greatbear

The 20-year battle to protect the Great Bear Rainforest – the largest coastal temperate rainforest on the planet – is over, with the B.C. government announcement on Monday of an agreement with environmentalists, forest companies and First Nations.

The deal, which will be enshrined in legislation this spring, applies to a stretch of 6.4 million hectares of the coast from the north of Vancouver Island to the Alaska Panhandle. It promises to protect 85 per cent of the region’s old-growth forests, with logging in the remaining 15 per cent subject to the most stringent commercial logging standards in North America.

“I’m pleased to announce we have reached this landmark agreement,” B.C. Premier Christy Clark told a news conference in Vancouver. “We celebrate what hard work, tenacity and strength of purpose can achieve when we work together.”

Representatives for the four partners gathered for a ceremony in the Heiltsuk community of Bella Bella on Friday to mark the completion of an accord that reaches far beyond the original objectives of protecting ancient forests and the home of the unique white-furred black bear known as the Spirit Bear.

The final agreement also recognizes aboriginal rights to shared decision-making and improves economic opportunities for the 26 First Nations that reside in the region with a greater share of timber rights and $15-million from the province.

In Bella Bella’s school gymnasium, hereditary chiefs wearing their regalia of button blankets and ermine-trimmed headdresses danced and a chorus of children sang to welcome Premier Clark and the chief architects of the deal.

“This is a singular place – a gift – for us to preserve and this is the biggest statement we’ve ever made about our commitment to that,” Ms. Clark said in an interview after a short hike through the forest to the edge of an estuary. “To me, it’s an expression of our collective love of this land and this coast.”

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