War-in-the-woods peace talks hit snags

March 30, 2015

By: The Globe and Mail

The deadline for a final agreement on the Great Bear Rainforest – a precedent-setting pact between the B.C. coastal forest industry, First Nations and environmentalists – is expected to be missed because the provincial government has not yet finalized its commitments.

The agreement that ended the “war in the woods” in British Columbia would preserve large swaths of old-growth trees and the home of the Kermode bears on B.C.’s mid-coast.

Talks began in 1999 on logging and wildlife – and more recently the well-being of First Nations communities in the region. A tentative agreement was announced in 2006, but a series of targets for completion of the deal have slipped.

Now, Greenpeace Canada says the provincial government needs to demonstrate the political commitment to complete the deal soon before the goodwill between the parties gives way.

The agreement would result in the protection of 70 per cent of the land base in a rugged coastal region that covers 6.4 million hectares of the province’s mid-coast.

It was forged to end logging conflicts marked by blockades, mass arrests and a marketing campaign that advocated boycotts of B.C. forest products in Europe and the United States.

In a letter dated Dec. 24, a senior B.C. bureaucrat told the key negotiators the end-of-year deadline would slip past but suggested that key components, such as the policy around ecologically sensitive logging in those parts of region that are not closed to forestry, would be completed by March 31.

Eduardo Sousa, senior forest campaigner for Greenpeace Canada, said Sunday he is concerned that the province is poised to miss the latest deadline, as well. “We are so passionate about this and we see the progress but there is a lack of urgency – the province hasn’t shown the political leadership needed here.”

Government officials said Sunday the deal is very close, but agreed deadlines have once again been pushed back. In a written statement, Forests Minister Steve Thomson said his government is still committed to completing implementation of “ecosystem based management” in the Great Bear Rainforest.

“We are making best efforts to send out the land-use orders for public review and comment within the next couple of weeks. This is one of the critical steps in the process,” his statement read.

That could push completion of the deal into June. Mr. Sousa said anything later than that could lead to a return to the negative campaigns that were used as pressure tactics at the start of the conflict. “There is a need to wrap this up. From a climate-change perspective, we need ecological certainty, and the forest companies need to have economic certainty. We need to get on the with the task of final implementation,” he said in an interview.

However, Art Sterritt, executive director of the Coastal First Nations and another key signatory to the deal, said he remains confident the deal will be secured.

“There may be some minor hiccups now, but I don’t see anything that will stop it,” he said Sunday.

There are 27 First Nations in the region and consultation has taken time. Mr. Sterritt said there have been recent amendments concerning additional protected areas that his communities want but other issues, such as the future of the grizzly hunt in the region, are being resolved.

“We have made progress, some serious progress. I don’t see there are a lot of obstacles, just some technical wrinkles before we can bring it home.” He counselled patience: “We have to live with this for a long time, so we are going to get it right.”

By: The Globe and Mail

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