Great Bear Rainforest Legislation: A Unique Solution

Bob Craven, RPF, Interfor Corporation, Coastal Woodlands Land Use Mgr

Not many people likely want to read about legislation; however, the Great Bear Rainforest (GBR) legislation is special. It’s the result of an epic journey — a story complete with drama, conflict and weary characters slogging through tough territory toward worthy goals.

Not many people likely want to read about legislation; however, the Great Bear Rainforest (GBR) legislation is special. It’s the result of an epic journey — a story complete with drama, conflict and weary characters slogging through tough territory toward worthy goals.

I’ve spent 10 years on this file; some from a technical perspective and the last three years on a negotiating team working with environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGO). I’m proud to have been part of developing a unique solution for a globally significant area.

Before diving into the legislation, a short history lesson is required.

  • 1990’s: War in the woods followed by market campaigns.
  • 2000: Under pressure, customers urged forest companies and ENGOs to find a solution. A handful of forest companies and environmental groups formed the Joint Solutions Project (JSP) to find ways to achieve conservation and management objectives.
  • 2006: First Nations and the province enter into strategic land use planning, agree to implement ecosystem based management (EBM) and set aside one-third of the GBR into protected areas through 137 new parks and conservancies.
  • 2007: Land use orders (LUO) established to provide a legal framework for the transition to EBM.
  • 2009 (and 2013): LUOs amended to support ongoing implementation of EBM.
  • 2014: At the request of First Nations and the province, JSP provided recommendations on the scope of future logging in the GBR and conservation measures to support ecological integrity.
  • 2016: Great Bear Rainforest Land Use Order proclaimed and previous LUOs are rescinded.
  • 2016:Great Bear Rainforest (Forest Management) Act passed.

Our guiding light — though at times it seemed more like the quest for the holy grail — has been the concept of ecosystem based management, which is the achievement of high levels of human well-being over time, balanced with low levels of ecological risk (ecological integrity).

Human well-being is designed to achieve social and economic benefits for First Nations and others who depend on the Great Bear Rainforest. This includes supporting a viable forest economy and delivering other economic benefits such as carbon offsets.

Ecological integrity is a quality or state of an ecosystem in which it is considered complete or unimpaired; including natural diversity of species and biological communities, ecosystem processes and functions to increase the ability to absorb disturbance (resistance), and to recover from disturbance (resilience).

After years of intense analysis and negotiations, JSP presented First Nations and the province with a set of recommendations to deliver EBM. After public consultation and government-to-government approval, the legal framework has been set to pave the way for implementation.

First up was the 2016 Great Bear Rainforest Land Use Order. Since 2007, forest licensees have been working under LUOs which supported EBM, but not full implementation of EBM.

The 2016 LUO sets out legal objectives for ecological and First Nation cultural values, which forest licensees have to address in the forest stewardship plans (FSP). These values include Aboriginal forest resources; Aboriginal heritage features; culturally modified trees; Aboriginal tree use; western yew; important fisheries watersheds; aquatic habitat; forested swamps; upland streams; active fluvial units; biodiversity; red and blue listed ecosystems; and grizzly, black, and Kermode bears. These new legal objectives either supersede or compliment objectives set by government through the Forest Range and Practices Act (FRPA).

The LUO also introduces the unique concept of managed forest for the GBR, which defines the area (550,032 hectares) of productive forest that is or will be available for timber harvesting. As forest professionals on the coast, one of our major tasks over the next five years will be to develop landscape reserve designs for all landscape units across the Great Bear Rainforest, in collaboration with First Nations. Forest professionals will have to demonstrate spatially how ecological integrity and human well-being are being met. In other words, spatially showing how old growth and managed forest targets are met, as well as the protection of cultural values. This is no small task and will involve some of the most complex landscape unit planning ever contemplated. As well, old growth and managed forest targets need to be met over the entire plan area. It’s a unique and challenging situation.

The second legislative piece is the Great Bear Rainforest Forest Management Act(GBRFMA). You know you are dealing with a unique place when it has legislation named after it. The GBRFMA supports full implementation of EBM, with specific rules that differ from the Forest Act. These rules will deliver the certaintythat is critical to the future of our industry.

A key to that certainty was delivering the legislative framework that would guarantee an allowable annual cut (AAC) of 2.5 million cubic metresfor the next 10 years, after which the chief forester will resume authority for determining AACs in the two new timber supply areas: Great Bear North and Great Bear South. These two new TSAs reflect the differences in the timber profile and economic accessibility between the north and south areas of the GBR. In the north, cut control periods can be extended to 10 years, which gives licensees more flexibility in timing harvesting to optimal market conditions. Now that we have two new pieces of legislation, what does this mean for forest professionals working in the Great Bear Rainforest?

In the short term, we will definitely need to understand the new legislation, learn how to apply it, and how to explain it to the public and employers. Forest stewardship plans need to be amended, reviewed, and approved for most licences (some exempted) in the GBR by July 28, 2016 to harvest under the LUO.

Over the next five years, we will need to complete LRDs for approximately 80 landscape units, where harvesting is planned to take place. Throughout this process, forest professionals will need to monitor and adapt as learnings unfold.

While some may see this new legislation as crossing the finish line, forest professionals will likely view it as the beginning of a unique experience in a unique area; the next stage of an epic journey. While we don’t know all the challenges that may lie ahead, we do know with certainty there is a future for sustainable forestry in the Great Bear Rainforest.

Article was originally published in the September-October 2016 edition of BC Forest Professional.