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Protection on the way for Great Bear Rainforest

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Land-use decisions easier with consensus

After a intensive international campaign by Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, the provincial government has agreed to protect "significant valleys" within the so-called Great Bear Rainforest on B.C.’s central coast.

"The area referred to as the Great Bear Rainforest is an icon of the unique environmental and cultural values B.C. can share with the world," Premier Ujjal Dosanjh stated in an April 4 press release. "All of the people involved in this decision – First Nations, environmentalists, industry, workers, communities and government – have recognized what’s at stake, and have fulfilled B.C.’s role as environmental leaders on the world stage.

"We are also preparing an enabling agreement to be signed by the province and the 17 central coast First nations participating in the planning process. This agreement will set out a process for their continued participation, as well as a mechanism for further discussion of resource management issues."

While the plan for the Great Bear Rainforest is still in the early stages, the government has accepted a preliminary map agreed upon by the Central Coast land-use table, including the protection of major valleys within the rainforest and other areas, subject to consultation with First nations and "confirmation of boundaries".

Among the protected areas is 96,000 hectare Spirit Bear Protection Area, which environmentalists believe is vital to preserve the unique Kermode bear – a rare white subspecies of black bear. There are 400 left in the wild, mainly concentrated on Princess Royal Island.

The final plan could see almost 1.2 million hectares of land, 28 per cent of the 4.8 million hectares of marine, foreshore and upland area in the Great Bear Rainforest, protected in parks, First Nation’s preserves, and wildlife sanctuaries.

The plan has received praise from environmentalists, First Nations and the forestry companies that have been hardest hit by international boycotts and the perception that B.C. companies are clearcutting the largest intact temperate rainforest remaining in the world.

While the plan doesn’t further First Nation’s land claims in the area, Guujaw, president of the Council of Haida Nation and a spokesman for six First Nations, said it was a step in the right direction. "It involves compromise from all parties, including ourselves and the B.C. government. While compromising can be difficult, the alternative is much less acceptable."

He also said that the ongoing conflicts on the coast were detrimental to everyone’s interests. Of the 4,500 people who live year-round on the central coast, the majority are First Nations.

Environmentalist David Suzuki, whose foundation works with the First Nations involved in the agreement, said "I am proud that the B.C. government has signed this agreement. This could lead to a sustainable, diversified economy for generations to come."

The Sierra Club also approved of the plan. "This is a real turning point for the future of B.C.’s rainforests," said Merran Smith, a senior forest campaigner for the Sierra Club of B.C. "It means that the ancient rainforests that have stood in over 40 coastal valleys for the last thousand years will be standing for the next thousand."

Linda Coady, the vice president of Weyerhaeuser, also welcomed the plan. "International markets want resolve on issues involving critical ecosystems and endangered forests on the B.C. coast. This agreement will help the coastal B.C. forest sector address other market access challenges, including pressures for independent, third-party certification and competition from other forest jurisdictions and wood substitutes."

The Central Coast land-use region ranges from Bute Inlet in the south to the Princess Royal Island in the north, including the coastal nearshore waters, and much of Tweedsmuir Park to the east.

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