• A bear strolls through the rainforest that shares its name. (Photo: Jens Wieting)

The vast majority of B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest is now permanently off-limits to industrial logging, thanks to a landmark agreement that effectively ends decades of fighting between local first nations communities, provincial government, environmental groups and forestry companies.

The Great Bear Rainforest agreements, which took years of debate and fine-tuning, safeguards 85 per cent (3.1 million hectares) of the remote wilderness and old-growth forests, and places the leftover land under the most stringent commercial logging legal standards in North America. It also solidifies the First Nations’ right to share in the decision-making processes concerning their traditional lands.

“This full implementation of the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements is one of the most visionary forest conservation plans on Earth,” says Valerie Langer, solutions director at ForestEthics, one of the participating parties.

Part of what makes the situation so unique is that it involved the successful collaboration of so many different stakeholders. In addition to First Nations and B.C. governments, the negotiations were attended by ForestEthics Solutions, Greenpeace, Sierra Club BC and five forestry companies.

“There were times when it seemed impossible to find a mechanism that would meet the high conservation standards but still allow logging operations in some areas,” says Jens Wieting, forest and climate campaigner for Sierra Club BC. “We hope this inspires people to protect similar rainforests around the world.”

The Great Bear Rainforest covers an area the size of Nova Scotia, and, together with the islands of Haida Gwaii, boasts the largest tracts of intact temperate rainforest remaining on the planet.

In the 550,000 hectares where logging is permitted, companies must adhere to strict rules designed to preserve areas of particular importance to the local ecology, wildlife, or first nations culture.