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Preserving the Great Bear Rainforest doesn’t really save the bears

A rare white kermode bear with her cub in the Great Bear Rainforest, B.C.

Kyle Breckenridge/Rex Feature Ltd.

Good news deserves to be announced more than once, but the parties associated with the Great Bear Rainforest agreement unveiled last week must have set some sort of record.

The deal that saved the Great Bear Rainforest has been announced about 15 times over the years.

B.C. land-use agreement protects rare bears – Pristine area to be hands-off to loggers, one headline stated in 2001, followed in 2002 by Cabinet orders protection of Great Bear Rainforest and in 2006 by Deal reached on Great Bear Rainforest.

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They came like that yearly until the final flurry last week.

To be fair, the government didn't make all those announcements.

Environmentalists made many, apparently in an attempt to pressure government and industry negotiators who were stalling at the bargaining table.

Some of the headlines were generated by incremental advances in the structuring of the deal.

But the great irony is that while it was repeated ad nauseam that the Great Bear Rainforest had been saved, it hadn't been – and it still isn't.

Under the final deal, bear hunting is still allowed, which begs the question: Can you really say the Great Bear Rainforest is saved, if the great bears aren't?

Logging continued during negotiations, and the deal allows for an annual cut of 2.5 million cubic metres.

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Among the areas that have been or will be logged are some of the richest forest valleys on the central coast, including places such as the Neekus watershed, where Tom Reimchen did globally significant work on bears and salmon.

Dr. Reimchen's studies showed that when bears drag salmon out of streams, the fish carcasses filter nitrates into the forest. The bears help the trees grow.

But many of the biggest trees have been or will be cut, despite their oft-announced salvation.

Many environmentalists are reluctant to criticize the deal because they know how hard representatives from Greenpeace, ForestEthics and Sierra Club BC worked.

A common feeling is that the environmental negotiators got the best agreement they could, given the divergent interests of First Nations, government and industry.

But some, such as Steve and Susanne Lawson, feel the Great Bear Rainforest agreement is "an ongoing sellout" of British Columbia's coastal old growth. They live in Clayoquot Sound, an area on Vancouver Island supposedly saved by a deal in the nineties, but where logging continues.

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"Talk and log seems to be the name of the game, now and then. Industry has never lost in this process," Mr. Lawson said.

Ian McAllister, a nature photographer and co-founder of Pacific Wild, said the Great Bear deal should be celebrated for what it has achieved – setting aside large tracts of land – but he wants people to understand that key forests have been and will continue to be cut.

"What is lost on so many people is the amount of egregious, brutal, industrial logging that's already been suffered throughout the Great Bear, and that a lot of this has been ongoing throughout all these negotiations," he said.

Under the deal, 85 per cent of the Great Bear Rainforest is to be protected and only 15 per cent cut. But Mr. McAllister said that 15 per cent is all low-elevation old growth – the biggest and the best of the forest.

"If the coastline has a heart, those low-elevation forests would be it," he said.

Chris Darimont, Hakai-Raincoast professor at the University of Victoria and science director at Raincoast Conservation, said the deal has some shortcomings. But he praises it for giving increased control over coastal ecosystems to First Nations.

Vicky Husband, one of B.C.'s leading environmental voices, said it is impressive that environmental negotiators were able to get so much when government wanted to give so little. But she is dismayed the deal has allowed the government to cast itself as green, when it is still allowing ancient forests to be logged and grizzly bears to be shot.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Mark Hume is a National Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver, writing news and feature stories on a daily basis about his home province of British Columbia. His weekly column, which often challenges the orthodoxy on environmental issues, appears every Monday. More

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