Stretching along British Columbia’s mainland coast north to Alaska, the Great Bear Rainforest covers 6.4 million hectares (15.8 million acres) and represents fully 25 percent of the world’s remaining coastal temperate rainforests. Rich in biodiversity, its ancient forests shelter a multitude of species from grizzly and black bears to coastal wolves, all of which hunt for salmon. Home to the iconic white Spirit or Kermode bear, the streams and shorelines of the Great Bear are alive with wild salmon, herring, oolichan and a rich variety of shellfish. Eagles call from the treetops, elk graze the undergrowth and humpback whales breach in the clear waters of the Pacific.
The Great Bear Rainforest is also home to vibrant First Nations communities, steeped in the natural cycles of this abundant ecosystem. Twenty-seven First Nations call this part of the coast home, their cultures evolving along side of the landscape over the last 10, 000 years since the ice receded.
Ancient, intact forests such as the Great Bear Rainforest are not just important for the life – human, plant, and animal – they nurture, but also for the climate stability they provide to the entire planet. More than 1,000 tonnes of carbon are stored in a single hectare of coastal rainforest, making the Great Bear Rainforest a crucial shield against global climate instability.
Now the Great Bear Rainforest is also a different kind of marvel – not just of nature, but of hard work and collaboration to create a conservation agreement that allows environmental values and economic needs to work with, rather than against each other.
On February 1, 2016, the Premier of British Columbia and First Nations of the Great Bear Rainforest region announced a conservation agreement of global significance. Sixteen years in the making, the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements have secured:
• 85 % of the 15.8 million acre Great Bear Rainforest is now legally protected or off limits to logging
• North America’s most stringent commercial logging regulations in place on the remainder of the land base
• First Nations shared decision making over their territories solidified
• Active support from
forestry companies and key environmental organizations
This landmark conservation agreement is the first of its kind in Canada, and sets a precedent for similarly endangered forest areas across Canada and around the world. Be it Canada’s Boreal forest or Indonesia’s Leuser Ecosystem, the Great Bear Rainforest is a landscape of hope that provides a pathway for other jurisdictions to follow.