Landmark deal protects huge swath of central B.C. coast from logging
Industrial logging will be prohibited across 85 per cent of forested lands within B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest, according to a long-awaited landmark agreement announced Monday in Vancouver by the province, First Nations, environmentalists and forest companies.
In a ceremony at the University of B.C.’s Museum of Anthropology, the various stakeholders announced that logging will be allowed on only about 550,000 hectares of the 3.65 million hectares of forested lands on the central and north coast.
In addition to 15 per cent to be labelled “managed forest,” 43 per cent is designated “natural forest” and 42 per cent protected areas. The annual rate of cut is set at 2.5 million cubic metres. All parties commit to annual monitoring reports and five-year and 10-year reviews of the agreement.
The agreement also will put an end to commercial trophy hunting of grizzly bears by guide outfitters within those traditional territories of Coastal First Nations, representing about one third of the Great Bear Rainforest.
Trophy hunting by B.C residents will continue; however the province has agreed that commercial grizzly quotas won't be transferred to residents as First Nations purchase remaining commercial quotas on a "willing buyer willing seller" basis.
The ecosystem-based management agreement is designed to protect biodiversity of B.C.’s coastal temperate rainforest while allowing a certain amount of commercial logging and respecting the wishes of the First Nations who have lived on the coast for millennia.
The five forest companies on board are Interfor, Western Forest Products, BC Timber Sales, Catalyst Paper, and Howe Sound Pulp and Paper.
“There’ve been a lot of challenges along the way,” Ric Slaco, chief forester for Interfor and chair of the Coast Forest Conservation Initiative, said in an interview. “It didn’t just happen. It was an experiment within a cloud of conflict. It was very taxing on individuals involved in the process.
“If I have grey hair, there’s definitely a reason for it.”
Slaco said he has been involved in land-use issues on the coast since the mid-1990s. While the agreement results in a 40-per-cent reduction in logging in the Great Bear Rainforest, he said, it also gives companies a social licence to log and an expectation their operations won’t be interrupted.
The overall Great Bear Rainforest covers an area of 6.4 million hectares, including non-timber lands, from approximately Quadra Island to the Alaska border. Thirty-eight-per-cent of this greater land base is protected area.
More than two dozen First Nations participated in the agreement.
Dallas Smith, president of the Nanwakolas Council, which speaks for eight Kwakwaka’wakw First Nations on resource issues, said there has been a significant evolution over the years as court cases have recognized First Nations rights in management of natural resources in their traditional territories. “It’s been an interesting transition, a different world back then,” he said of when land-use talks began on the coast.
ForestEthics Solutions, Greenpeace, and Sierra Club BC represented the environmental sector.
Jens Wieting, forest and climate campaigner for Sierra Club BC, said he grew up in Germany and enjoyed none of the wilderness values still embodied in BC’s coast. “We don’t have wolves, bears and eagles,” he said. “But they’re still in the Great Bear Rainforest because it’s so intact.”
The process leading to the agreement was defined by how much landed needed to be protected to ensure the region’s ecological integrity, not the amount needed for logging, he said. “It also represents a very significant shift in political power for the First Nations.”
Valerie Langer, B.C. campaigner for ForestEthics Solutions, described the agreement as “one of the strongest forest management plans on this scale on Earth,” setting a “new legal, scientific and moral standard for maintaining forest health.” The agreement will also keep millions of tonnes of carbon locked up in unlogged old-growth forests, she said.
Not everyone is happy with the agreement. A total of 88 scientists from around the world sought unsuccessfully to have 20,000-hectare Gribbell Island fully protected due to its unique importance for Spirit Bears, the white phase of the black bear.
Ian McAllister, of the mid-coast environmental group Pacific Wild, said that despite positive aspects to the agreement “it is hard to describe the destruction” of 2.5 million cubic meters of coastal forest every year a conservation success. “We simply have to find a faster transition towards the full protection of our remaining ancient forest,” said McAllister, who coined the term Great Bear Rainforest.