At least 85 percent of the Great Bear Rainforest, a dazzling stretch of old-growth wilderness along the coast of British Colombia, will be permanently off-limits to commercial logging under a major new agreement reached by environmentalists, First Nation tribes, forestry companies, and the provincial government.
The settlement, announced on Monday, follows nearly two decades of bitter fighting over the world’s largest temperate rainforest, one whose preservation is key to fighting climate change. It seeks to strike a balance between ecosystem preservation and commercial activities that help sustain indigenous communities.
“The Great Bear Rainforest is a global treasure, and all British Columbians have a stake in protecting it,” British Columbia Premier Christy Clark said in a statement. “Under this landmark agreement, more old- and second-growth forest will be protected, while still ensuring opportunities for economic development and jobs for local First Nations.”
Stretching from B.C.’s Discovery Islands north to Alaska’s Tongass Rainforest, the Great Bear is home to killer whales, sea otters, harbor seals, several salmon species, grizzlies, and extremely rare spirit bears—brown bears with a genetic mutation that gives them cappuccino-colored fur.
Under the new order, protected old-growth forest within the reserve will be extended to 73.6 million acres—roughly the size of Belgium—an increase from 50 to 70 percent.
Logging will be banned on an additional 730,000 acres, although activities such as mining, tourism, and biodiversity projects will still be allowed.
Many activists applauded the move, despite the logging provision.
“The Great Bear Rainforest Agreements is one of the most visionary forest conservation plans on Earth,” Valerie Langer, solutions director of ForestEthics, said in a statement. “It is a principled approach that sets a new legal and science-based standard for sustaining healthy forests and maintains intact old-growth that will keep millions of tons of carbon out of the atmosphere.”
“We finally have a science-based forest management system that recognizes the importance of maintaining old-growth forest in place,” Nicolas Mainville, a forest campaigner for Greenpeace Canada, said in a phone interview.
“The total area of protected forest will lock up about 640,000 tons of carbon pollution every year,” according to Greenpeace, which has been working for years with the Sierra Club and other environmental groups to win greater protections for the rainforest.
The deal also allows First Nations tribes to share in the decision making and profits from logging and includes a $15 million payment from the province to the tribes. The agreement also bans trophy hunting of grizzlies on their traditional lands.
Any logging will be governed by “ecosystem-based management,” which uses best scientific practices to strike a balance between conservation efforts and economic needs.
The timber industry “will be subject to some of the world’s most stringent commercial logging legal standards,” Greenpeace said in a statement.
Some people are opposed to allowing logging within the rainforest, Mainville said, but that was not an issue for environmental groups pushing for the settlement.
“We need to strike a balance, and that doesn’t mean shutting down all logging operations or mills and having jobs lost,” he said. “It means doing what’s right for the forest—and the communities.”