A planeload carrying some of the key players in the agreement to preserve the Great Bear Rainforest touched down in Bella Bella, B.C., late last week for an unheralded ceremony marking the conclusion of the deal. The Globe and Mail's Justine Hunter and John Lehmann followed the group representing the four partners responsible for the deal.
Valerie Langer was at the table when the name “Great Bear Rainforest” was dreamed up as a campaign strategy in 1997. At the time she was part of the Friends of Clayoquot Sound – the leaders of the campaign that began the war in the woods. They pioneered the strategy of organizing market boycotts to pressure forest companies to stop logging old-growth trees. Now the director of B.C. forest campaigns for ForestEthics Solutions, Ms. Langer talks about the campaign that consumed almost 20 years of her life:
“The environmentalist’s gateway drug is Clayoquot Sound. I started campaigning there in 1988. Then I spent 10 days canoeing in behind Bella Bella. It was jaw-dropping. My heart is in Clayoquot Sound but this was Clayoquot, multiplied.
“At one point there was a junket organized by the forest industry, they brought over European publishers. We got our foot in the door, saying two sides of this story needed to be told. One of the reps from the German publishers said, ‘Sometimes you ask for a black Cadillac when you only need a red Ford. But sometimes you need the black Cadillac.’ And they threw the gauntlet down and said, ‘You have got to work this out: environmentalists and industry. Because we are not going to be friends to either of you.’ It wasn’t that industry had to cave to all the environmental demands. The challenge, to keep the support of the marketplace for better forestry, was to work something out with industry. That was the watershed moment.
“But there was a parallel conflict, between the government and First Nations about who had the rights to make the rules and allocate the forests. Those parallel conflicts were so intertwined that the process for a solution had to accommodate all four interests.
“The major learning piece is that the marketplace was critical all the way through. The war in the woods stopped but the pressure was continuous: The customers of the logging companies have injected themselves into conversations many times, when things were falling apart, they said keep at it. Now we are going to be communicating to the market, to tell them the Great Bear Rainforest is the model.”
Premier Christy Clark has concluded the deal that was first embraced by NDP premier Ujjal Dosanjh 16 years ago, and then tentatively secured by Liberal premier Gordon Campbell in 2006. It was left to her government to finalize agreements with 26 First Nations in the region to ensure that the human residents of the rainforest are not left behind. Ms. Clark reflects on how, in a province scarred by passionate battles over pipelines and other resource development, this agreement can serve as a path forward:
“All the fights about oil, fishing, logging – so much of it has been about preserving our beautiful coast. You can’t understand British Columbians unless you can grasp the emotion that people feel about our coast. It’s what makes us so different from Alberta and Ontario and other parts of the country.
“That’s what’s so amazing about this: That fight was so passionate at the time and here we are at an agreement. It took a long time and it involved a lot of people with diverse interests but we all found a common interest. And everybody, I think, felt like they compromised a little to get there. That’s a truly Canadian achievement.
“Collaborating is the way we need to do business in British Columbia. This is reason for optimism. We want to maintain economic growth and we want to preserve these natural gifts. This is proof that we can.
“For me personally, I’m a child of this coast. My great-grandfather raised my grandfather at Clayoquot, on the beach. When I am here on the coast, at the water’s edge with this forest behind me, I feel more at home than anywhere else in the world.”
Rick Jeffery is president and CEO of the Coast Forest Products Association. He’s been involved in the file since the market boycott was launched in 1997. He was then the president of the Truck Loggers Association. He has been the industry’s chief negotiator since 2012. He says it took a leap of faith to trust old adversaries, but the payoff – for all parties – will be immense.
“There was a high level of distrust amongst the parties. In the Great Bear Rainforest context, you had [forest companies] saying we have legal rights here; you had another group waging war with our customers. It’s not easy to trust somebody you feel is trying to impinge on your livelihood. But we reached an agreement: We would down tools around logging in these valleys and they would stand down their campaign so we can talk. And we did. That set the framework for collaboration.
“What changed? We’ve all grown up.
“What we have learned from our customers was, we could have all the explanations and facts and figures to tell them why what we were doing was okay, but if there was conflict associated with our products, they could get those products somewhere else.
“Now we have a forest industry that will provide jobs and sustainable, climate-friendly products. It’s not just about the market. The world has to shelter 7.4 billion people and forest products provide the best building materials. This shows we are sustainable.”
Dallas Smith is president of the Nanwakolas Council, one of the two major First Nations organizations representing most of the 26 aboriginal communities in the region. He has been a part of the land-use planning from the start, but the region’s aboriginal communities were initially hostile when they learned environmentalists and industry were trying to work out a conservation plan within their traditional territories. He believes the plan that has been crafted now offers hope for the indigenous people of the region.
“My initial reaction was, ‘Why are these people – these outsiders – talking about our territories?’ It was very defensive.
“But through the land-use planning forums, I began to understand the role of First Nations people on the coast. We have these communities that are in the middle of nowhere, but there is resource extraction that is dependent on relationships with these communities. It started to dawn on me, the opportunity that First Nations had to play a significant role when it comes to making decisions in what became known as the Great Bear Rainforest.
“It’s huge for us because our people go back since time immemorial and we are part of the functioning ecosystem. These other groups were simply wanting to use these ecosystems. We realized we had a certain accountability, as we claimed through our songs and dances that we have this cultural connection to our land and resources, that we have to stand up and show the world we are part of this, this is why we are supporting discussions about how to make practices in the Great Bear Rainforest more sustainable.
“It’s funny, after all these years, I don’t know whether I’m an NGO or an industry guy. I cherish my relationships with both sides, I want to see more sustainable development but there are some serious issues that need protection in the Great Bear and I think we’ve done that.
“Now it’s necessary to take steps to ensure that our communities are able to share in the economic success, in the balance that we have achieved in the Great Bear. How do we make these communities better places to live? The Great Bear Rainforest is world-renowned, but my communities still live in third-world conditions in this territory. If that is still the case 10 years from now, the Great Bear has failed.”
These interviews have been edited and condensed.
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