Canada has unveiled a 16-million acre preserve, including parkland teeming with grizzly bears, wolves and wild salmon in the ancestral home of many native tribes.
Closing another chapter of the wars between environmentalists and loggers, the Great Bear Rainforest is the result of a deal between governments, aboriginal First Nations, the logging industry and activists.
The new preserve, which dwarfs the famed 2.2-million-acre Yellowstone National Park in the United States, will stretch 250 miles along British Columbia’s rugged Pacific coastline – the ancestral home of groups whose cultures date back thousands of years.
The area also sustains a rare white bear found only in British Columbia. First Nations – as native Indians are called in Canada – believe their creator, the Raven, created the white bear as a reminder of the last ice age.
“The agreement on these areas represents an unprecedented collaboration between First Nations, industry, local governments and many other stakeholders in how we manage the vast richness of BC’s coast for the benefit of all British Columbians,” said premier Gordon Campbell, who was accompanied by native dancers and drummers for the announcement and formal First Nations blessing.
“The result is a strong marriage that balances the needs of the environment with the need for sustainable jobs and a strong economic future for coastal communities.”
Campbell said 4.4 million acres would be protected outright and managed as parkland, with another 11.6 million run under an ecosystem management plan to ensure sustainable forestry with minimal impact on the environment.
Full implementation of the project is not expected until 2009.
British Columbia’s lush evergreen forests have been the scene of decades of confrontation between environmentalists and loggers. Successful boycott campaigns in the 1990s led to large international companies turning away from British Columbia paper and wood products, forcing the government to find a negotiated solution.
“British Columbians are showing that it is possible to protect the environment and provide the economic foundation for healthy communities,” said Lisa Matthaus, coast campaign co-ordinator for the Sierra Club of Canada’s British Columbia chapter.
“This innovative rainforest agreement provides a real world example of how people and wilderness can prosper together.”
The region is home to hundreds of species, including grizzlies, black bears, the so-called spirit bear, wolves, cougars, mountain goats, moose and deer. The spirit bear is a rare white species and is also called the kermode bear.