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Aerial view of the southern part of the Great Bear Rain Forest (Garth Lenz/ The Globe and Mail/Garth Lenz/ The Globe and Mail)
Aerial view of the southern part of the Great Bear Rain Forest (Garth Lenz/ The Globe and Mail/Garth Lenz/ The Globe and Mail)

Fulfill promise of Great Bear Rainforest pact, Clark urged Add to ...

The B.C. government declared the end of the war in the woods two years ago when it established the protection of the Great Bear Rainforest, the largest remaining intact temperate rain forest in the world.

But photographs released this week by environmentalists show a landscape scarred by fresh clearcuts - each cutblock an average of 18 hectares in size. The war isn't over yet.

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The logging is allowed under the deal environmentalists and logging firms signed on to in 2009. Environmental groups, under the umbrella of the Rainforest Solutions Project, say the recent logging activity they documented shows that the conservation pact doesn't do enough to protect the region.

Now Premier Christy Clark is being asked to take the Great Bear Rainforest deal and make it her own - by increasing the ratio of protected forestland.

"Your government's leadership is important for achieving the full and timely implementation of the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements," states a letter to the Premier signed by five forest industry firms and three environmental groups that have been working together to reach the target of preserving 70 per cent of the protected area.

The current agreement protects only half of the Great Bear Rainforest's six million hectares of land, which stretches along the B.C. coast from just north of Vancouver Island to the Alaska Panhandle.

While the goal is to move to 70 per cent preservation by 2014, the rules established two years ago call for "low-impact logging regulations that will conserve 50 per cent of the natural range of old growth forests."

The region is home to 1,500-year-old trees and exotic species, including the rare white Kermode bear - also known as B.C.'s Spirit Bear. It has been targeted for preservation by environmental groups since the 1990s. The groups organized boycotts of B.C. forest products until government and industry came to the table and agreed to change the way logging is done.

That deal, forged in 2000, formalized in 2006 and codified in 2009, was hailed as a landmark agreement between the forest industry and environmentalists, and earned British Columbia headlines around the world.

"What you are seeing in those photographs is not illegal," said Valerie Langer of ForestEthics, one of the parties to the pact. Environmentalists accepted a compromise, she said, because they recognized that the forest industry needed time to make the transition to new logging practices. But she said the government has not lived up to its commitment to details, such as creating maps that would designate where logging is permissible.

"Let's not wait any longer, let's make the Great Bear Rainforest agreement real, on the ground, now," she said in an interview.

The photos show harvesting by TimberWest, the largest logging company in the region that did not sign on to the agreement. The company, however, is bound to adhere to the logging limits set out in the 2009 deal.

TimberWest spokeswoman Sue Handel said the company is disappointed to be singled out by Rainforest Solutions just weeks after the group initiated talks to bring the forest company on board.

"It was only early in June that Rainforest Solutions contacted us to talk about us signing on," she said. "We support the model and we hope to continue that conversation."

She said the photos show recent logging in the company's tree farm licence No. 47, where 90 per cent of the harvest is from second-growth timber stands.

Patrick Armstrong, a spokesman for the consortium of forest industry companies that have already signed on to the agreement, said his group has been working with Rainforest Solutions to reach the targets that were originally proposed, which would protect 70 per cent of the region.

"We call the project 'above the line,' " he said. He said forest practices have improved significantly since the environmentalists first campaigned for the region, but he said it is slow work. "This was a process, not an event; it was about saying we are going to reinvent the way we do logging," he said. "We're making steady forward progress."

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