British Columbia reached an agreement this week to protect the Great Bear Rainforest from development and logging. This, after a 20-year battle against the logging industry.
[Note: Embedded Instagrams courtesy of Ian McCallister, Wildlife Photographer and Co-Founder of Pacific Wild, who has been working for 25 years to protect the Great Bear Rainforest.]
1. The Great Bear Rainforest is the largest coastal temperate rainforest on the planet.
On the mainland coast of British Columbia, the Great Bear Rainforest stretches for more than 250 miles, from Vancouver Island to the Alaskan Panhandle. Composed of an intricate mix between ocean, mountains, forest and rain, it is a land of mist-shrouded valleys and glacier-cut fjords, old-growth forests and rich salmon streams. At 21 million acres, it is part of the largest remaining intact coastal temperate rainforest on Earth. It’s largely untouched by the human hand and everything here exists as it has for thousands of years, making it one of the most pristine environments on earth.
2. It’s also one of the last standing intact ecosystems.
As an intact ecosystem, no element in the cycle of life is missing yet. The circle is still whole here. Known as “Canada’s Amazon” for its dense web of life including sea wolves, black bears, grizzly bears, spirit bears, cougars, eagles, orcas, porpoises, dolphins and salmon. Some of earth’s most productive coldwater seas and last large wild rivers run here. Temperate rainforests cover less than one percent of the world today, few of which remain unlogged. The Great Bear Rainforest makes up one quarter of the global extent of this ecosystem. It’s because of this that the Great Bear Rainforest stands out as such a rarity and that it’s one of the richest ecosystems left today.
3. It’s the only place where Spirit Bears roam.
Spirit bears, also known as Kermode Bears, have become the face of the Great Bear Rainforest. They’re a rare subspecies of black bear that only exist in this pocket of the globe. There are an estimated 400 of them today. Even when Europeans first set foot in the area, indigenous people knew the bears were unique, making a point to never even speak of them around the new visitors.
4. It’s home to a unique population of wolves, known as Sea Wolves.
Sea wolves are the only wolves known to rely almost exclusively on the ocean and coastal landscape for food. They are entirely unique and with behaviors that have scientists fascinated, but they are also heavily persecuted by humans. This agreement benefits them enormously.
5. It’s not just a win for the land, it’s a win for Canada’s indigenous people.
The Great Bear Rainforest overlaps with the territories of more than 20 separate First Nations, all of whom were involved in negotiations. The agreement to protect the region was first announced 10 years ago, after a decade of discussions, following a period of deep conflict between First Nations and timber firms over old growth logging and led to commercial pressure to avoid products sourced in the area. The manner that the provincial governments have negotiated and agreed with First Nations governments is quite unique. It gives hope to other regions facing similar conflicts that they can move toward collaboration and eventually to conservation and well-being for communities.
6. The agreement protects old-growth forests.
Old-growth forests are ecologically diverse and significant. They host rare species, threatened species and endangered species. But because of the amount of timber and economic value found in a single tree, old-growth forests remain a popular target for logging. Because excessive logging is so common in today’s world — so much so that only one fifth of old growth forests remain on earth and 28% in North America — it’s not as common for the story to end in the forest’s favor.
In the 1990’s, when the campaign began to protect Canada’s temperate rainforest, half the intact valleys had already been lost to clear cut logging. And the remaining intact valleys were already licensed to logging companies so that they’d be logged out within the next decade. Today, 85 percent of the forested area of the northern wilderness will be completely — and permanently — protected from industrial logging. The deal allows the forest licensees certainty around access to an annual harvest of 2.5 million cubic meters of timber for the next 10 years, but only under conditions described as the most stringent in North America. They must spell out how they will meet 8,000 targets to preserve ecological and cultural objectives acorss some 143 landscapes within the sprawling 16 million acres. Thanks to the decades of dedication, the majority of those 1000-year-old Cedar trees and 300 foot tall Spruce Trees will be standing tall for many more years to come.
7. It also protects all five Pacific salmon.
Few animals have been as central to the Pacific human experience as salmon. From grizzly bears to orca whales, at least 137 different species depend on the marine-rich nutrients that wild salmon provide. The last intact salmon watersheds around the North Pacific are composed of free-flowing rivers and dense forests and because of their wide-ranging lives, they are very a vulnerable species. In our rush to modernize and grow, we have overlooked all that salmon need to be healthy. As a result, humans have pushed many salmon populations to the brink. In protecting the Great Bear Rainforest, the rich salmon waters hosting 20 percent of pacific salmon, will ensure the land and its inhabitants remain healthy.
8. It stops the trophy hunting of grizzlies.
The Grizzly population is a healthy one here. But since the Great Bear Rainforest is not a national park, hunting will still be permitted throughout the area. While commercial trophy hunts of grizzly bears will no longer be allowed on the First Nations traditional territory, British Columbians holding a tag will still be able to hunt in other regions. Although you are still able to shoot a grizzly, it’s a step in the right direction.
9. It sets a standard for regions worldwide facing similar pressures.
This agreement is not just a win for the Great Bear Rainforest and its inhabitants. It’s a win for forests and conservationists worldwide. After two decades of discussions and negotiations, companies, first nations, workers, the provincial government and the environmental community stand together in agreement, saying that we need to protect this special forest, do things differently based on science, and diversify our economy away from logging.
It’s the kind of solution we need to see applied globally. Rainforests in the Congo, Indonesia and the Amazon Basin remain at risk. The Great Bear Rainforest experience shows that it really is possible to find a solution, protect the rainforest, the people who reside there and also mitigate climate change. This agreement tells other regions facing similar conflicts that this can be done.