VICTORIA – Premier Christy Clark says her government’s protection of the Great Bear Rainforest is British Columbia’s gift to the world.
The province introduced legislation Tuesday that protects most of the globe’s largest intact temperate rainforest on B.C.’s rugged central coast from logging.
“We all knew that yes today would mean something incredible for the next 100 years, for the next 500 years, not just for B.C., but the entire world,” Clark said at a ceremony after the protection law was introduced in the legislature.
The Great Bear Rainforest Forest Management Act protects 85 per cent of the 6.4-million-hectare area that stretches from the Discovery Islands on Vancouver Island northwards to Alaska.
The government announced a landmark agreement last month to protect the area after 20 years of talks with industry, First Nations and conservation groups.
Clark said the protected area covers seven per cent of B.C.’s land mass and is the size of Ireland.
Forests Minister Steve Thomson said often-opposing groups in B.C. learned to co-exist and the result is an agreement that shares and preserves the riches of a global treasure, located about 700 kilometres north of Vancouver.
Anti-logging protests during the 1990s drew worldwide attention to the Great Bear Rainforest, forcing all sides to compromise and reach an agreement.
First Nations, industry, environmental and government leaders gathered at the legislature to mark the introduction of the protection law.
Forest company executive Ric Slaco said he was on the front lines of the battles between forest companies and environmental groups that organized worldwide boycotts of B.C. forest products in the 1990s to try and stop logging in the Great Bear Rainforest.
Slaco, who is now vice-president of Interfor, said he was one of the backroom negotiators who helped hammer out the protection deal that keeps 15 per cent of the Great Bear Rainforest open to logging.
“If the job was easy, it could have been done a long time ago,” he said. “Today is a great day for the forests of B.C.”
Sierra Club spokesman Jens Wieting said the agreement stands as an example of a difficult but successful decision-making process.
“We are hopeful we have provided a beacon of light for how to move ahead in the 21st century,” he said.
The Great Bear Rainforest’s white kermode bear, widely known as the spirit bear, became the symbol of the pressing need to protect the area’s unique and pristine qualities.