The British Columbia government is seeking public comments on proposed amendments to land use objectives for the Great Bear Rainforest.

The draft order offers a unique solution for this globally significant area. It was developed by the Province, the Coastal First Nations and the Nanwakolas Council using technical recommendations from the Joint Solutions Project, a coalition of major environmental organizations and BC coastal forest companies.

The process that led to these recommendations is as unique as the region – an area of 64,000 square kilometres, about the size of Ireland, with 28 First Nations calling the region home.

It began with rising concerns over logging of old growth forests. Market campaigns against BC forest products were creating uncertainty for companies, communities and customers.

The turning point came 15 years ago when environmental groups and our companies sat down to develop solutions together. It turns out we had the same interests: to achieve low ecological risk and to ensure a viable forest economy to support coastal communities.

Our work as the Joint Solutions Project was backed by leading-edge science from experts in forestry, ecology, timber supply modelling, and First Nations cultures. On top of this we had insight and advice from all levels of government.

There has been a lot of change already, and the proposed amendments to the land use objectives order will take us over the finish line.

Here are just some of the changes so far:

  • A new government-to-government shared decision making model involving British Columbia and local First Nations was created to determine land use decisions and social choices to support human well being.
  • A third of the Great Bear Rainforest is fully protected – with 350% more parks, conservancies and protected areas that are the equivalent of 4,650 Stanley Parks.
  • More old growth is protected – from 7% before the process started to 50% of the naturally occurring old growth over time.
  • Harvest areas are smaller – today more than 70% of the cutblocks are 10 hectares or less compared with 46% 20 years ago.

The proposed amendments will lead to more change:

  • Final implementation of ecosystem based forest management that will increase the amount of naturally occurring old growth protected across the area to 70% over time.
  • Fully 85% of the forests in the Great Bear Rainforest will be off limits to logging under a new legal designation called “Natural Forest”.
  • For the first time, the Province will have a designated “Managed Forest” area — that’s 15% of the forested area of the Great Bear Rainforest (550,000 hectares) and can be harvested over the next 250 years.
  • There will be less logging – 2.5 million cubic metres per year. That’s enough to support a viable forest economy but just 0.1% of the Managed Forest will be harvested annually.

These proposed changes would not have been possible without the joint recommendations of the environmental groups and forest companies making up the Joint Solutions Project – ForestEthics, Greenpeace, Sierra Club BC, BC Timber Sales, Catalyst Paper Corporation, Howe Sound Pulp & Paper Corporation, Interfor Corporation and Western Forest Products Inc. Representatives from these organizations have worked together tirelessly for 15 years.

While the ecological targets and data are unique to the Great Bear Rainforest, the process of collaboration, commitment and, yes, even compromise is not.

This process was the hallmark that enabled the industry and environmental community to jointly deliver a set of recommendations to the Province and the region’s First Nations. It helped us find the balance that will support a viable forest economy and a healthy ecosystem in the Great Bear Rainforest.

By building on these recommendations, the draft amended land use objectives will lead to greater economic certainty for coastal communities, support the 5,000 forestry jobs we have today, and lead to international marketplace recognition for our products and our practices.

The opportunity for public comments on the proposed land use order continues to August 10, 2015. This is a significant step, one that will provide more clarity for forest management and more certainty for our industry, and the communities and customers who rely on us. Make sure your voice is heard.

Karen Brandt’s career in the forest sector spans more than 20 years within the Government of British Columbia, Forestry Innovation Investment and the non-profit Sustainable Forestry Initiative. She is currently the Director, Public Affairs & Corporate Communications, at Interfor, one of the world’s largest lumber producers with headquarters in Vancouver. She has been involved in the Great Bear Rainforest negotiations for the last three years.