February 13, 2006

Historic agreement protects BC rainforest, requires sustainable forestry practices

Years of work by one of the most unusual alliances in Canadian history have culminated in a commitment by the British Columbia government to preserve some of the world's most spectacular, ecologically diverse regions, including the critical Great Bear rainforest and large areas of habitat for the rare Spirit Bear.

An agreement on land use planning decisions for BC's central and north coast will protect one-third of the Great Bear rainforest from logging and will require the use of more sustainable logging practices for the remaining area. The agreement also sets a new precedent for decision-making for local indigenous groups (First Nations), giving them the right to define what happens on their land.

The agreement represents a precedent-setting collaboration involving governments, environmental groups and logging companies whose input contributed to the work of a blue-ribbon science panel in developing specific recommendations to change logging practices. It reflects a collective vision for use and management of public provincial lands and resources and will lead to land use decisions providing final land use zoning for Protected Areas, Biodiversity Areas, and Ecosystem-Based Management Operating Areas.

The decisions will guide the development of final Land and Resource Management Plans (LRMPs) for the central and north coast, whose combined areas are approximately 6.4 million hectares, twice the size of Yellowstone Park. Within these regions, the total combined protected areas are approximately 1.8 million hectares, or more than three times the size of Prince Edward Island. This includes both new and previously-protected areas, plus special no-logging zones.

"These land use decisions are a historic step towards a new level of co-operation in British Columbia's forests," said Agriculture and Lands Minister Pat Bell, adding, "Government, First Nations, environmentalists, resource industries and communities have found common ground, and this continued collaboration will play an important role in our work ahead to fully implement these LRMPs." The government will be introducing legislation around these land use decisions to establish new protected areas and to advance sustainable logging practices in the region.

Corporate partners in the alliance included Canadian Forest Products, Catalyst Paper, International Forest Products and Western Forest Products. Participating environmental groups included ForestEthics, Greenpeace and the BC chapter of the Sierra Club of Canada, who have campaigned for nearly a decade to preserve what are some of the largest remaining intact temperate rainforests. Various provincial departments and representatives from the region's First Nation communities rounded out the collaboration.

The land use decisions protect vast areas of temperate rain forest, while providing a unique framework called Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM) for the industry to work in. These agreements set the stage for a collaborative model to fully implement EBM in these areas by March 2009.

They also pave the way for finalizing government-to-government land use agreements with First Nations. This will enable the formation of Land and Resource Forums allowing the province and the First Nations to work together to finalize and implement land use plans that incorporate the latter's cultural values and ecological and economic interests.

EBM is an adaptive approach to managing human activities that ensures the coexistence of healthy ecosystems and communities. The intent of EBM is to support a sustainable economy while protecting a healthy ecosystem.

The EBM model to be used in the central and north coasts is designed to take into account key local human and ecological values, including First Nations communities and cultures. It will also address the large areas of intact old growth temperate rainforests on the coasts. EBM for the central coast and north coast decisions will entail:

*establishment of a system of protected areas and reserves of various sizes to protect ecological and cultural heritage values;

*higher standards for environmental values such as old growth, riparian areas, biodiversity, grizzly and black bear habitat, and salmon habitat;

*use of traditional, local, and scientific knowledge of natural ecological patterns and processes, their historic variability, and risk assessment to develop ecosystem-specific management targets; and

*acknowledgement of Aboriginal interests in the plan areas through innovative approaches to LRMP implementation and collaborative protected areas management.

The EBM model will promote stability, certainty and long-term resource use, and will lead to the establishment of new arrangements among First Nations, governments, and stakeholders.

The central coast planning process began in 1997, while the north coast process began in 2002. Major stakeholders, communities and First Nations participated in planning tables to work on the LRMPs. The public planning process assessed ecological, social and economic values of the regions. In May 2004, the central coast LRMP table signed off on its recommendations, followed by the north coast planning table in February 2005. The provincial government then began in-depth government-to-government discussions with more than 25 coastal First Nations to reach agreements.

Within the 4.7-million-hectare central coast LRMP area, 29% of Crown land in the planning area will be set aside for protection and 68% for all resource uses, while an additional 3% will be available for mining and tourism development. Within the planning area of the 1.7-million-hectare north coast area, 24% of Crown land will be set aside for protection and 66% per cent for all resource uses, with an additional 10% made available for mining and tourism development.

The decisions establish more than 100 Protected Areas, emphasizing habitat conservation, maintenance of biodiversity, and preservation of special landscape, recreation and cultural heritage features. This will add more than 1.2 million hectares to the approximately 600,000 hectares already protected, for a total of some 1.8 million hectares, or 13.8% of BC's land area. As a result, BC will have one of the largest percentages of protected areas of any jurisdiction in the world, significantly higher than the UN goal of protecting 12% of the land base.

Biodiversity Areas allow for some resource development, while maintaining ecological diversity and function. Commercial forestry and major hydro-electric activities will not be permitted in these zones, but all other land uses, including mining and tourism activities, will be allowed. The decisions designate 3% of the central coast and 10% of the north coast as Biodiversity Areas.

EBM Operating Area Zones cover the balance of the plan area (68% of the central and 66% of the north coast) and allow for the full range of economic uses. Resource development within these areas will focus on applying the EBM approach in order to enhance community stability, encourage economic diversification and increase local employment, economic development and other benefits from resources.

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