The Great Bear Rainforest

by Ray Grigg

Forest protectors occupy a Tiberwest old growth plot on Sonora Island in the Great Bear Rainforest.

Protecting the Great Bear Rainforest: Sonora Island. Photo Courtesy of the Ancient Forest Alliance.

After 10 years of conflict and another 10 years of intense negotiations, 85% of the 6.4 million hectares of the Great Bear Rainforest have been protected in perpetuity. This is a major accomplishment for environmentalists, First Nations, the coastal forest industry, local communities and governments.

But this should have been much easier than it was. The Great Bear Rainforest, as it was named to give it more personality than the mid-coast timber supply area, is the largest remaining intact temperate rainforest in the world. It is habitat to wolves, bears, salmon and uncounted other species, including the rare “Spirit Bear”.

The rest of our planet’s equivalent forests have been logged, cleared, fragmented, subdivided and variously populated by people. Only remnants are left of these stunningly beautiful and biologically rich ecologies. So we owe protection to a natural world that is reeling under the pervasive impact of our insatiable resource extraction.

“Protection” is the operative word here. We desperately need to take the measures necessary to save such ecologies from ourselves. We now use almost 40% of the entire land area of Earth for our specific purposes. Think cities, suburbs, highways, farms, fields, pastures, plantations, pipelines, mines, factories… . The remaining land, mostly what we can’t use, is left for the other millions of species that are our fellows on this planet. We should be proud of ourselves for the altruistic gesture of removing most of the Great Bear Rainforest from temptation. This agreement is major for British Columbia. But it wasn’t given freely. We should be sobered because the negotiations were so long and onerous.

Jock Finlayson, chief economist for the BC Business Council, was critical of the agreement. The permanence and scale of the deal, he said, ostensibly “sterilizes” too much land in a province that has already protected more than its share.

But protecting is exactly what we should be doing. Ecologies don’t function if they are isolated in fragmented pieces — we need large areas to make the protection meaningful and viable. And because BC happens to be the most biologically diverse and species-rich province in Canada, the amount of protection should be commensurate with the stunning variety of our geography — we are morally compelled to protect the natural treasure we have.

Finally, “sterilizes” is hardly the word to describe the effect of protecting a vibrant temperate rain forest. But sterile is what remains when a logged virgin forest has been converted to a tree farm, precisely the kind of treatment that is causing the sixth major species extinction in Earth’s history. If we are to maintain any semblance of the original range of life that existed before we sprawled all over the planet, then we need to protect more areas like the Great Bear Rainforest — if any are still left.

We might think positively. The Great Bear Rainforest offers incredible and indefinite ecotourism opportunities, cleans the air of carbon and pollutants, ensures healthy runs of salmon and provides a template for temperate rain forests, should we ever try to reconstruct the ones we’ve ruined. And the Great Bear Rainforest also provides us with some peace of mind, a symbolic reminder of what we are capable of doing during periods of sanity.