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Conservation groups, timber companies reach deal to protect more of Great Bear Rainforest

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Conservation groups, timber companies reach deal to protect more of Great Bear Rainforest

Written by Gordon Hoekstra for The Vancouver Sun, January 29 2014

Conservation groups and forest companies have reached final agreement on how they want to increase old-growth protection in the Great Bear Rainforest.

Their recommendations have been delivered to the B.C. government and First Nations who have the final say on changes.

The joint industry-environmental group announcement Wednesday brings to a close a 14-year effort. The unprecedented collaboration had ended a bitter fight by environmentalists in the 1990s to preserve one of the world’s largest intact temperate rainforests, home to the so-called white spirit bear.

The agreement — which will preserve another 500,000 hectares of old growth — increases forest protection to nearly 70 per cent in the mid-coast region from the 50 per cent level already protected by 2009. The addition pushes the amount of old-growth forest preserved to more than three million hectares, an area larger than Metro Vancouver.

Despite an expected decrease in the amount of timber available for logging, industry says the recommendations will maintain thousands of mill, logging and silviculture jobs.

ForestEthics senior campaigner Valerie Langer said this is the final step in protecting the Great Bear Rainforest. “There’s never been any conservation of this scale achieved. To do this in a collaborative way with unlikely allies over an area the size of some countries, and to both protect the forest and maintain viability of an industry, is a great achievement,” said Langer.

She said she’s now on “pins and needles” in anticipation of the province and First Nations’ response to the recommendations.

Conservation groups that signed on to the recommendations also include Greenpeace and the Sierra Club B.C.

Companies that signed on include Interfor, Western Forest Products, Catalyst Paper and Howe Sound Pulp & Paper.

The agreement is a remarkable achievement given the level of conflict that existed in the early days between forest companies and environmental groups, said Interfor vice-president and chief forester Ric Slaco.

“This has been a long time coming. It was not just done in the last week, or last month,” Slaco said. “This looks to be the final chapter. That’s a big deal.”

B.C. Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Minister Steve Thomson in a statement on Wednesday congratulated the forest companies and environmental groups for their “continued cooperation in finding solutions.”

Forest ministry staff will review the recommendations laid out in an 82-page highly technical document to see how they will impact legislation and revenue to the province, as well as for implications to other resource users.

The province said it is committed to working with First Nations to conclude its review in a timely manner.

First Nations also welcomed the recommendations.

Coastal First Nations executive director Art Sterritt said they don’t expect to call for massive changes.

He noted that First Nations, who have held timber tenures since the early 2000s in the mid-coast area, seek both to protect the forest eco-system and to participate in logging.

Sterritt said he expected there will be some circumstances where the areas that First Nations want to protect and where they will want to log will conflict with industry’s wishes.

An end to “the war in the woods” was signalled in 2001, when then-premier Gordon Campbell announced that B.C.’s central coast would be protected.

At the time, environmentalists were turning global sentiment against British Columbia with a campaign against forest products.

By 2009, hundreds of thousands of hectares of land were protected in parks and conservancies.

The government also introduced laws to limit logging through ecosystem-based management to preserve the pristine wilderness and its rich biodiversity, including old-growth forests, fresh water and critical grizzly habitat. First Nation values were recognized, including monumental cedars.

Slaco, the Interfor vice-president, said the additional 500,000 hectares being protected in this latest round have not been set aside in parks.

Instead, larger portion of old-growth forest must be protected in reserves, which still allows for logging in the surrounding area, he noted.

Langer, the ForestEthics campaigner, said the old-growth reserves that must be set aside cover all types of forest, not just poor forest types such as pine in bog areas that would not likely have been logged anyway.

The reserves include magnificent Sitka spruce valley bottoms and areas with high-quality red cedars, Langer said.

ghoekstra@vancouversun.com

@gordon_hoekstra

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