Great Bear forest deal shifts power after years of grinding negotiations
- Great Bear forest deal shifts power after years of grinding negotiations
No more log first, worry later, environmentalist says
By Gordon Hamilton, Vancouver Sun
April 1, 2009
The B.C. government has met a deadline to bring a new approach in resource development to B.C.'s central and north coast -- known as the Great Bear Rainforest -- in which people, the environment and the economy are given equal billing.
After more than a decade of eco-protests that tarnished the province's forest products image, first nations, forest companies, and environmentalists joined Tuesday in supporting the new approach, called ecosystem-based management.
Agriculture and Lands Minister Ron Cantelon said the Great Bear plan is an example to the world on managing human activity while protecting biodiversity.
"The war is over. Now we can move on in a positive way," Cantelon said in an interview.
The 6.4-million-hectare area is roughly the size of Ireland. The plan sets aside 2.1 million hectares of land as parks and conservancies. Over the rest of the land, resource development, specifically logging, is to be based on ecosystem-based management.
Environmentalists say the new logging rules will require streams, grizzly bear habitat and half the old-growth timber to be protected.
"That adds up to another 700,000 hectares being off-limits to logging," said Valerie Langer, of ForestEthics. Along with Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, ForestEthics negotiated the new management deal with a consortium of five forest companies and the B.C. government. First nations and communities were also involved.
The timber harvest is expected to drop by about 20 per cent as a result.
"We have made tremendous ecological gains," Langer said. "We have shifted from a model that was log first and then figure out what to do about the rest later, to a model where we now say, 'What are the limits of the ecosystem?' We have a science-driven process to figure out what that is."
Besides changing details of land management, the implementation of the Great Bear project changes who will make the final decisions. First nations will participate equally with the province in major decision-making.
"We've set up a governance structure that is government-to-government on dealing with major issues," said Steve Carr, chief executive officer of the province's Integrated Land Management Bureau.
Another key element is a $120-million fund, half of it raised by eco-groups, that has been established to develop new, green businesses and to ease the transition to new practices.
Premier Gordon Campbell committed in 2006 to having all the pieces of the Great Bear management plan in place by March 31.
Interfor vice-president Ric Slaco said he believes forest companies will be able to log while achieving the higher environmental standards. The system is adaptable enough to take into account unknowns, he said. Interfor, Catalyst Paper, Canfor Corp, Western Forest Products, and B.C. Timber Sales have been working jointly with the government and environmental groups.
Further, Slaco said, forest companies expect to benefit in the marketplace by having an eco-certified stamp on their products.
"We hope to be able to sell our products in an arena where they are promoted as being environmentally superior, of having an environmental pedigree," he said. "That may not help in the price, but certainly should aid in attracting customers that are looking for that assurance."
Forest companies are to receive an offset of $2.75 a cubic metre of timber to cover the cost of implementing ecosystem-based management. It is to be taken off the stumpage timber companies pay for timber harvested from Crown land.
Slaco said it is doubtful that will be sufficient, but the system has flexibility built into it if costs prove to be higher.
"Our obvious goal is to maintain viability of our businesses, which means that whether it's a cost to government, industry or our customers, at the end of the day if we don't have a viable business, this whole experiment will have failed, so everyone is strongly motivated to make it work," he said.
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