By Ric Slaco and Valerie Langer
The first time we met – on a blockade at Clayoquot Sound in 1988 – we had a vigorous discussion about old growth forests. Very vigorous.
Valerie was a young literacy teacher blocking a logging road. Ric was a young professional forester for a major forest company in Clayoquot Sound.
That first meeting ended with Valerie’s arrest for civil disobedience and eight days in jail: Ample time to consider how to change forestry at the larger scale, rather than cutblock-by-cutblock fights.
Fast forward to 1996. Once again, we were on opposite sides – Valerie was now working with a coalition of major environmental groups, and Ric was chief forester at Interfor, one of the world’s largest lumber producers.
This time our front line was the forests on British Columbia’s remote central and north coast, home to one-quarter of the world’s coastal temperate rainforest. At 6.4 million hectares, it is 25 times bigger than Clayoquot Sound – with stunning scenery, diverse ecology and productive forests.
Valerie and her colleagues wanted to protect the forests. They named the region the Great Bear Rainforest after the grizzlies and white spirit bear found there. There were protests and blockades and their campaign focused on global markets for wood and paper products. Ric and his industry colleagues called it the Mid-Coast Timber Supply Area – which says something about how far apart industry and environmentalists were. Regardless what the place was called, it was in bitter conflict. And we were not the only ones with an interest in the area.
The B.C. government was involved in local land-use planning and forest management. First Nations, who make up much of the region’s population, were determined to assert their sovereignty over their traditional lands. Local residents were worried about jobs, and customers were worried about the sustainability of the products they were buying.
In 2000, a number of forest product customers urged us to seek a solution. A handful of coastal forest companies and a handful of environmental groups decided to risk looking for common ground. The companies created the Coast Forest Conservation Initiative, which has five members today – BC Timber Sales, Catalyst Paper, Howe Sound Pulp and Paper, Interfor and Western Forest Products. ForestEthics Solutions, Greenpeace and Sierra Club BC also formed a coalition to engage in this endeavour. The two alliances formed the Joint Solutions Project – agreeing to work collaboratively to find new ways to achieve conservation and management objectives in the Great Bear Rainforest.
We discovered that common ground could be found not just in the forests, but in acknowledging that First Nations had to pursue the well-being of their lands and communities, and that the jobs that sustain our coastal communities are important.
In the last 15 years, these organizations and companies have dedicated millions of hours and dollars to find solutions. We replaced rhetoric with science. We replaced conflict with intense collaboration. And we, as stakeholders, developed conservation and management recommendations for First Nation and provincial government decision makers.
There has been a lot of media attention about the outcome. The agreement sets aside 85 per cent of the Great Bear Rainforest, reduces the cut and logging under strict ecosystem based management in 15 per cent is now in place, along with measures that strengthen First Nations opportunities and shared decision-making, and increased certainty for customers. Over time, two-thirds of the timber harvest will be from second-growth forests.
This is unprecedented in the history of our province.
There were many times when discussions broke down. But we always came back to seek the art of the possible. We knew what we were doing mattered. We knew the world was watching. We knew there were skeptics on all sides. It was hard on the people involved; the stakes were high.
And we’re not done yet. The Joint Solutions Project will do its part to monitor the implementation of the Great Bear Rainforest agreement. We all want to make sure it meets our common goal of supporting ecological integrity and human well-being.
We are proud to have found a unique solution for a globally significant area through a made in-B.C. model of leadership that can be applied globally.
And on a personal level, we welcome the fact we’ve been able to replace vigorous discussions with creative solution discussions.
Ric Slaco is chair of the Coast Forest Conservation Initiative Society and vice-president and chief forester at Interfor. Valerie Langer oversees Strategic Projects with Stand.earth (formerly ForestEthics)