A Personal Perspective on the realization of the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements

By Bob Peart

In the late 1980’s I commented on the proposed forest harvesting plans for what was then termed the Inside Passage or Mid-Coast Timber Supply Area, now known as the Great Bear Rainforest.

On Monday, I witnessed the announcement of the final steps of the historic Great Bear Rainforest Agreements. After over a decade of negotiations, the B.C. provincial government, First Nations, a group of forestry companies and environmental organizations reached agreement that 85 per cent of the Great Bear Rainforest will be protected from harvesting through a combination of protected areas – primarily conservancies respecting First Nations traditional uses and the stringent application of ecosystem-based management principles.

The Great Bear Rainforest is a global treasure and now that it is set aside can be a landscape of hope where economic activity can occur that is aligned with nature’s limits.

As the ceremony unfolded, I found myself reflecting back on the 40 years I have been involved in conservation and land use issues.

Consider the anger and emotions that led to the ‘war in the woods’ in the 70s and 80s and the subsequent huge effort put into the land use planning throughout the 90s by government, industry and communities. These processes led to such iconic areas as the Tatshenshini, the Stein, the Kitlope, the Khutzeymateen, the Horseranch and Chilcotins being legally protected.

In turn, we mustn’t forget the tumultuous times around Clayoquot Sound, and the dogged patience of those folks in the Fort St. John region who spent seven years negotiating the establishment of the Muskwa-Kechika Management Area.

These processes and the countless hours that people spent at the various negotiating tables all over the province has led to about 15 per cent of the province now being legally protected from industrial development, a truly momentous achievement.

As each of these processes were being undertaken over the decades, scientific understanding has evolved as has the understanding of, and respect for First Nations title and rights – which in turn shaped the next set of negotiations.

It seems hard to fathom but not that long ago, government would set aside lands as parks with little sense of ecological integrity, and no concern for First Nation title and rights.

Today, land use planning brings local people into the conversations, and seeks to honour First Nations’ rights, cultures and practices and to integrate principles of core protection and landscape connectivity into the picture.

The Great Bear Rainforest Agreements provide an astonishing example of land use planning that defends nature, strengthens indigenous communities, honours the people who live there and accommodates economic activities without undermining the environment.

It is almost impossible for me to fathom the countless hours and energy that have been spent piecing these agreements. Let us all congratulate the people who were involved in negotiating the Great Bear Agreements and honour how this important accomplishment will help ensure a future for the people, wildlife and ecosystems of the coastal temperate rainforest. My hat is off to Jens Wieting, Sierra Club BC’s Forest and Climate Campaigner who has worked doggedly on this file close to a decade, as well as to his colleagues with ForestEthics Solutions, Greenpeace and the Rainforest Solutions Project formed by our three organizations.