British Columbia on Monday will announce "one of the most visionary forest conservation plans on Earth" to protect a massive chunk of coastal rainforest—a deal that has the approval of First Nations groups, environmentalists, and loggers alike and is more than a decade in the making.
The agreement will protect 85 percent of the region's Great Bear rainforest, with the other 15 percent open to logging under the "most stringent" standards in North America, according to environmental groups who were involved in the negotiations.
It is "one of the most visionary forest conservation plans on Earth," said Valerie Langer, solutions director at ForestEthics, one of the groups that signed on to the deal. "It is a principled approach that sets a new legal and science-based standard for sustaining healthy forests and maintains intact, old-growth that will keep millions of tonnes of carbon out of the atmosphere."
The Great Bear rainforest is home to 26 First Nations tribes, as well as a variety of animal species and ecosystems. The deal strengthens First Nations oversight of their land and will end the commercial grizzly bear hunt in the region.
"Under this landmark agreement, more old and second growth forest will be protected, while still ensuring opportunities for economic development and jobs for local First Nations," said BC Premier Christy Clark in a statement.
The deal is being widely championed as a model for future conservation efforts because negotiators were able to bridge the gap between regional economic needs, the sovereignty of First Nations, and the concerns of environmentalists. Reuters reports:
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In the 1990s, frustrated over what they saw as destructive forestry practices on their traditional lands, First Nations partnered with environmentalists to fight back against logging companies, blockading roads and protesting.
By the early 2000s, environmental groups and industry players, including Interfor Corp, Western Forest Products Inc and Catalyst Paper Corp, had started talks. At the same time, government began negotiating with the Coastal First Nations and Nanwakolas Council.
The final agreements, reached more than a decade later, will "help mitigate climate change, support improved community well-being, and provide economic certainty to the forestry sector," environmental groups that engaged in the process said.
"Today is the culmination of 20 years of campaigning for the Great Bear Rainforest," said Richard Brooks, forest campaign coordinator at Greenpeace. "The completion of this marathon would not have been possible without the incredible leadership of the rainforest’s First Nations leaders. From conflict to collaboration, we now celebrate the protection of areas of cultural and ecological importance while ensuring economic opportunities for the communities exist long into the future."
"This is a gift to the world," Brooks told CBC News. "It should give hope to other areas that are currently in conflict, that those conflicts can move towards collaboration and eventually to conservation and economic prosperity and well-being for communities."