First Nations, environmental groups and coastal forest industry representatives joined the Province today to celebrate achieving ecosystem-based management in the Great Bear Rainforest.
“Over the last 10 years we have worked with stakeholders and the Province to complete a common land and marine use vision for both the Great Bear Rainforest and the Great Bear Sea,” said Dallas Smith, president, Nanwakolas Tribal Council. “We are happy that we have also developed tools like Strategic Engagement Agreements and Reconciliation Protocols to help us continue down a path towards true respect and reconciliation.”
The Great Bear Rainforest was established through land-use decisions announced in 2006. This globally unique area covers 6.4 million hectares on British Columbia’s north and central coast, and is home to 26 separate First Nations. Ecosystem-based management in the area is defined as ‘concurrent achievement of high levels of ecological integrity and high levels of human well-being.’
“The Great Bear Rainforest, a global ecological treasure, has been home to our communities on the Central and North Coast and Haida Gwaii for more than 10,000 years,” said Chief Marilyn Slett, president, Coastal First Nations. “Today we celebrate the restoration and implementation of responsible land, water and resource management approaches in the Great Bear Rainforest. Ecosystem-based management is the modern term which describes what we have always believed and practiced: If we use our traditional knowledge to take care of our lands, waters and resources, they will take care of us. Our vision for the future is on where ecosystems and potential developments in the Great Bear Rainforest are in balance.”
Under the new Great Bear Rainforest land-use order, ecological integrity is achieved through increasing the amount of protected old-growth forest to 70% from 50%. As well, eight new special forest management areas covering almost 295,000 hectares will be off-limits to logging. Six may receive additional protection based on on-going discussions with First Nations. With the new measures, 85% of the forest will be protected and 15% will be available for logging, supporting local jobs.
“Over the past decade we have demonstrated that strong and empowered Coastal First Nations communities, along with the recognition of our Aboriginal Title and Rights in our territories, are key to the development of a healthy coastal economy,” said Chief Slett.
The land-use order also addresses First Nations’ cultural heritage resources, freshwater ecosystems and wildlife habitat. The amount of habitat protected for the marbled murrelet, northern goshawk, grizzly bear, mountain goat and tailed frog will increase as new reserves required by the order are developed.
“The Great Bear Rainforest is now a landscape of hope. It is a landscape where economic activity will again begin to align with nature’s limits,” said Jens Wieting, forest and climate campaigner for Sierra Club BC – on behalf of Rainforest Solutions Project, comprising Greenpeace, ForestEthics Solutions and Sierra Club BC.
“The new framework for the Great Bear Rainforest is now a reality on the ground. It allows for long-term prosperity, including forestry with certainty, and ensures that the magnificent forest home for Spirit Bears, salmon and wolves will be safe for future generations, Wieting said. “The outcome of our collaboration between governments, NGOs and forestry companies is reason for hope that a better world is possible.”
The Province has signed reconciliation protocols with the Coastal First Nations and Nanwakolas Council. Through these government-to-government relationships, separate human well-being agreements have been reached to address issues of special concern to each group of First Nations. Most notably, both have an increased stake in the forest sector. The commercial grizzly bear hunt will cease in Coastal First Nations’ traditional territories.
“I am proud of what all the partners in this long planning process have been able to accomplish,” said Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson. “First Nations have new forest tenures and an increased role in compliance and monitoring. One-third of the Great Bear Rainforest is fully protected, and the amount of old-growth forest protected is increasing to 70%. We are able to offer stability, economic opportunity and certainty for local communities and local forest companies along with their employees, investors and customers.”
The Province has committed to amending atmospheric benefit-sharing agreements with Nanwakolas and Coastal First Nations. This will increase the forest carbon credits they can use to support implementation of ecosystem-based management and community development projects of importance to them.
Because of the uniqueness of the Great Bear Rainforest and the innovative elements in the new and amended agreements, the BC government intends to introduce supporting legislation in spring 2016.