The newly announced agreement to both protect and exploit British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest is an amazing accomplishment that has defied historical precedent.
Two decades of heated debate over 6.4 million hectares of old-growth forest and pristine wilderness could easily have collapsed into the tired stalemate dogging too much of the resource economy – environmentalists, native peoples, companies and government at futile odds while the planet warms and jobs are lost.
Instead, thanks to market pressure applied by global consumers of B.C. forestry products (this newspaper included), and the relentless efforts of, yes, environmentalists, native peoples, companies and government, today we have an agreement that is a model of its kind.
Eighty-five per cent of the rainforest will be off-limits forever, but forestry companies will be able to continue logging on the other 15 per cent under stringent rules. As well, the B.C. government has signed royalty-sharing agreements with 26 First Nations, a stunning accomplishment in its own right.
Native people living in the region will have jobs and the opportunity to make money off the exploitation of their resources. The companies that log there will be legitimately able to brand their products as green. And environmentalists have protected one of the most magnificent temperate rainforests on the planet, thereby trapping the millions of tonnes of carbon stored in it.
It's all about balance. Canada's economy, and especially those of some provinces, will always be heavily reliant on resources. But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is right to insist that the way forward in the climate-change era is along a path where environmental concerns, native issues and future resource development walk together in an overt fashion.
From oil-sands development to pipeline construction, from the forest industry to our fisheries, this country tends to get bogged down in zero-sum games in which development can't co-exist with environmental concerns and native-rights protection. The Great Bear Rainforest agreement is proof that all interests can co-exist to mutual benefit – and not just in Canada but around the world. It is a monumental achievement, and a source of hope.