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OPINION: It's time to fully deliver Great Bear Rainforest agreements

Vancouver Sun - Jens Wieting, Eduardo Sousa, & Valerie Langer, November 4, 2014

OPINION: It's time to fully deliver Great Bear Rainforest agreements
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Photo by Cael Cook

People around the world care deeply about British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest because of its spectacular natural beauty, rich First Nations cultures and their hope that thriving communities and intact rainforest are about to become reality in this region.

The public’s optimism that this is possible is built on the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements announced in February 2006 by the provincial government, First Nations, a group of logging companies and environmental groups, which marked a breakthrough after years of land use conflicts, and were celebrated around the world.

By March 2009, a number of key milestones were met, including setting aside half of the rainforest, $120 million for First Nations community well-being and shared decision-making, and a new five-year-plan agreed on the outstanding steps to meet the goals of a healthy rainforest and communities by 2014.

Today, after years of technical work, negotiations and planning, all parties involved have a clear understanding of what the solutions package will include: improve decision-making between Province and First Nations; new human well-being commitments for First Nations; increase the amount of rainforest off-limits to logging to 70 per cent of the natural old-growth and an ecologically-sound forest management framework.

All that is missing at this point is for the B.C. government to heed the call from First Nations, forestry companies, environmental organizations and a majority of British Columbians (68 per cent, according to a 2013 poll) and focus leadership and resources to finish the task in the coming weeks.

Eight years since the historic announcement, here are eight reasons why now is the time for the B.C. government to fully deliver the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements:

1. Because there is only one Great Bear Rainforest.

Twice as big as Belgium, the region represents some of the largest intact tracts of coastal temperate rainforest on the planet. Temperate rainforests have always been globally rare, covering less than one per cent of the planet’s land mass, and today few areas remain unlogged. It is the only home of the rare white spirit bear and provides intact habitat for unique coastal wolves, grizzly bears and all five species of Pacific salmon.

2. Because we urgently need a model for an economy that respects the limits of nature.

The new approach to forest conservation and management introduced in the Great Bear Rainforest is based on Ecosystem Based Management. Its key principle is to respect Mother Nature’s needs and undertake careful planning to make sure enough forest is being set aside before logging happens. Whether looking at clean water, clean air, wildlife habitat or a livable climate: This is a model the world is desperately waiting for.

3. Because success is paramount to build trust that collaboration can work.

All parties involved, some of them with a long history of conflict, managed to move from confrontation to collaboration. With perseverance, vision and leadership, the B.C. government, First Nations, logging companies and environmental organizations have managed to work through complex issues and endorse an integrated set of agreements including conservation, economic activity, funding and decision-making. Not following through would put the trust in collaboration at stake.

4. Because it is a model for a new relationship between First Nations and the Province.

The government-to-government relationship and the resulting progress toward shared decision-making, reconciliation and revenue-sharing between the Province and First Nations has become an integral part of the agreements and implementation progress in this region. And it offers a potential answer to pressing questions arising out of the recent milestone Supreme Court William case that strengthened First Nations rights.

5. Because one of the best carbon banks on the planet will be protected.

There are few ecosystems on the planet that store as much carbon per hectare as coastal temperate rainforests. Protecting the rainforest keeps carbon out of the atmosphere. These large intact old-growth rainforest areas are more resilient than other forests under a changing climate.

6. Because it matters to B.C.’s coastal forest industry.

The conservation commitments contained in the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements have resulted in significant reputational benefits for the forest industry operating in the region (despite the fact that forest management remains dismal in almost all other parts of the province). But as long as conservation gaps remain, the marketplace remains concerned about potential conflict.

7. Because we will inspire action to protect the lungs of the world.

The world’s life support systems are on the brink. Intact natural forests are the lungs of our planet, habitat of a large part of the world’s species and home to hundreds of millions of human beings. Success in the Great Bear Rainforest will inspire change elsewhere, from the Boreal to the equator and beyond.

8. Because the world is watching.

The Great Bear Rainforest is a global treasure and its fate a global concern. From forest products customers to people working to protect tropical rainforest and Prince Charles, the world is watching to see if promises made in 2006 and 2009 will be kept. There are few moments in the history of British Columbia where a provincial government is presented with an opportunity of this global significance to show leadership and make a gift to the world.

Jens Wieting is Forest and Climate Campaigner with the Sierra Club BC, Eduardo Sousa is Senior Forests Campaigner for Greenpeace, and Valerie Langer is Senior Campaigner with ForestEthics Solutions.

Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/opinion/op-ed/Opinion+time+fully+deliver+Great+Bear+Rainforest/10350258/story.html


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