British Columbia’s landmark agreement to protect and preserve 3.1 million hectares of the Great Bear Rainforest is being heralded as one of the most “visionary forest conservation plans on Earth”. It took years of heated conflict and decades of negotiations between logging industrialists and First Nations. It took the forming of a coalition between forestry companies and environmental groups to establish productive decision-making processes. What finally resulted was the ratification of an agreement that would conserve a primordial temperate forest and thousands of wild species. It emphasizes community well-being, offering security and economic opportunity to the twenty-plus First Nations that live on and cultivate the land.
An accomplishment like this one demonstrates that “stewardship, ecology and good economic development" can work hand in hand. For many conservationists, the question presents itself: How can we move the needle forward now that the bar has been raised?
For starters, the Great Bear Agreement serves as a model for negotiations between groups with different interests. Government, industry, First Nations and environmental groups were able to successfully agree to practices that both protect what is most vulnerable, and enable long-term economic opportunity (15% of the forest is still open to logging under stringent regulations). The gravity of this success is unprecedented and it “stands to be a global model for overcoming viciously intractable conflicts,” says Linda Solomon Wood of the National Observer. It is a fine balance, yet the scale is steady.
If feats like this – which would’ve once seemed unimaginable – can materialize, what does this mean for united action towards better environmental protection? If collaborative solutions can be found, how might this path to resolution be emulated at the next negotiating table? The David Suzuki Foundation and WWF-Canada have said that marine management in the Great Bear Sea must be approached next with the same ambition used to reach this agreement. Can a similar cooperative approach be applied to the conservation of marine life (and not just in Great Bear Sea, but everywhere that it is at risk) that balances the expectations of all the players involved?
Jens Wieting, forest and climate campaigner for Sierra Club B.C., says that the agreement can be used as a guide for future “collaboration, conservation, community-building and climate action”.
It almost sounds too good to be true. Yet, as the number of pristine landscapes vanish, and climate change increasingly becomes a pressing reality, we need cooperative decision-making processes to balance the demands for development and conservation. Now, at least, we have a template.