Long and winding road led to Great Bear Rainforest agreements

By Rory Annett

When the B.C. government started the land use planning processes for what used to be called the North Coast and Central South Coast planning areas in the late 1990’s, it quickly became apparent that this was a special region that would require a unique approach.

The vast, majestic wilderness area we now call the Great Bear Rainforest was identified as the last remaining large, intact tract of temperate rainforest on the planet and, as such, had immense global ecological significance. The area was also extremely important economically as it supported large amounts of timber harvesting that sustained communities and timber processing plants all along the B.C. coast. In addition, the area was home to 26 First Nations that have lived in the area for millennia; many of whom were demanding an increased role in the management of their traditional territories and greater economic benefits for their communities.

Given the complexities at hand, it’s not surprising that the ensuing process has taken nearly two decades to play out. The long journey from where we were to where we are now needed to protect the Great Bear Rainforest’s unique ecosystems while respecting the diverse longstanding communities and people that depend upon them. This was a job that required a lot of heavy lifting.

Massive amounts of scientific information about ecosystems and social information about communities had to be collected and considered. New ways of encouraging co-operation between stakeholders – many of whom came to the table with wildly divergent viewpoints – were pioneered. New models for collaboration on government to government decision-making with First Nations were developed. New ways of managing the forest ecosystems to achieve the concurrent goals of high levels of ecological integrity and high levels of human well-being had to be developed and tested. In the end, moving all that hard work from the concept to reality required government to pass ground-breaking new pieces of enabling legislation.

I had the pleasure – and challenge – of leading the provincial team through the last five years of this process and can attest to the passion and dedication of the many individuals, organizations and First Nations involved that have contributed to the Great Bear Rainforest agreements. What has emerged is a historic and remarkable level of consensus on how the Great Bear Rainforest should be managed and the collective vision for moving forward.

While there is still a lot of work to be done implementing the agreements, everyone who took part in this process should have a shared sense of pride in the legacy we have created for the planet and for future generations. I’m sure that decades from now, we’ll look back on this as one of the most significant milestones in co-operative ecosystem-based management this province has ever achieved.

Rory Annett retires from the Public Service on January 13, 2017, after a 31-year career, most recently as the Executive Director for Coastal Projects.