The Great Bear Rainforest stretches along British Columbia's Pacific coast from Bute Inlet in the south to the Canada-United States border in the north. The region encompasses 64,000 square kilometers (25,000 square miles) of temperate rainforest, deep ocean fjords, mountains, glaciers, rivers and lakes. It is a remote wilderness area that can be reached by air or water or via two roads running from British Columbia's interior.
The region is home to 24,000 people, most of whom live in the northern port city of Prince Rupert. The economy of the Great Bear Rainforest is based on the use of forest and marine resources. Commercial forestry and ocean fisheries contribute to community wellbeing as does aquaculture, tourism, transportation and public services.
Beginning in the mid-1990s the Great Bear Rainforest gained a global reputation as a special place—one of only 11 coastal temperate rainforests on the planet and the largest tract of intact forest of its kind to be found anywhere. As the reputation took root, the region's ecological values were juxtaposed with those relating to commercial forestry creating a conflict that was ultimately resolved.
In 1999 five forest products companies joined together to seek an outcome in the Great Bear Rainforest that would be supported by local and global interests. The Coast Forest Conservation Initiative (CFCI) began as a response to a problem and for more than a decade has provided leadership in pursuit of conservation and sustainable development outcomes in the temperate rainforest.
British Columbia's Coast Land Use Decision was announced in 2006 with legal mechanisms creating protected areas and guiding forest management in place by 2009. The decision is based on consensus recommendations developed by local and regional stakeholders and the results of government-to-government agreements between the Province and First Nations. The stakeholder recommendations were developed over a decade through planning processes mandated by the provincial government (Land and Resource Management Planning).
Along the way to forging the public consensus the CFCI and three environmental organizations—Greenpeace, ForestEthics, Sierra Club BC—began a unique effort called the Joint Solutions Project (JSP). For more than 10-years the JSP has supported and helped fund the work that led to protection of one third of the Great Bear Rainforest and implementation of ecosystem-based management (EBM) to guide the use of the region's natural resources.
What is EBM?
Ecosystem based management (EBM) is an approach that recognizes the full array of interactions within an ecosystem, including human use, rather than considering single issues, species, or ecosystem services in isolation.
In the Great Bear Rainforest EBM is tailored to the region's ecosystems, communities and management of forests and other natural resources. Independent scientists who consulted with First Nations, the provincial government, industry, local communities and environmental organizations developed the system of EBM in use today. The goal of EBM, which is being implemented over time, is to concurrently achieve ecological integrity across the region and high degrees of human and community wellbeing.
For the purpose of maintaining ecological integrity the goal is to reach a precautionary low risk threshold of 70 percent representation of ecosystems maintained in a natural state over time. High degrees of human and community wellbeing will be achieved through a diversity of resource use activities. Securing viable commercial forestry operations concurrent with achieving ecological integrity is a critical human wellbeing goal.
The implementation of the Great Bear Rainforest agreements and EBM is governed through a system of co-governance. The province and First Nations, whose traditional territory encompasses the region, have signed strategic land use planning agreements that form the basis of a government-to-government approach to management of land and resources.
What others have said about the Great Bear Rainforest
"When WWF launched the Gift to the Earth programme in 1996 the aim was to encourage governments, companies, organizations and individuals to make significant conservation commitments. The agreements reached between the Provincial Government, First Nations, the forest industry, environmental groups and coastal communities in the Central and North Coast of British Columbia – the Great Bear Rainforest – are globally significant in several respects. The process of negotiation and consultation, the expansion of the protected areas network and the establishment of an innovative and well-endowed conservation funding mechanism are all worthy of international recognition. Ultimately, much will depend on continued collaboration among all these parties to ensure that future management preserves the integrity of this extraordinary ecosystem. The agreements we celebrate today, however, are an historic step."
-James P. Leape, Director General, WWF International May 9th 2007
"A vision born from environmental and economic necessity is becoming a reality on Canada's west coast," said Stephanie Goodwin of Greenpeace. "It's a conservation model that other parts of the world can look to, a model that shows how protection of ecological values and human well-being can be advanced without undermining each other,"
Stephanie Goodwin, Greenpeace March 31st 2009
"If everyone remains committed to the goals and follows through, this astoundingly rich coastal ecosystem will continue to support iconic species like the Spirit bear, the conservation of massive carbon storehouses in thousand year old trees and a bright future for the First Nations communities,"
Valerie Langer, ForestEthics March 31st 2009.
"The Great Bear Rainforest is now one of the most protected forest regions in the world, but we have to continue to meet key milestones we've set to ensure that we achieve our long term goals of full ecosystem health and human well-being"
Jens Wieting, Sierra Club BC March 31st 2009.
" This [agreement] is aimed at trying to find a balance, where people can understand and really enjoy our wilderness and we protect our wildlife, while recognizing that people are part of the ecosystem,"
BC Premier Gordon Campbell, Washington Post February 7 2006
There's a new era dawning in British Columbia," said Gordon Campbell, the province's premier from 2001 to 2010. "You have to establish what you value, and work together. This collaboration is something we have to take into the future, and it is something the world can learn from."
New York Times, February 7 2006