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Logging plan's delay puts species at risk: study

The Great Bear Rainforest is best known for the so-called Spirit Bears - black bears with white fur

Picasa 3.0/Doug Neasloss/ The Globe and Mail

A plan to protect large areas of the Great Bear Rainforest from logging has fallen so far behind schedule that key species could soon be put at risk, say three environmental groups working with the government to save the area.

"Right now we are entering a red zone in terms of delays. It's no longer acceptable … we have to see a turnaround," said Jens Wieting, a spokesman for the Sierra Club of B.C.

Mr. Wieting said when the government last year passed legislation protecting about half the area (some 2.1 million hectares) from logging and other resource activity, it promised to draft scientific harvesting plans that would reduce the environmental impact of timber cutting on the remaining lands.

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The approach, first promised in 2006 when the government announced its intention to save the Great Bear Rainforest, drew widespread praise and three major environmental groups - the Sierra Club, Greenpeace Canada and Forest Ethics - signed on as partners to help develop the strategy.

The idea was to save key habitat for threatened species, while allowing logging with a "lighter touch" in remaining areas in the Great Bear Rainforest, a vast wilderness on B.C.'s central coast.

But Mr. Wieting said a new study, being released by the three environmental groups Friday, shows there has been little progress toward developing those scientific logging plans.

"When we endorsed the agreement in March 2009 … all parties agreed it was an absolutely high priority that we address the habitat needs of key species. … Now it's 2010 and that still hasn't been done, so that's a big deal to us," he said.

Mr. Wieting said the government logging plan is nine months behind schedule and he's worried it won't be ready in time to manage logging activities this year.

"We are concerned about market news. There has been an increase in timber prices and there could be significantly more logging [in the Great Bear Rainforest]in 2010," he said.

Mr. Wieting said if logging roads are built, or timber harvesting takes place before a plan is in place, key habitat could be lost.

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The report looked at five "focal species" and concluded all could be at risk if resource development fractures key habitat zones.

"Although the B.C. government pledged to protect the biodiversity of the Great Bear Rainforest, it cannot confirm that it is maintaining enough habitat to prevent the extirpation of the five focal species," states the report.

It says the provincial government continues to issue permits to build roads and log in the unprotected areas of the Great Bear Rainforest, even though those activities "have a high likelihood of degrading critical focal species habitat."

The five focal species examined were the grizzly bear, mountain goat, northern goshawk, marbled murrelet and coastal tailed frog.

The Great Bear Rainforest is best known for the so-called Spirit Bears - black bears with white fur - that roam the forest there.

Mr. Wieting said the focal species were chosen as indicators of environmental trends, and whatever happens to them will also happen to the other animals in the area, including the Spirit Bear.

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The report offers two key recommendations. It calls on the province "to provide decisive leadership" in completing the logging plans as soon as possible, and urges the government to not issue any new permits for cutting or road building until those plans are in place.

Forests and Range Minister Pat Bell was not available for comment, but a spokesman for his office said he had the report and would read it.

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