Course:CONS200/2019/Ecological, social and economic outcomes of ecosystem-based management in the Great Bear Rainforest

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The Great Bear Rainforest is located along the Central and North Coast of British Columbia[1]. In this area, there is high biodiversity, as well as ample opportunities for economic activities, such as fishing, tourism, and forestry[1]. Along with the high biodiversity occupying this area, 26 First Nations are currently inhabiting it[2]. Ecosystem-based management in the Great Bear Rainforest was made possible by two significant power shifts involving First Nations governance and environmental non-government organizations[3]. The government, First Nations and forest companies have had conflicting interest, however, now all parties are working together to create a balance between the preservation and economic value of the forest[4]. Since this forest is the largest temperate rainforest in the world and the preservation is key, an agreement has been made by all three parties to “preserve 85 percent of the old-growth forests within a 6.4 million-hectare stretch.[2]"

A map showing the area of the Great Bear Rainforest.

The Great Bear Rainforest

The Great Bear Rainforest is located on the Central and North Coast of British Columbia and it is made up of 6.4 million hectares of coastal temperate rainforest[3]. Temperate rainforests are characterized by high amounts of precipitation (3-5m annually), moderate climates, high numbers of coniferous trees and mountains[3]. Coastal temperate rainforests are globally rare, they cover 0.1% of the earth’s land surface and 25% of the world’s unlogged coastal temperate rainforests are located within the Great Bear Rainforest[3]. Approximately 22,000 people live in the Great Bear Rainforest, half of which are First Nations from the region’s twenty-six First Nations territories[3]. The region boasts a high level of biodiversity in marine life, mammals, birds, plants, and trees[5]. 66% of mammals and 75% of freshwater fish live only in the coastal region, and the Great Bear Rainforest contains some of the world’s largest stores of carbon[5].

The Great Bear Rainforest became a defined region due to the coalitions made by many diverse and sometimes opposing actors[6]. There were coalitions made following the War in the Woods between First Nations, environmental groups, the forest industry and the provincial government of BC[6]. These agreements led to the protection of The Great Bear Rainforest and the implementation of Ecosystem-Based Management[6]. These agreements acknowledged First Nations’ rights as co-decision makers in their traditional territories in collaboration with the provincial government[7]. The agreements included protected areas that have cultural and ecological significance for First Nations and economic opportunities including revenue sharing and conservation funds access[7]. The agreements following the War in the Woods set a precedent not only in BC but also on a global platform for large-scale conservation efforts[7].

History of Management in The Great Bear Rainforest

Before the 1990s, the management of The Great Bear Rainforest was very traditional, meaning that it was managed through control and command[8]. Having dealt with decades of ongoing cycle in negotiations and implementations to secure its conservation and sustainability community, by the late 1990s, it was evident that the influences of logging, mining and other industrial uses were becoming a threat[9]. In the late 1990s, the Heiltsuk people welcomed visiting international customers for B.C.’s forest products to express their worries about the clear cut logging in their traditional territories[10]. On April 4th, the GBR agreement was signed and the government of British Columbia announced support for a new, landmark approach to conservation and forest management for the Great Bear Rainforest[11]. However, a year later there was still little tangible action done[11]. In 2003, clear cut logging was still heavily occurring in the area despite the GBR agreement[11]. In 2004, as a coalition between the BC government and the First Nations of the area, the BC Liberals announced that they recommended 21% of the land to be protected which was still little towards the end goal[11]. Throughout the years of 2001 and 2007, the government of British Colombia decided to carry out a "government-to-government" negotiation with the First Nations and the Conservation Opportunities Fund[8]. The Conservation Opportunities Fund (COF) is a multi-million supported organization that directly manages ecosystem-based management and sustainable development[9]. The hopes for focusing negotiations between governments, NGOs, First Nations, local communities and industry to have more voluntary and community-based approach[8]. This transition is still being implemented, therefore the long term success is still unknown. With over twenty years of battle having occurred, 2017 brought the final landmark agreement that promises to protect 85% of the old growth forest while also recognizing aboriginal rights to shared decision-making and improved economic situations[10]. However, the B.C. government's concept of involving parties that directly affect and contribute to the forest production and protection is becoming recognized worldwide[8].

Ecosystem-Based Management

Ecosystem-based management (EBM) involves overseeing human practices in order to ensure the security of ecosystems that are healthy and productive [12]. Through this, the area is treated as an entire system, instead of other commonly used management methods that mainly separate it into components [12]. Ecosystem-based management has been practiced by First Nations along the coast of British Columbia for hundreds of years[13]. Traditional practices of managing the land and sea have maintained the resources and provided a sustainable income for the communities around them [13]. The model of EBM recognizes the interconnective nature of human populations and the environment and how depended they both are on each other [13].

The main goals of ecosystem-based management include[13]:

  • Assuring communities have equal portions of the benefits from their surrounding ecosystems.
  • Protecting and recovering ecosystems to allow them to be varied and different, as well as, resilient so they are able to recover after a disturbance.
  • Allow humans to use ecosystems for many years without compromising health or sustainability.


Ecological Outcomes

Ecosystem-Based Management in the Great Bear Rainforest has allowed for numerous positive outcomes such as 471,000 hectares of parks and protected areas, 1.5 million hectares of conservancies, 309,000 hectares for biodiversity, mining, and tourism, and 273,000 hectares for special forest management areas[14]. An integral component of Ecosystem-Based Management in the Great Bear Rainforest is maintaining sufficient habitat zones for mountain goats, grizzly bears, marbled murrelets, tailed frogs, and northern goshawks[14].

Ecological integrity is an essential component to Ecosystem-Based Management and in the Great Bear Rainforest, this was implemented with two strategies: creating protected areas and limiting resource extraction and management targets[3]. Protected areas allow for First Nations to use them culturally and these areas are protected from logging[3]. In total, 33% of the entire Great Bear Rainforest area is protected from logging[3].

Precautionary representation strategies were set for ecosystems within the rainforest, however, the interim targets differ from the advised recommendations[3]. The precautionary target of 70% preservation was only applied to the rarest ecosystems instead of all old forest ecosystems[3]. Instead, interim targets of 30% preservation of old forest area were applied to the majority of the land[3]. This has the possibility of pushing ecosystem representation to high-risk limits[3]. The interim targets also put focal species at risk because they do not account for the protection of those habitats or populations[3]. There hasn’t been any research conducted on habitat thresholds in the Great Bear Rainforest and because of this, there is uncertainty on the risk posed to ecological integrity if old forest levels drop below 60%[3]. The differences between the advisory committee recommendations and the interim targets showcase that there are multi-level challenges with ecosystem-based management implementation in such a massive project area[3].

Social Outcomes

The First Nations communities have experienced positive social outcomes through the protection of the Great Bear Rainforest. With the implementation of protected areas, First Nations are still allowed to have access to the area to continue harvesting resources[15]. Prior to the implementation of the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements, a large portion of income for First Nations was from logging [15]. A transition away from this towards sustainable projects allowed for improved well-being for members of local communities [15]. Some of these programs include the development of Spirit Bear Lodge and the founding of the Coastal Guardian Watchman Network[16]. This diversification has also lead to the creation of hundreds of permanent jobs in a variety of sectors such as ecotourism, forestry, aquaculture, and manufacturing [16]. The majority of these positions are held by members of First Nations communities, which is actually almost 10% of the population of working age people in the area [16]. First Nations have also had the opportunity to develop important cultural sites and specific areas of sensitive ecosystems [16].

Further, through the ecosystem-based management of the Great Bear Rainforest, local First Nations had the opportunity to take on leadership roles [3]. From the literature, there are no other systems quite like this anywhere else worldwide [3]. Previously in British Columbia, the provincial government would take the lead in planning and management of land-use projects [3]. In this case, for the first time stakeholder groups and First Nations worked together to solve problems, which allows them to play an active role in the governance and management of the Great Bear Rainforest [3].

Members of First Nations and B.C. Premier Christy Clark at the historic Great Bear Rainforest protection announcement.

Economic Outcomes

Through the Great Bear Rainforest protection and ecosystem-based management of the forest, there are increased economic opportunities for multiple shareholders. The most noticeable differences are made for the First Nations of the area. The First Nations of the area are able to find growth in their local economies due to an increase in jobs for community members who would have otherwise had to find employment elsewhere[17]. Investment into the area is producing a larger economy which allows for the development of both infrastructures, and more resilient First Nation communities with greater well-being[17]. The diverse nature of ecosystem-based management allows for protection against changes in industries due to their new found economic stamina[17]. First Nations in the Great Bear Rainforest have established partnerships in order to increase conservation and business development, and enhance the reach of their efforts[17]. The ecosystem-based management in the Great Bear Rainforest also allows for stability for non-First Nation workers, communities, investors and consumers of the services[18]. Due to forests making up around 9.1 million acres or 3.7 million hectares of the Great Bear Rainforest they are able to have land use of the managed forest for up to 1.36 million acres or 550, 000 hectares that will result in a sustainable yield[18]. In the 15% of the forests that are used, the majority of the harvesting is focused on old growth and second growth forest space[18].  Specifically, old growth forest has brought increased wealth for the province of British Columbia as it has stimulated development and employment[19].

Future Outcomes and Scenarios

As with everything, the future is unknown with the Great Bear Rainforest. However, with strategic planning of managing the ecosystems, sustaining the communities, and providing incentives for consumers to make environmentally conscious choices there is a great likelihood of creating a future that will be sustainable for all[20]. The population of the coast in the Great Bear Rainforest is estimated to increase by 29% equalling approximately one million people which makes it important that cooperation of all parties continues or increases[20]. For the landmark agreement, a planning method considered to be an adaptive management method allowed for all stakeholders to be a part of decisions, with the goal that in future uncertain scenarios there will be a decreased need for collaboration due to regular monitoring and fixes[20]. This method is also supposed to alleviate pressure on future management as regular information gathering will occur and balance out the process of gaining knowledge for the future[20]. This, in turn, will help for making the best short term decisions. The hopes of stakeholders are that the Great Bear Rainforest, with ecosystem-based management, will continue to bring economic, ecological, and social prosperity for all.

Recommendations and Conclusions


In 2016, new land use objectives were legally established in the Great Bear Rainforest. This impactful order designed to help establish support to ecosystem-based management as well as set objectives for the forest license holders in terms of land use[21]. The management of this region is determined between the BC governance, First Nations and coalitions: instead of just one entity making all the decision, by combining the three, more consideration is taken into each party[21]. The main concerns when it came to the land use objections involved the First Nations culture, heritage values, freshwater ecosystems, landscape, and stand level biodiversity[21]. The GBR order of 2016, is getting serious on tackling and respecting the preservation of the First Nations culture also, with an ecological perspective are improving the ecosystem-based management by working with the three main parties that heavily influence this forest. However, there are challenges that arise with this change, for example, a sustainable timber supply, also issues arising from the socio-economical benefits given to people who work in the area[21]. This order is taking the right step towards the new approach on how to manage the rainforest. The introduction of this new shift is still in the early stages of being implemented, at this point only time will tell of its success.

Coast Funds have reached over $100 million with the intent to create jobs as well as encourage a conservation-based economy[22]. However, First Nations have already generated over $200 million in investments, while also contributing to the creation of 600 new jobs in areas like tourism, logging, science, and aquaculture[22]. Having this in mind it critical that throughout the years the conservation of the Great Bear Rainforest holds the same level of importance as the protection and inclusion of First Nations.


In conclusion, the Great Bear Rainforest has seen many changes throughout this past few years due to its shift towards an ecosystem-based management approach. Ecologically far more precautions are taken into account when it comes to protection of the biodiversity in the forest. Protected area are becoming are more common, into to secure the habitats of the living organisms in the area. These protected areas do allow for the involvement of the First Nations, for cultural purposes. Logging industries are also starting to become more controlled, with restrictions on where and how much of forest production they can extract. Along with the protection of the rainforest itself, species at risk are also being well monitored and studied. As for the social outcomes, the importance of First Nations is being brought forth. Instead of governments ignoring their presence, like in the past, they are now accounted for in big decision making events. By allowing this integrations, new jobs and opportunities are being presented to both the local communities as well as the big industries. Lastly, the economic outcomes have been the best outcome for the First Nations, now they have a voice in the regulations and more job opportunities are open, these people have been able to grow economically, providing even greater opportunities for their community and people. Also with a new sustainable approach to managing the rainforest, the damage to the environment are diluting, further enriching future resources.

A Spirit Bear in the Great Bear Rainforest


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  2. 2.0 2.1 Hunter, J. (February 2, 2016). "Rainforest pact a 'gift to the world.'". The Globe and Mail.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 3.17 3.18 Price,K., Roburn, A., MacKinnon, A. (2009). "Ecosystem-based management in the Great Bear Rainforest". Forest Ecology and Management. 258(4): 495–503.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
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This conservation resource was created by Justina Mengelle, Mckenna Liski, Kristen Radosevic, Natasha Silva. It is shared under a CC-BY 4.0 International License.