The Great Bear Rainforest: Peace in the Woods?
Last Updated March 5, 2004
On April 4, 2001 a landmark agreement was brokered with the hope of resolving the conflict over land use in the Central and North Coast of British Columbia – a region dubbed the "Great Bear Rainforest" by environmentalists (location ). Environmentalists cheered, claiming the province had gone “from global pariah to eco-hero in one day.” But a number of outstanding issues remained to be resolved, and the agreement needed to go through formal governmental processes. On December 11, 2003, over two and a half years later, discussions at the Central Coast Land and Resource Management Plan (CCLRMP) completion table have concluded, with consensus achieved and the final report and recommendations submitted to government for approval. How were the combatants able to come to an agreement, and how far have they gone towards the goal of reaching a durable peace in this latest manifestation of the “war in the woods”? This analysis seeks to address these questions.
Background: Stalemate in Great Bear Rainforest
The region, which occupies approximately 7 million hectares of land, contains some of the largest untouched tracts of temperate rainforest in the world, and is home to a number of vulnerable wildlife species including grizzly bears, eagles, wolves, and the spirit bear a rare white genetic variant of the black bear.
The region is also home to roughly 20-30 aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities, with an estimated 20 of these communities having economies that are dependent on the forest industry. Forestry in the region provides about 5000 direct jobs with several large forest companies (Weyerhaeuser, International Forests Products, and Western Forest Products) having valuable harvesting rights in the area. Provincially, current forest operations in the area account for 7% of the total annual allowable cut (AAC), and 24% of the coastal AAC.
The conflict over the Great Bear Rainforest began to take shape in the mid-1990’s, when the government initiated the land-use planning process for the Central Coast region (an area that comprises approximately 69% of the GBR). The land-use planning process emerged out the New Democratic Party’s (NDP) 1991 campaign promise to double the amount of parkland in the province to 12% of the total land base. When the NDP was elected, the 12% target was pursued through three interrelated policy initiatives:
1. Protected Areas Strategy (PAS) which was the formal process that would pursue the 12% target. This strategy was focused around achieving representation of the province’s diverse ecosystems, and protecting special natural, cultural, or recreational features;
2. The Commission on Resources and Environment (CORE), a regional multi-stakeholder land-use planning process. CORE, which produced 4 regional land-use plans, was disbanded by Premier Glen Clark in 1996;
3. The Land and Resource Management Planning (LRMP) process, which is a sub-regional multi-stakeholder land-use planning process. The LRMP process is currently the main framework for forest land-use planning in the province.
The NDP government had hoped that the LRMP process for the Central Coast would begin in late 1996, but the government immediately encountered problems. For a variety of reasons, a number of key environmental groups decided to boycott the process. One of the key concerns of the boycotting environmental groups was the fact that some forest companies were continuing forest operations in the area during the negotiations. Moreover, some of these companies had proceeded or were about to proceed with logging activity in certain areas of the region deemed especially sensitive by environmentalists. Eventually, however, the holdout environmental groups did join the negotiations when their concerns were addressed, but many of these groups walked away from the negotiations when some forest companies resumed operations. At the same time, aboriginal groups were also unhappy with the process, feeling that their voices were not being heard. First Nations are a vital actor as the vast majority of residents in the area are aboriginal and the area is also subject to a number of aboriginal land claims.
Environmental Groups’ Response: Internationalization
Frustrated by the actions of the forest companies, and the lack of progress at the negotiating table, environmental groups proceeded with an international boycott campaign aimed at hitting the export-dependent forest companies where it hurt the most – in the pocketbook. Specifically, environmental organizations such as Greenpeace, the Rainforest Action Network, and the Natural Resources Defense Council pressured customers of companies operating in the GBR to stop buying products emanating from the region. See, for example, www.oldgrowthfree.com.
The environmentalists’ international campaign was waged primarily on two fronts, Europe and the United States. Tactics that received considerable media attention included the hanging of large banners protesting BC forest practices in high-profile areas, such as Trafalgar Square in London. Perhaps the most effective tactic utilized was the targeting of retail purchasers of BC old growth products. Environmental groups began to focus their efforts on “big box” do-it-yourself retail chains. In the United States, the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and Greenpeace targeted retailers such as Home Depot, the largest do-it-yourself chain in the world, encouraging them not to buy forest products coming from old growth forests in BC (Stanbury 2000, 182). Environmental groups utilized a number of tactics including a massive letter-writing campaign, taking out full-page ads in a number of high-profile publications, and holding a number of protests outside of Home Deport stores both in the US and Canada (ibid.). Environmental groups’ efforts, however, were not limited to do-it-yourself retailers. Countless other corporations including AT&T, Wal-Mart, and the Los Angeles Times were also targeted (Ibid., 184).
The efforts of the environmental groups were extremely effective. On August 26, 1999, Home Depot announced its intention to eliminate the purchasing of wood from “environmentally sensitive areas by the end of 2002.” Within a year of the Home Depot decision, Lowe’s and Menards, the second and third largest home improvement retailers in the US, announced similar decisions. Lowe’s announcement was even more significant than Home Depot’s, as it stated that the company would immediately end the purchasing of products from the Great Bear Rainforest.
Industry Response: The Coast Forest Conservation Initiative
The initial industry response was to deny that there was a problem. Echoing the sentiments of the BC government, BC forest companies argued that the environmental groups’ claims were unfounded and focused their efforts on a counter-marketing strategy.
Nevertheless, by the spring of 1999, a number of forest companies opted for a different approach. The companies, led by MacMillan Bloedel, formed a coalition called the Coast Forest Conservation Initiative (CFCI). While membership in the CFCI has changed slightly during the past years, the current CFCI members are Weyerhaeuser (formally Macmillan Bloedel), Canadian Forest Products, Western Forest Products, International Forest Products, and Norske Skog Canada (formally Fletcher Challenge Canada). To end the impasse, the CFCI proposed the idea of a “cooling off” period, whereby forest companies would agree not to log pristine valleys in the GBR in exchange for the environmental groups putting an end to their international campaign. The logic behind the cooling off period was that it would encourage a shift away from conflict and confrontation and towards cooperation, which would ultimately aid the negotiation process.
Formal talks between the CFCI and a number of domestic and international environmental groups began in October 1999. Environmental groups that were included, later banded together under the banner of the Rainforest Solutions Project (RSP). Out of these talks emerged the Joint Solutions Project (JSP), in which the CFCI companies agreed to cooperate with a number of environmental groups in order to come up with a workable solution. In the summer and fall of 2000, the JSP organized a series of workshops, inviting representatives from First Nations, industry, labour, academia, local communities, and government. These workshops and the discussion sessions that followed were key in building consensus.
In March 2000, with the help of the David Suzuki Foundation, a number of First Nations who live in the Central and North Coast met to initiate a discussion aimed at developing a strategy to ensure that aboriginal interests were included in the land use plans. Through the Turning Point process, as it was termed, the First Nations involved drafted the Declaration of the First Nations of the North Pacific Coast, in which they articulated their concerns. The members of the Turning Point group also met with other groups such as the JSP.
These two initiatives were crucial in the brokering of an agreement, which received the approval of the provincial government and was presented on April 4th, 2001.
What did the April 4, 2001 Agreement Do?
The April 2001 agreement consists of two parts:
· doubles the amount of protected areas in the region to 21%. This includes the area of Princess Royal Island (96,458 Ha), commonly referred to as “Spirit Bear Island”, as the Island is an essential habitat for the “Spirit bear”;
· defers development in an additional 11% of the region until further studies are conducted;
· recognizes an additional 4% of the area as Special Management Zones for Visual Quality. These are areas that are recognized for their high tourism and recreational values. Management of these areas will seek to accommodate industrial and commercial activities, while maintaining scenic values for tourism and recreational purposes;
· establishes a $10 million fund to help mitigate the impacts on workers and communities. In order to receive support for the agreement from the IWA and Truck Loggers Association, on April 18th the government increased the transition fund commitment by $25 million, subject to matching funds being provided by forest companies or other parties. As of May 15th, the transition fund stands at $35 million, with the potential for an additional $20 million of funding. The interim land use plan is estimated to cost 500 jobs;
· requires ecosystem-based planning and management in all areas to be logged;
· requires the establishment of an Independent Information Team (Coast Information Team), with government representation, to:
2. An agreement between the BC government and eight First Nations in the area to a new mechanism reconciling aboriginal and crown title in the land use planning process.
Specifically, the agreement institutionalizes the critical role that First Nations have at the land-use negotiating tables, and provides a basic framework through which the First Nations that signed the protocol (and those that sign-on in the future) can negotiate their own specific land-use agreements with the provincial government. Moreover, the agreement also calls for interim measures, which require the government to identify opportunities and to help develop measures to facilitate First Nation involvement in forest industry-related economic development. Economic development opportunities could include joint ventures with existing forest companies and contractors, forest tenures, the development of a forest management workforce, and contracting for forest management services. In addition, the plan calls on the provincial government to support the development of First Nation business and capacity building.
Finally, although not formally included in the agreement, the environmental groups involved have agreed to call off their international boycott campaign. In return, forest companies have given up logging rights in 43 pristine valleys and agreed to defer logging in another 77 valleys for a period of two years.
What the April 2001 Agreement Left Unsettled
While the contents of the agreement are significant, equally significant is what the agreement leaves to be settled.
First of all, it is crucial to note that the land-use portion of the April 2001 agreement does not constitute a final land-use plan. It is an interim plan. The type and scope of activity that can occur on a significant amount of the land in the region is determined through LRMP processes. For example, the April 2001 agreement designated 11% of the CCLRMP area as option areas. Thus it required additional work to determine whether these areas will be protected or subject to activity under ecosystem-based management.
In addition, the agreement left the definition of ecosystem-based management to be decided upon by the LRMP table upon the recommendations of the Coast Information Team. The definition of ecosystem-based management adopted by the LRMP table will have a considerable effect on the remaining area of the region that is left unprotected. Thus the Coast Information Team (CIT) has the potential to be highly influential body. An organizational committee comprised of representatives from the provincial government, First Nations, industry, labour, the CFCI, environmental groups, local communities and academia met to develop terms of references for both the Steering Committee of the CIT (which guides the activities of the CIT) and the CIT itself.
Furthermore, although the protocol is a landmark step, only eight First Nations have signed the agreement. Thus, agreements have not yet been signed between the provincial government and a number of other First Nations residing the region. Some First Nations representatives also raised concerns over the role of the Information Team. Specifically, there are concerns that the role of the Information Team may have the potential to conflict with provisions contained in the protocol.
In November 2001, the new BC Liberal Government gave its blessing to the April 2001 preliminary decision, and committed to completing the Central Coast LRMP process by Spring 2003, although it now appears completion will occur in the Spring of 2004. At the same time, it pledged to complete the North Coast and Queen Charlotte Islands LRMP by March 2004 although meeting those dates appears unlikely.
The Coast Information Team
The Coast Information Team (CIT) was formed to provide independent scientifically based information that is integrated with traditional knowledge to assist the development of the three main LRMP’s. The CIT is composed of a wide array of scientists and practitioners, as well as local and traditional experts, subdivided into a Management Committee responsible for oversight, and various Project Teams responsible for the numerous technical analyses required. The CIT Management Committee consists of representatives from the Provincial Government, First Nations, local communities, environmental organizations, and the forest industry and is co-chaired by the provincial government and First Nations representatives. It is operating under a $3.2 million budget shared by the Provincial Government, NGO’s, and forest companies.
The CIT is mandated to provide information and analysis that will aid in the development and implementation of Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM) in the CIT Region. Indicative of the enormous task required to define the Ecosystem-Based Management approach, are the numerous analyses undertaken by project teams:
· Ecosystem-Based Management Framework – identifies key components and requirements of EBM and shows how they relate to one another; serves as a strategic guide to EBM and the development of related materials
· EBM Planning Handbook – contains key technical concepts, planning requirements, and EBM objectives for consideration by First Nations and LRMP tables; sets out thresholds and management targets for various scales through out the region
· The Scientific Basis For Ecosystem Based Management – provides scientific background and rationale for the approach used to define EBM
· Hydroriparian Planning Guide – describes Hydroriparian concepts contained in EBM Planning Handbook; intended to facilitate the development of forest management plans that maintain hydroriparian functions at the watershed scale
· Ecosystem Spatial Analysis – identifies priority areas for the conservation of biological diversity
· Cultural Spatial Analysis – identifies priority areas for the maintenance of cultural and social values
· Economic Gain Spatial Analysis – identifies priority areas for development within the forestry, fisheries, tourism, non-timber forest products, and the mineral, oil, and gas sectors
· Well Being Assessment – measures socioeconomic and environmental conditions and trends to provide context for decision-making, a means to test different management scenarios, and a baseline for monitoring the implementation of EBM plans
· Policy and Institutional Analysis – examines issues of policy and institutional design related to EBM implementation and outlines specific options for bringing EBM into effect
To place EBM products in context, it is crucial to recognize that CIT products are merely inputs to the respective planning processes within the GBR region. At present, many of these products are either undergoing peer review, or are being revised based on peer review, and many remain in draft stages. Despite the goal of providing independent, scientifically rigorous and credible information to support planning tables, certain aspects remain contentious due simply to the high degree of scientific uncertainty, and potential economic costs involved with undertaking a new approach to managing natural systems. As such, EBM implementation has been subject to intense negotiations between the Coast Forest Conservation Initiative and the Rainforest Solutions Project members. These negotiations resulted in a proposed solution recommended to the Central Coast Table in December 2003.
Ecosystem-Based Management and the Central Coast Consensus
The Provincial Government announced on December 11, 2003 that Central Coast Planning Table had reached consensus. The final report and recommendations have been submitted to the Minister of Sustainable Resource Management for approval and subsequent implementation. Any implementation however, cannot occur until government-to-government negotiations have taken place between the Province and First Nations and the plan has received cabinet approval. Subject to these negotiations are final decisions on the legal designations of the lands in question which will lead to implementation and finalization of the Land Use Plan for the Central Coast. Although the plan remains subject to discussion and potential revision, it could be expected that the plan will remain in a similar state. It is therefore worth examining the aspects of the proposed CCLRMP as they relate to Ecosystem-Based Management.
The manner through which EBM is incorporated into the CCLRMP is via the Proposed Solution outlined in the December 9, 2003 Agreement between the Coast Forest Conservation Initiative and the Rainforest Solutions Project. Acknowledging that the recommendations are subject to government-to-government negotiations, the Central Coast Table wholly accepted the CFCI/ RSP Agreement’s Proposed Solution regarding EBM implementation. Similar to the April 2001 Agreement, the Proposed Solution is more accurately an understanding among parties to continue cooperation rather than a final decision on what EBM will look like operationally. The Proposed Solution arrives at a final decision on protected areas but nothing conclusive regarding EBM outside of these areas. The Proposed Solution recommends adoption of the EBM Framework but also states that the Planning Handbook and the Scientific Basis for EBM documents are unfinished. The reality of this situation is that the parties agreed to follow certain management targets for a one year period while EBM and its governance structure are finalized.
The most immediate impact of the Central Coast Table’s adoption of the CFCI/ RSP Agreement is the protection of 33 percent of the plan area. This amount includes 436,000 hectares of the initial Candidate Protection Areas outlined in the April 2001 Agreement which will be known as Conservancies/ Parks, as well as an additional 546,000 hectares known as Biodiversity Areas. Interestingly, at the request of the table, mineral exploration and mining are permitted in Biodiversity Areas in deference to the province’s Two-Zone system for Mineral Exploration and Mining in BC, provided activities are in accordance with EBM
Starting March 31, 2004, management targets described in the proposed solution will be implemented on a voluntary basis by CFCI companies. The management targets concern red-listed ecosystems as well as various levels of retention within harvested stands, estuaries, high value fish habitat, and in swamps and gullies. In addition, the Proposed Solution also establishes old seral representation targets for ecosystem types at the landscape scale. It is worth noting that old seral representation targets are considered one of the more important aspects of EBM. As such, the targets established via the Proposed Solution merit further comparison with the preliminary targets outlined in the Planning Handbook.
Based on grouping ecosystem types into five site series surrogates (rare, uncommon, modal, common, and very common), the Proposed Solution establishes a 30% old seral retention level for the common and very common groups, and a 70% retention level for the others. In contrast, the Planning Handbook recommends the retention of 50-70% of the natural old seral distribution in each ecosystem type at the landscape level. Recognizing the flexibility provided by the Proposed Solution Targets, the difference in representation targets is especially significant in light of the fact that the very common and common groups encompass 97.6% of the total forested area of the plan region. These targets have only been committed to for one year, leaving a great deal of about the revision of these targets and their implementation, especially in relation to the final versions of the EBM Planning Handbook and the Scientific Basis for EBM.
One of the most important questions surrounding EBM on the Central Coast is the governance structure that will manage EBM once the CIT has completed all of its products. It is recognized that EBM Planning Handbook is subject to revision and that the document is intended to change over time as new information arises. The Proposed Solution recommends the handbook be used to guide forest development planning and that once complete, certain aspects will be legal requirements while other will only be considered guidance. Currently, responsibility and authority over EBM in the region remains unanswered although the Proposed Solution recommends EBM implementation be guided by a yet unformed “EBM Council”, to act as steward of EBM for the entire region with responsibility for decision-making regarding EBM, with recommendations forwarded to government for legal designation. It further recommends the establishment of a technically oriented “EBM Science Team” that will have scientific expertise necessary to advise the Council.
The recommendations provided on EBM governance highlight fundamental questions surrounding the future of the Central and North Coast of BC. Many EBM products remain in peer review stages, therefore uncertainty exists as to what the final products will look like and when they will be implemented. Once completed a five year transition period is proposed for the Central Coast although discussions at the North Coast Table remain on-going. Once EBM products are finalized they will be subject to revision, so who holds authority over revisions to EBM standards remains a very important consideration. Most important is the legal weight EBM requirements will carry, and who ensures they are implemented. Until these questions are answered it remains difficult to speculate on the amount of the change that has actually occurred on the managed landbase.
Although the consensus decision at the Central Coast Table suggests a truce has been called, it is still uncertain what the final product of government-to-government negotiations will look like. Further, it is telling that during the last Central Coast Table Meeting, the RSP commitment to suspension of market campaigns appears to only extend throughout the government-to-government negotiations. This is proof that the planning process and further implementation is this area is being closely watched by a number of groups who will continue to take the government to task regarding its commitment to the protection of the unique biodiversity of the coastal rainforests.
It is clear that these Great Bear Rainforest agreements were groundbreaking. However, this analysis suggests that perhaps the process through which the agreement was brokered was more groundbreaking than the content of the agreement itself. It was quite a remarkable feat for the stakeholders to move beyond the impasse that had developed towards a more cooperative, collaborative approach. There has been significant substantive change: the amount of protected areas in the region has tripled to 33%. But this amount still falls far short of protected areas in other similar regions. The Tongass National Forest in Alaska, which occupies 6.9 million hectares in the Alaskan Panhandle (the region just north of the Great Bear Rainforest), is topographically and ecologically very similar to the GBR. A 1999 decision by the United States Forest Service provided for the protection of approximately 80% of the Tongass National Forest. Moreover, while the process may have settled the protected areas, less progress has been made in finalizing management approaches to zones where logging will be permitted. While the targets in the EBM Handbook would be a dramatic departure from existing requirements, the interim, one-year target of 30% old seral representation appears to be only a modest change from the status quo. How EBM evolves and becomes established in the region will be a continuing challenge.
Analysis and Commentary
BC Office of the Premier, “Coastal Plan Creates Unique Protection Area, Economic Agreement and New Opportunities for First Nations,” News Release, April 4, 2001.
BC Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, “Protocol Agreement on Land-use Planning, Interim Measures,” News Release, April 4, 2001.
The Government of the Province of British Columbia and the Gitga’at First Nation et al., General Protocol Agreement on Land Use Planning and Interim Measures, April 4, 2001.
Resource Management Division, Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management, Central Coast Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP) web site
Coast Information Team (CIT) website.
Resource Management Division, Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management, Preliminary Central Coast Land and Coastal Resource Management Plan, April 4, 2001.
Resource Management Division, Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management, North Coast Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP) web site
Resource Management Division, Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management, “North Coast LRMP Terms of Reference: Review Draft #1.”
Central Coast LRMP, Information Team and Steering Committee Status Website.
Lewis K., J. Crinklaw and A. Murphy, BC Land Use Coordination Office, The Central Coast Protected Area Strategy (PAS) Report: Revised Study Areas for the Central Coast LRMP Area, May 1997.
Resource Management Division, Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management Central Coast Interim Terrestrial Plan March 2001 (LRMP) web site
Resource Management Division, Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management Coastal Zone Strategic Plan (LRMP) web site
Forest Watch, Forest Ethics, and The David Suzuki Foundation. Clearcutting Canada’s Rainforests: A Status Report website.
Drever, Ronnie, David Suzuki Foundation, A Cut Above: Ecological Principles for Sustainable Forestry on BC’s Coast, 2000.
Forest Action Network, Great Bear Rainforest Campaign Website
Thomas, Jill, Greenpeace International, “Great Bear Rainforest: A Report on the Ecology and Global Importance of Canada’s Temperate Rainforest,” 1997.
Forest Ethics, Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, Sierra Club of BC, “Failing our Forest ? How the Liberal Government Measures Up on the Great Bear Rainforest Agreementl” , April 2002.
Neill, O. Greenpeace, “Great Bear Rainforest, Markets Update” , Fall 2002.
Turning Point Initiative, “Declaration of First Nations of the North Pacific of the North Pacific Coast.”