How Canada's 'spirit bear' forest deal could be a model

Competing forest interests in western Canada reached a landmark deal after negotiating for years. The parties say their agreement could provide a model for other communities.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press/AP
Daniel Cranmer, of the Kwakwaka'wakw First Nation, from left, Andy Everson, of the Comox First Nation, and B.C. Premier Christy Clark listen during an announcement of a deal for use of British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest, at the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, Canada, Monday.

It took more than 10 years of terse negotiating, protests, and debate, but a deal emerged for a Canadian rainforest that analysts are calling not only a job well done, but also a model for the world.

The deal announced Monday in British Columbia restricts and regulates logging in the Great Bear Rainforest to help protect the forest's rare "spirit bear" and the area's native people, the BBC reported.

"I think everybody grew up, and they realized conflict wasn't going to be the way forward," Mr. Jeffery told The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview.

The years-long negotiating process began as a response to fierce battles between environmentalists and lumber companies using the rainforest, the Times Colonist reported. Conservationists were vehemently protesting lumber activities in the forest, creating such an uproar that pulp mills and lumber companies didn't want to buy wood from companies that protesters were painting as "destroyers of the environment," Mr. Jeffery said.

"One of the successes and magic about today is we’ve demonstrated to the world that collaboration and finding solutions can work," said Rick Jeffery, the president of the Coast Forest Products Association, according to the Times Colonist.

In 2000, "everything began to change" when the conservationists and lumber companies alike realized the public was losing its stomach for the incessant fighting, according to a Coast Forest Conservation Initiative fact sheet.

“The change between the environmentalists and forest companies happened when the marketplace threw down the challenge to us and said, 'We need you guys to work it out,'" said Val Langer of ForestEthics Solutions, according to the Times Colonist. “We just knew we couldn’t maintain this and we couldn’t be in conflict forever."

Five forest companies in western Canada formed the Coast Forest Conservation Initiative, which in turn began negotiating with representatives from ForestEthics, Greenpeace, and the Sierra Club of British Columbia.

Along with coastal communities and indigenous groups – called First Nations in Canada – the negotiators reached a partial agreement over forest use in 2006 that won a Gift to the Earth Award from the World Wildlife Fund. Difficult negotiations continued for the next 10 years. While the sheer length and scope of the negotiations required in this case may be daunting to other parties locked in similar battles, it also may offer a light at the tunnel's end.

"It's a testament to the hard work they have done, and the perseverance they have put into these agreements," Richard Brooks of Greenpeace Canada, 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."

The agreement halts logging throughout 85 percent of the forest, Reuters reported. Logging in the other 15 percent can be logged at a rate of 0.1 percent under rules specifically designed for this forest at the negotiating table to protect economic opportunities for the locals, both indigenous and otherwise.

The deal prevents hunting of what some indigenous groups called the  "spirit bear," a rare, white-furred species of black bear. Commercial hunting of the grizzly bear on First Nations land is also stopped by the deal, although it continues on other lands, Reuters reported.

"Our leaders understand our well-being is connected to the well-being of our lands and waters,” Chief Marilyn Slett, president of Coastal First Nations, said Monday, according to Reuters.

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark was present with representatives of the various groups when the deal was announced, Reuters reported. The province is expected to adopt corresponding legislation in the spring.

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