BRITISH COLUMBIA CREATES GIANT NEW GREAT BEAR RAINFOREST PARK, PROTECTING
HABITAT OF MAJESTIC SPIRIT BEAR AND GIVING NATIVE PEOPLES CONTROL OVER LAND
Designation is Victory for North American Conservation Groups
WASHINGTON (February 7, 2006) -- After years of protest and negotiation by North American conservation groups and indigenous peoples, the government of British Columbia announced this week that it is creating a 5-million-acre Great Bear Rainforest park to protect critical habitat on its Pacific Coast.
The agreement protects an area the size of New Jersey from logging and ensures the right of indigenous peoples to manage their traditional territories. In addition, the agreement establishes new, more stringent standards for logging in the rainforest outside of the protected area.
"The agreement will protect this irreplaceable and unique rainforest and still allow for sensible logging to sustain local economies," said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which played a key role in the international campaign to protect the region. "It shows that we can protect our most valuable natural resources and our communities at the same time."
The new park boasts a wide range of wildlife, including salmon, eagles, wolves, grizzlies, black bears, and the rare white "spirit" bear found only in the province.
The protracted battle to protect this swath of rugged coastline lasted for more than a decade. In 2001, NRDC and a coalition of North American conservation groups pressured the British Columbian government to come to the negotiation table to stop timber companies from clearcutting the area's ancient forest, which includes thousand-year-old cedar trees.
Over the years, tens of thousands of NRDC members and activists flooded the provincial government and logging companies with emails, letters and faxes.
"This victory is a dazzling example of how ordinary people can come together toget results. Everybody was in this for the long haul," said Jacob Scherr, director of NRDC's BioGems initiative. "We couldn't have accomplished this without the support of our members."
The Great Bear Rainforest agreement was negotiated directly between the British Columbia government and the region's indigenous peoples, called First Nations in Canada. Their final agreement was based on proposals negotiated by the provincial government, First Nations, the logging industry and conservation groups. NRDC's coalition partners included ForestEthics, Greenpeace Canada, Rainforest Action Network, Sierra Club-British Columbia.