The Great Bear Rainforest Agreement was negotiated by such a diverse group of interests that at times consensus seemed all but impossible. Independent conservation science played a key role in bringing these seemingly incompatible interests to the same table. The science helped them find common ground when discussing how to manage and relate to this very special place.
The agreement between government, industry, First Nations and environmental groups to protect much of the Great Bear Rainforest should be celebrated. However, while the agreement helps protect grizzly bear and other wildlife habitat, it doesn't protect the bears themselves, contrary to B.C. Premier Christy Clark's claims at a news conference.
The Great Bear Region along British Columbia's coast holds one of the largest unspoiled temperate rainforests left on the planet. There was a time when much of the rainforest was slated to be clear cut. But this week, environmentalists, forestry companies, and the 26 First Nations that call the rainforest home reached a final agreement that permanently protects the wilderness and benefits us all.
On the first day of February 2006, a landmark agreement that has been called "one of the most visionary forest conservation plans on Earth" was inked by First Nations elders, the provincial government and environmentalists. Eighty five per cent of the Great Bear Rainforest -- at 3.1 million hectares, an area roughly twice the size of Vancouver Island -- is permanently off limits to logging.
Canada is a treasure trove of rivers, lakes and wetlands supporting countless communities, economies and species. With freshwater species experiencing the greatest rate of decline in what is being referred to as the sixth great extinction, Canada must step up efforts to improve watershed health for people and animals. For a prime example of our freshwater health and wealth, we need to look no further than the Skeena watershed on the northwest coast of British Columbia.
A beloved animal, tagged for tracking by researchers, crosses the invisible boundary between protected and unprotected area and is killed by a hunter who has paid tens of thousands of dollars for the "experience." That was the fate of Zimbabwe's Cecil the lion, whose killing sparked torrents of online and on-air outrage. But it also happens around the world every day, including in my home province of B.C. It's time to end trophy hunting. In B.C., the government must listen to citizens and conservationists, respect First Nations laws and customs and end the grizzly hunt.
The risk to this place posed by Enbridge's Northern Gateway project is both serious and unmanageable. I have sailed along the Great Bear's channels. Even in a calm season it is apparent, those waters are as treacherous as they are precious. It is not a question of if an accident will happen, but a question of when and how bad.
We want these bears dead. This is the message the B.C. government's "reallocation policy" sends across the country. This policy is also preventing the implementation of an innovative solution to end the commercial trophy hunting of grizzlies and other large carnivores throughout B.C.'s Great Bear Rainforest.
There is another reason why we cannot afford to take much longer to increase conservation and tighten the rules. One major logging company operating in the region is not a member of the Joint Solutions Project. Instead, TimberWest has a long history of opposing increases in conservation and undertaking extremely profit-driven logging operations in the southern-most portion of the Great Bear Rainforest with very little remaining old-growth.
The campaign to save the spirit bear is a full-fledged movement, owned not by the Youth Coalition, but by millions around the world. And having done all we can to take the issue this far, it is up to all of us, as individuals, to take on the responsibility of continuing to make sure that the spirit bear isn't just safe, but will forever be wild and free.