Herbert, The Dominion

In February, the Great Bear Rainforest agreement was announced in the
media around the world; the story was printed in over a thousand
newspapers, including coverage in India, Russia and China.

The agreement covers an area that represents 45 per cent of North
America's three temperate rainforest ecoregions. New parks total 1.8
million hectares -- more than three times the size of Prince Edward
Island. Another 4.6 million hectares are subject to a strict new
management regime that puts the ecosystem first.

The Great Bear Rainforest contains the world's largest tracts of
intact temperate rainforest, and it is home to spawning runs for 20
per cent of the world's remaining wild salmon. The area is so rich in
wildlife and flora that biologists have compared it to the Galapagos
Islands and the Amazon jungles. The agreement means that habitat for
endangered species including grizzlies, the total population of 400
white "spirit" bears, coastal wolves, peregrine falcons, and the
Northern Goshawk is preserved.

Unprecedented collaboration

In 1993, following protests and blockades, the British Columbia
government announced the Clayoquot compromise -- a deal that protected
33 per cent of the region, leaving the rest to be logged. The decision
sparked the largest act of civil disobedience in Canada's history;
that summer more than 850 people were arrested. First Nations were not
consulted and the communities remain divided over logging in
Clayoquot Sound.

The focus shifted to the Great Bear Rainforest with its hundreds of
pristine and intact watersheds. In a high profile international
campaign, a collaboration of environmental groups forced the customers
of the companies operating in the Great Bear Rainforest to cancel
contracts. Over 80 companies, including Ikea, Home Depot, Staples and
IBM, committed to stop selling wood and paper products made from
ancient forests.

As a result of the market pressure lumber companies on the coast began
to shift their approach and agreed to sit down with the environmental

"It was tough in the beginning, but everyone agreed in the end," says
Lisa Matthaus of the Sierra Club. "People came to accept that they no
longer had the social licence to log in the way or in the places that
they were, so it had to change."

The Joint Solutions Project was formed in 2000 as an initiative
between coastal forest companies and a coalition of environmental
groups including ForestEthics, Sierra Club of BC, Greenpeace and
Rainforest Action Network.

While a land use plan was being developed, the coastal forest industry
agreed to stop logging in exchange for a hold on the environmental
groups' market campaigns. They then agreed to create a team of
international and local scientists to create ecosystem-based
management (EBM) for the coastal forests using the best available
conservation biology. Environmental groups and industry each raised
$600,000 to support this process with provincial and federal
governments providing the remainder.


Sidebar: Ecosystem-Based Management Guiding Principles

Ecological Integrity Is Maintained: Biological richness and the
ecosystem services provided by natural terrestrial and marine
processes are sustained at all scales through time.

Wellbeing Is Promoted: A diversity of economic opportunities is key to
healthy communities and sustainable economies.

Cultures, Communities, and Economies Are Sustained within the Context
of Healthy Ecosystems: This idea of entrenching a demand for both
human wellbeing and ecosystem integrity veers sharply away from
thinking in terms of a "trade-off" between people and the environment.

Aboriginal Rights and Title Are Recognized and Accommodated: First
Nations assert aboriginal rights and title to the lands and resources
within their territories.

The Precautionary Principle Is Applied: the proponent of change in the
ecosystem should err on the side of caution, and the onus is on the
proponent to show that ecological risk thresholds are not exceeded.

EBM Is Collaborative: Collaborative processes are broadly
participatory; respect the diverse values, traditions, and aspirations
of local communities, and incorporate the best of existing knowledge
(traditional, local, and scientific).

People Have a Fair Share of the Benefits from the Ecosystems in Which
They Live: In the past, the burdens imposed on the local communities
by externally driven activities have been greater than the benefits
the communities have received.

Source: Coast Information Team (2004): Ecosystem-based Management


Two multi-stakeholder processes had been mandated by the province to
develop land use plans for the Great Bear Rainforest region. The Joint
Solutions Project fed the conclusions of its scientific work into this

Meanwhile, but separately, the David Suzuki Foundation was working
with a group of eight coastal First Nations in an initiative called
the Turning Point to develop a set of principles for EBM. To many
coastal First Nations, EBM represents a scientific articulation of
thousands of years of cultural practice and traditional resource use.

The area that is not protected will be managed according to the EBM
process. "This is a transformation of what happens in the British
Columbia forest," Merran Smith of ForestEthics says. "The revolution
is looking at a standing forest not as a commodity, but as an economic
model based on conservation."

The BC government took the land use plans developed by the multi-
stakeholder committees and entered into unprecedented government-to-
government negotiations with the First Nations, who had developed
their own land use plans. The final outcome is a compromise between
the two parties.

"It's a cultural shift," says Shawn Kenmuir, an area manager for
Triumph Timber, which has already forsaken old clear-cut practices and
begun consulting with the Gitga'at before cutting on their traditional
lands. "We've started the transition from entitlement to

Many areas that will be preserved have been chosen based on the oral
tradition of native groups and the opinions of their elders. These
include areas with cultural significance such as ancient cemeteries,
or areas that contain medicinal herbs and cedars big enough to make
totem poles, canoes and longhouses.

"We are [excited]. We all [coastal First Nations] came together and
agreed to something that hasn't happened for a long time", says Ross
Wilson, chairman of the tribal council of the Heiltsuk, one of the
native nations involved.

"Now we can manage our destiny. Without this agreement, we would be
going to court forever and we would have to put our children and old
ladies dressed in button blankets in the way of the chain saws."

Transforming the economy

"For all the First Nations the value to protect the Great Bear
Rainforest is utmost, not only for cultural and environmental but also
for economic reasons," says Ross Wilson. To emphasize the economic
benefits of preservation, he adds, "The hunter comes in and pays a lot
for one night but you can never see that bear again; with wildlife
viewing, as long as that bear lives you can have tourism activities
that happen year after year."

This philosophy is supported by an innovative $120 million endowment
to support the creation of a conservation economy in the Great Bear
Rainforest. It includes: $30 million contributed by the BC government
to help ease the transition of impacted forestry workers; $60 million
raised by the US-based Nature Conservancy from donors and foundations;
and a $30 million contribution from the federal government.

The endowment includes a Coast Conservation Fund that will invest in
skills development and monitoring amongst First Nations to guarantee
the implementation of the Great Bear Agreement. A Coast Economic
Development Fund will invest in shellfish aquaculture, cruise-ship
tourism, sustainable forestry, conservation activities, fisheries,
high-end lodge tourism, and pine mushroom harvesting, potentially
creating up to 1700 new jobs.

In addition, Vancouver-based credit union VanCity will create an
innovative fund with up to $80 million dollars from socially
responsible investors for sustainable economic initiatives on the

Challenges Remain

Environmental groups acknowledge that challenges remain. It is not
clear what EBM will actually look like on the ground. A number of
First Nations groups have yet to sign government-to-government

Both the David Suzuki Foundation and the Raincoast Conservation
Society point out that the agreement does not meet the minimum target
of 44 per cent protection that the scientific body indicated was
required to ensure that biodiversity is maintained.

"Raincoast supports the legislating of the proposed protected areas,
but the province should do so with the full knowledge and recognition
that lasting protection of the Great Bear Rainforest will require
additional steps and commitment from all parties," says Raincoast
Conservation Society's executive director, Chris Genovali.

The entire population of the spirit bear lives in the Great Bear
Rainforest photo: Forest Ethics
And, as the Globe and Mail article pointed out, if the lifting of the
oil and gas moratorium on the BC coast will mean that supertankers
loaded with tar sands oil enter the Queen Charlottes basin, then an
ecosystem that is inextricably linked with the ocean will be

"Greenpeace will be watching to see if the British Columbian
government follows through on these commitments and takes this
opportunity to make the Great Bear Rainforest a global model of forest
sustainability," says Amanda Carr, forest campaigner for Greenpeace