Historic agreement reached for B.C.‘s Great Bear Rainforest

  • Published on Feb 03 2016 |
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On Monday, Coastal First Nations and the B.C. government announced a landmark agreement for the Great Bear Rainforest, covering 6.4 million hectares of B.C.’s mid coast and increasing areas off-limits to logging to 85%. The agreement, two decades in the making, is the result of an unprecedented collaboration between First Nations, government, environmental groups, and industry, and introduces a number of newly protected areas to the B.C. land base.

CPAWS-BC is thrilled to see this new protection, and congratulates all involved on their perseverance and leadership. There are several aspects of the agreement worth celebrating:

  • The new agreement has introduced eight new protected areas.  2.4 million hectares (38% of the region) will be protected from logging in Conservancies, Parks and “Biodiversity-Mining-Tourism Areas.” 70% of old growth forest in this region now falls under some form of protection. Logging is restricted to 15% of the Great Bear Rainforest.
  • This process presents a promising new model of how to engage with First Nations in decision-making over their traditional territories, acknowledging their role in natural resource governance;
  • The agreement contains measures to maintain small coastal communities and ensure their economic viability, signalling a shift away from the “boom and bust” pattern that the province is accustomed to.

While we take time to celebrate this agreement and what it means for the future of B.C.’s coastal ecosystems and communities, we remain concerned that weaknesses  in BC’s Parks Act could undermine this protection in the future. The passing of the Park Amendment Act in 2014 facilitates the boundary adjustment process for all of B.C.’s protected areas, leaving them vulnerable to industrial research, exploration and development. CPAWS-BC and locals have had to respond as projects like the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion have been given the green light to proceed to “Stage 2” to change boundaries to protected areas. These legal loopholes must be closed to ensure the long-term integrity of the GBR agreement.

Furthermore, we are aware that BC’s parks system as a whole remains desperately underfunded. The province has expanded our network of protected areas significantly over the past four decades, yet little to no additional funding has been put into management, monitoring and enforcement. The GBR’s coastal ecosystems are truly world-class, and management of these places warrants commensurate levels of funding.

Finally, we are concerned that parts of the Great Bear Rainforest will remain open to trophy hunting for grizzly bears, despite overwhelming public opposition, and evidence that bear viewing generates 12 times the local economic benefits.

Despite these concerns, we are optimistic about the future of the Great Bear Rainforest and the people that depend on it. We congratulate all of the parties involved in the tireless work that has gone into these negotiations over the last twenty years, and look forward to seeing how this agreement will be implemented on the ground. CPAWS-BC will continue to work to ensure the integrity of these new protected areas, as we have with existing ones, and that they receive the resources that they deserve.