Great Bear Rainforest

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One of Great Bear Rainforest's native species: the Spirit Bear Lodge in Klemtu, British Colombia

The Great Bear Rainforest covers a significant portion of the land in Northern and the central coast of British Columbia and is one of the largest coastal temperate rainforests left in the world (Government of British Columbia, n.d.).[1] It mostly consists of second-growth and old-growth forests and is also where 26 First Nations reside[1]. The Great Bear Rainforest agreement increases the amount of area protected from 50-70% (Government of British Columbia, n.d.).[1]The agreement acknowledges First Nations groups and their respective resources (Government of British Columbia, n.d.).[1] It also recognizes them as a significant stakeholder in forestry and seeks to provide more economic opportunities for them (Government of British Columbia, n.d.).[1]The money received from Coast Funds, an Indigenous finance organization created through the agreement has fueled Indigenous business and jobs (Lavoie, 2019).[2]The agreement is considered complex as there are several stakeholders involved (Government of British Columbia, 2016). [3] The intention of the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement is to conserve more of the land and increase stakeholder rights of Indigenous groups to ensure their prosperity (Government of British Columbia, n.d.).[1]

History and Context

The Great Bear Rainforest

The great Bear Rainforest is a vast stretch of 6.4 million hectares of protected coastal temperate rainforest located along the central and northern coasts of British Columbia, Canada (BC Gov News, 2016). [4] This region is highly significant for many reasons. For one, it is one of the largest remaining areas of intact coastal temperate rainforest left, representing one quarter of this entire ecosystem worldwide (Smith, Sterritt, & Armstrong, 2016). [5] It is also a major achievement in land management, involving a large variety of stakeholders who came together to formalize an agreement in 2016 to permanently protect 85% of this area from logging, (BC Gov News, 2016) [6] while allowing logging to occur in the remaining 15% of the territory (Coast Funds, 2016). [7] To better understand the implications of the agreement, it is useful to examine the history of this region, and the various developments that ultimately led to the formulation of the agreement as it stands today.

The Protests of the 1990s

Before colonists arrived in Turtle Island, the region now known as the Great Bear Rainforest was diverse both in the plant and animal communities occupying it as well as the myriad cultures belonging to the over two dozen First Nations who still call this territory home (Coast Funds, 2016). [7] With the arrival of colonists came excessive logging and resource extraction that predominantly occurred for much of the 20th century (Smith, Sterritt, & Armstrong, 2016).[5]Tensions between the First Nations who never ceded their territory and those in the logging industry were high, and much of the 1980s-1990s was dominated by intense conflict between forestry companies, First Nations, and environmental advocacy groups. An environmental campaign initiated in Clayoquot Sound urged companies such as Staples and Ikea, who bought wood from forestry companies with logging operations in the Great Bear Rainforest, to stop buying their wood from this source since it was predicated on the destruction of ancient old growth forests [8]This campaign was ultimately successful, as several companies cancelled many of their contracts with these forestry companies (Smith, Sterritt, & Armstrong, 2016). [5]At this point, it was clear that a business-as-usual approach could no longer be pursued if the forest industry wanted to keep generating revenue through logging in this region, and that a more collaborative arrangement would be necessary.

Charting a Path Forward

Moving forward, multiple stakeholders came to the negotiating table, and this ultimately led to the formation of several key groups who had a large degree of influence in shaping the structure of the GBR agreements in the coming years. Several timber companies came together to form an organization known as the Coastal Forest Conservation Initiative. On the side of environmentalists, the Rainforest Solutions Project was formed. Together, these 2 organizations merged to form the Joint Solutions Project, whose primary goal was determining what ecosystem-based management would look like in the Great Bear Rainforest (Low & Shaw, 2011). [9]During this period, logging within the GBR was put on hold, which provided many First Nations with the opportunity to exert their influence in this agreement to determine how they could manage this land. During this period, leaders from several First Nations came together to discuss how their interests could be included in the upcoming land-use plans. This culminated in these Nations forming a group called the Coastal First Nations Great Bear Rainforest Initiative (Hoberg, 2004). [10] Their goal was to create resource management opportunities that would provide employment and economic benefits to First Nations groups that were both socially and ecologically sustainable (Smith, Sterritt, & Armstrong, 2016). [5] After much negotiation, the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements were reached in February 2006. There were many important elements to these agreements, and they included sponsorship from many US-based philanthropic organizations, the implementation of ecosystem-based management, and a new land-use designation known as “conservancies” that allow for Indigenous cultural use and practices within a protected area (Smith, Sterritt, & Armstrong, 2016). [5]Perhaps most importantly, however, they allowed First Nations to act within these negotiations on a government-to-government (G2G) basis, (Low & Shaw, 2011). [9] and this was largely due to a series of court decisions made in the 1990s that expanded First Nations rights in the context of how they must be consulted with by the Federal and Provincial Governments. [9] Perhaps the most significant of these agreements was the Haida Decision, which ruled that both Provincial and Federal governments must consult with First Nations when they are aware that some course of government action, such as the allowance of logging within a given area, could conflict with and negatively impact land and rights title claims of any First Nation (Tollefson, Gale, & Haley, 2008). [11]

The GBR Within a National and Regional Context

It is also important that this land agreement is understood within both a national and regional context. On a regional level, this case is significant because it was one of the first instances where First Nations groups were given a seat at the negotiating table at a governmental level.This was the outcome of several court cases (Tollefson, Gale, & Haley, 2008). [11] which have had far-reaching implications for Indigenous land and title rights to this day. Many of the court cases pertaining to Indigenous rights that are being fought in the courts today, including the Tsilhqot'in Decision of 2014, have been shaped by these earlier court cases, such as the Delgamuukw Case of 1997 (The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2017). [12] Thus, the GBR Agreements were one of the first outcomes of these court decisions which have initiated the slowly growing trend of First Nations having more of a say in the governance of their historical, ancestral, and unceded territories.These agreements were also significant on both national and international levels. During the protests of the 1990s, this area of land garnered international media attention and ultimately received the backing of many US-based philanthropic organizations through the establishment of Coast Funds, an organization with $160 million in funds dedicated to developing a conservation economy within the Great Bear Rainforest (Coast Funds, 2016). [7] These agreements were also significant within the context of conservation activism in Canada and beyond. The formation of many conservation groups, including ForestEthics and Clean Energy Canada, were inspired by the bridge-building and collaboration efforts between the forest industry, ENGOs, and First Nations party to these negotiations (McSheffrey, 2016). [13] People have also designed various conservation campaigns, including campaigns to protect the Boreal Forest and native forests in Chile, based on campaigns to protect the Great Bear Rainforest (McSheffrey, 2016).[13] Overall, the GBR Agreements are significant both for the implications they bring for Indigenous land management in Canada and for the national and international conservation movements they have inspired more broadly.


Agreement between the BC government and a coalition of conservationists, hunters, loggers and First Nations in 2006 led to the establishment of conservancies 400km along the coast. Since the agreements were made, remapping of the Great Bear Rainforest (GBR) region was performed over the next several years, which featured compromises, re-evaluations of resource values and new, diverse forms of governance among stakeholders [14] (Clapp et al., 2016). Conservancies can be defined as areas of land designated to limit logging and large-scale industrial development but to allow for aboriginal commercial activities, ceremonial activities and conservancy management activities such as log salvage and harvest of non-timber forest products [14] (Clapp et al., 2016). Conservancies are co-managed by First Nations and the provincial government. Because of the establishment of 114 conservancies between 2006 and 2009, one can argue that the GBR has moved from government to governance as the role of the state is dispersed between multiple stakeholders.

Although there is much discussion and rhetoric that there was a shift from governments to governance in the forest policy sector, there is little evidence of a shift outside of the conservancies that were established in the Great Bear Rainforest region [15] (Howlett et al., 2009). Some policy change is linked to changes in how forest policy is conducted, and this is thanks to the introduction of new community-based actors who challenged industry-based or government professional actors. First Nations are prominent among these community-based actors due to having inherent aboriginal rights and title over BC Crown forest. This created a lot of power in the negotiating phase of the Great Bear Rainforest agreements, as it is hard to argue against the fact that Indigenous communities have been governing the lands that are now being called the “Great Bear Rainforest” for thousands of years [16] (Curran, 2017). The Wuikinuxv, Heiltsuk, Nuxalk, Kitasoo/Xai’xais, Gitga’at, Haisla, and Metlakatla First Nations who reside in the Great Bear Rainforest region have always challenged colonial Crown sovereignty (Curran, 2017). [16]

Administrative Arrangements

In May, 2004, provincial and local governments, BC First Nations, environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs), and forestry corporations came together to devise a solution to the problem related to the Great Bear Rainforest. This compromise solution was accepted by many stakeholders after years of negotiations. Stakeholders agreed to persuade the BC government to put 33% of the Great Bear Rainforest (~14,000km2) under some form of protection. This protection required new forms of ecosystem-based forestry to be incorporated throughout the protected areas. Although First Nations, local communities and environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) came together to push for this solution, scientific recommendations concluded that 45-70% of the Great Bear Rainforest region should be protected to preserve biodiversity and ecosystem values [17] (Esbjörn-Hargens and Zimmerman, 2009).

In February, 2006, a comprehensive protection package was announced for the Great Bear Rainforest, known as the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement. The four key elements of the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement include rainforest protection, improved logging practices, involvement of First Nations in decision making and conservation financing to enable economic diversification [17] (Esbjörn-Hargens and Zimmerman, 2009). Related to the 2004 persuasion to protect 33% of the region, logging was also banned in 33% of the Great Bear Rainforest and a commitment was put in place to implement ecosystem-based forestry management for the entire Great Bear Rainforest region by 2009. To further show interest and commitment towards the protection of the region, in January, 2007, the Canadian government announced that it would spend $30m CAD to protect this rainforest. This matched a pledge made by the BC government who also committed $30m CAD towards protection, added onto $60m in private donations. This totalled approximately $120m CAD in funding for new reserves in the Great Bear Rainforest [18](Government of B.C., 2016). Between 2006 and 2009, three years after the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements were announced, 114 conservancies and 21 biodiversity, mining and tourism hotspots had been established in the region. In 2009, the BC government amended land use orders to protect 50% of natural historic old growth forests; including the implementation of a five year plan to incorporate ecosystem based management into current management practices.

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

In the years 2010 and 2011, the BC provincial government, Coastal First Nations and Nanwakolas Council create reconciliation protocol agreements. This included increasing participation of First Nations in the forest sector as well as protecting their cultural and social interests, where there are heavy ties between culture and the lands in the Great Bear Rainforest [18](Government of B.C., 2016).

In 2016, the B.C. government enacted a new Great Bear Rainforest Land Use Order and the Great Bear Rainforest (Forest Management) Act to legally implement elements of the announcement. This Act covers the official implementation of all of the elements being announced in 2006 related to the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement.

Institutions Involved

When policy was being discussed and implemented related to the Great Bear Rainforest, there were a number of stakeholders involved who would either be directly or indirectly affected depending on what decisions were made. Broadly, the list of institutions are as follows: forestry corporations, environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs), provincial BC government and federal provincial government and BC First Nations. Forestry corporations include Canadian Forest Products, Catalyst Paper Corporation, International Forest Products, Western Forest Products, among others. These corporations are present as there is a vast amount of timber in the Great Bear Rainforest, which can generate considerable profits.

On the other end, ENGOs such as Greenpeace, ForestEthics, Rainforest Action Network, Sierra Club BC, etc. oppose the logging activity that was going on in the Great Bear Rainforest, citing the species richness and critical importance of preserving old growth forests and a quarter of the world's coastal temperate rainforest. As for First Nations, there are 26 First Nations that have traditional territory in the Great Bear Rainforest (McSheffrey, 2016) [19] . In order to create a unified voice and improve their power in discussions, The Nanwakolas Council was created which comprises of five member First Nations and advocates for recognition, reconciliation, as well as promotion of their Aboriginal rights and interests in land and management discussions with provincial and and federal governments [20] (Nanwakolas, 2020).

Social Actors

First Nations groups

The First Nations' main relevant objectives include acquiring greater control over land use decisions and ability to use land for traditional land practices, such as hunting and spiritual purposes (Doll & Claire, 2016). [21]The First Nations have two governing bodies: Nanwakolas Council for nations on the South Central Coast and northern Vancouver Island and the Coastal First Nations for communities in Haida Gwaii and in the Northern and Central Coast (McSheffrey, 2016).[19] They now have greater decision making power through having government status in regards to review of plans and government to government negotiations regarding the forest (Doll & Claire, 2016). [21] Furthermore, more than 100 successful First Nations businesses were launched with the help of Coast Funds, which is an Indigenous-led conservation finance organization created through the Great Bear Rainforest agreement (Lavoie, 2019) [2]. The organization helps with business management, scientific training and ecotourism contributions in British Colombia (Lavoie, 2019) [2]. Funding is allocated across communities to avoid competition between First Nations (Lavoie, 2019) [2]. Approximately 96% of the business startups have been successful so far (Lavoie, 2019). [2] They took part in new opportunities and partnerships on the basis that they were the stewards of their land and created capacity for communities which previously lived in impoverished conditions on their reserves (McSheffrey, 2016). [13]

Local communities

Local communities are primarily concerned about employment opportunities, ecological integrity, community prosperity and human well-being (McSheffrey, 2016). [13]Currently, they do not have a significant say as stakeholders in the agreement (McSheffrey, 2016) [13]. However, local communities may align with other stakeholder groups to combat this (McSheffrey, 2016). [13]

Formed Alliances:

First Nations Alliance: Coastal First Nations (CFN) - Members: BC Timber Sales, Catalyst Paper Corporation, Howe Sound Pulp & Paper, International Forest Products Limited (Interfor), and Western Forest Products (Affolderbach, 2011). [22]

Forestry Alliance: The Coast Forest Conservation Initiative (CFCI) - members: BC Timber Sales, Catalyst Paper Corporation, Howe Sound Pulp & Paper, International Forest Products Limited (Interfor), and Western Forest Products (Affolderbach, 2011). [22]

Environmental Alliance: Rainforest Solutions Project (RSP): Forest Ethics, Greenpeace, and Sierra Club BC (Affolderbach, 2011) [22]; The Joint Solutions Project (JSP) - collaboration between industry and environmental groups to implement ecosystem based management strategies (Affolderbach, 2011) [22]; The Coast Information Team (CIT) - an independent advising alliance that incorporates information from all sectors (Affolderbach, 2011). [22]

Social Actors working together

Some important milestones leading up to this agreement include the General Protocol Agreement on Land Use Planning, which was established in 2001 between the Coastal First Nations and BC government which established government-to-government (G2G) relations with First Nations (Affolderbach, 2011) [22]. Government to government framework requires that First Nations be treated legally as their own government in land use decisions (Affolderbach, 2011). [22]

Interested Stakeholders

Currently, there is a transition from government-control to governance where a transition of power allocated from formal to informal institutions and from following strict law to more regulatory measures is taking place (Kaisa, 2010). [23]

BC government: Responsible for many land use decisions, wants economic prosperity while also being able to get re-elected (McSheffrey, 2016). [13] The government is in charge of land-use decisions while also taking into account public opinion (McSheffrey, 2016). [13]

ENGOs: Wants to protect old growth areas and prevent clearcutting (McSheffrey, 2016). [13] With the new agreement, ENGOs now have greater power to make decisions and changes (McSheffrey, 2016). [13] Previously, they were more involved in campaigning which proved unsuccessful for inducing policy changes (McSheffrey, 2016) [13]. However, they are now more involved in policy development which has shown to be more effective in creating changes (McSheffrey, 2016). [13]

Forest industry: Want to maintain profits and market control, and maintain a positive public image (McSheffrey, 2016). [13].

Intentions of Case Study

A map showing protected areas and percentage of forests that prevent logging in regions of the Great Bear Rainforest

In this case study we intend to analyze the outcomes associated with the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement and how the factors associated with the agreement were put into practice. We will then analyze how First Nations’ and communities based in the Great Bear Rainforest (GBR) Region were affected as a result of the practices that followed the agreement. We will be analyzing the relative successes and failures associated with the agreement, to see in what ways these communities have created a “win” and what factors featured no change or a change that negatively impacted First Nations communities in the GBR region. Although most of the outcomes resulted in compromise, which means that there will be both wins and losses, there has still been a major shift of governance in the Great Bear Rainforest from a provincially owned region to a region that is shared and managed by multiple stakeholders.

Relative Successes and Failures

The Great Bear Rainforest Agreement took two decades to get to the arguably successful state it is currently in. These decades were filled with conflict and unproductive discussions between stakeholders. After a decade full of setbacks, the environmental groups, timber companies and First Nations were able to release a round of Great Bear Rainforest agreements based around ecosystem based management (McSheffrey, 2016). [13] Despite all of the conflict and tension involved in the decision making process and discussion table, the outcomes associated with this agreement had a global impact on how conservation campaigns can be performed successfully. The Great Bear Rainforest agreements are considered one of the most complex conservation deals involving multiple stakeholders ever reached, and it is something that the world can use as a model for environmental conflict resolution (McSheffrey, 2016). [13]Timber harvesting was restricted to just 15% of the forested area, and the strictest restrictions seen in BC were placed on those areas that were allowed for timber harvesting. On top of that, the agreements have to be carried out with First Nations. The agreements not only preserve the forest resources, livelihood and cultural values associated with the First Nations, but they will also enhance them through the large amount of funding received for these agreements. An economic fund was created to finance sustainable, diverse businesses run by First Nations.

On the level of stakeholder collaboration, it is hard to find any relative failures in this agreement, as it involved 3 major groups with highly contradictory goals over what to do with this region to come together and find a solution that worked for everyone. However, there has recently been concern over how other First Nations are affected by this deal as well as a lack of structural decision-making processes and monitoring programs to ensure ecosystem-based management is being applied to areas that are designated for logging. This is discussed in more detail in the "Future Recommendations" section.

Conflict Resolutions

The First Nations living in the GBR region were constantly in conflict with industry and sometimes the provincial government over forest resources and fisheries [16] (Curran, 2017). Environmental organizations brought these issues to the public which led to the threat of an international boycott campaign against forest products made in British Columbia to not only protect the resources and old growth forests in the GBR region but also the First Nations whose aboriginal rights were being violated. These issues were managed through the four primary institutions involved: First Nations, environmental organizations, B.C. forest companies and the provincial government to negotiate strategies in dividing up land for different land use purposes in order to promote reconciliation between Indigenous communities and the Crown, as well as incorporating carbon credit agreements to preserve the biodiversity of this coastal temperate rainforest. As a result, through compromise, First Nations in the GBR region were able to pursue commercial activities, ceremonial activities and use the land’s resources and manage the region autonomously through the establishment of conservancies. An arguable issue with this is that only a portion of the land was designated for this, which could lead to the exclusion of First Nations from performing activities they normally would in certain regions that are now being designated for logging in the Great Bear Rainforest region.

Governance and Power Dynamics

The governance and power dynamics of key players involved in drawing up the Great Bear Rainforest land agreements have changed substantially since the early days of the campaign. Before environmentalists launched the Great Bear Rainforest Campaign, there were two key players who exerted power over this region: Forestry companies and the provincial government [24]As was previously mentioned, high-profile environmental protests against logging within the GBR ultimately shifted this power dynamic (Magnusson, 2002). [8]Now, ENGOs could dictate what happened within this power arena, as seen by the nullification of contracts that many businesses like Ikea held with forestry companies operating within the Great Bear Rainforest (Moore, & Tjornbo, 2012). [24] This, along with protests from First Nations groups, ultimately brought First Nations groups, ENGOs, and forestry companies to the negotiating table. The development of the first Great Bear Rainforest Agreements heralded a vastly different distribution of power. With the implementation of G2G negotiations, First Nations were treated as actual governments within this negotiation process that had rights and title to their ancestral, unceded territories (Smith, Sterrit & Armstrong, 2016). [5] This created a more equitable power dynamic whereby all parties had a vested interest in the outcome and similar levels of power through which they could achieve their respective objectives. This power shift was critical in reaching the final agreement for the GBR. Without the pressure of ENGOs, it’s likely that forestry companies would have continued logging in this area, as their markets would not have been at threat (Smith, Sterrit & Armstrong, 2016). [5]Furthermore, bringing First Nations to the negotiating table ensured that economic activities could coincide with ecological conservation in a way that directly benefited First Nations communities. (Smith, Sterrit & Armstrong, 2016). [5]

Future Recommendations

It has been approximately 4 years since the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements were finalized, and recent developments give cause for both celebration and concern. The money provided through Coast Funds has empowered many Indigenous communities to create an economy based on ecotourism, and has led to the creation of over 100 permanent jobs and 100 Indigenous-owned businesses, with many located on Haida Gwaiii (Lavoie, 2019). [2] The initiation of a forest carbon offsets project is also promising, as it provides a way to bring money to companies operating within the region while also ensuring that forested areas remain protected (Derrick, 2016). [25] However, sales of these carbon offsets have not reached the levels they were expected to, and given that the value of carbon offsets tends to decrease over time, this is likely to continue in the future. This does not bode well for the GBR, as it represents large sums of money that likely will not be spent on conserving forests in this region (Derrick, 2016). [26]

There are other reasons to be worried about the future of this region. Recently, it has come to light that high levels of logging are continuing to take place in much of the old growth areas within the GBR. [27] Part of the GBR agreement was that logging could continue in 15% of the territory, but only under the most stringent environmental standards. This entailed setting up 122 landscape units, each of which requires the completion of a plan known as a landscape reserve design (LRD) that stipulates the rules under which logging can occur in this landscape unit. The formal Agreement was signed in 2016, however, the completion of these plans is not required until 2021, and as of February 2020, none of these plans have been completed (Hunter, 2020). [28] Because of this, logging has continued in these areas with little to no oversight or regulations, which has resulted in large swaths of old-growth forest that were supposed to be sustainably harvested under the guidelines of ecosystem-based management being largely depleted. Additionally, there are no rules against building roads through old growth areas to access areas that are not old-growth, and this has destroyed a large amount of old-growth forest (Parfitt, 2019). [27]

Great Bear Rainforest natural landscape

On top of this, there is concern that not all First Nations will benefit equally from this agreement. Rick Johnson, who is chief of the Kwikwassut’inuxw Haxwa’mis First Nations, has expressed concern over the future of these Nations, as they were never consulted during the formation of the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement. He has also expressed concern over the unsustainable levels of both forest and fisheries harvesting occurring in his territory (Parfitt, 2019). [27] Beyond the state of the forest itself, there is concern about the conservation of animals that live here, such as black bears or kermode spirit bears. While bear habitat is protected under the agreement, there is nothing prohibiting trophy hunting within this territory. This could put strain on bear populations, which are typically slow-growing (McSheffrey, 2016). [13] There is also the issue of pipelines. Valid concerns have been raised regarding the construction of the LNG Pipeline within areas of the Great Bear Rainforest (Morin, 2019), [29] and what this means for the future health of whales and other marine animals living on BC's coast (Pacific Wild, 2018). [30]

Given the above concerns, it is important to be realistic about what levels of protection the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements have actually achieved for this region. From a stakeholder analysis level, this was a truly impressive achievement that brought three major groups of people with highly contradictory objectives to the table to negotiate a land-use deal that satisfied all parties involved. The significance that it had for coastal First Nations groups also cannot be understated, as they went from having no say over how land in this region would be managed to having an equal level of power with forestry companies and ENGOs in making these decisions. However, given recent developments, it is uncertain if this land use deal will live up to what it set out to do. Right now, a lack of structural processes delineating how to conduct environmentally sound logging, combined with a lack of monitoring programs, makes it easy for forestry companies to log highly valuable old-growth areas, which are supposedly protected under the agreement. Additionally, the passage of pipelines through this territory, and the high levels of environmental damage these projects bring, pose a direct threat to the region. As can be seen from the recent court decisions against the Wet'suwet'en (Abedi, 2020), [31] the passage of pipelines through ancestral, traditional, and unceded Indigenous territories can largely be determined by judicial decisions based on colonial law. Even though the GBR Agreement evolved the way it did largely due to the rulings of the Delgamuukw Case, that does not mean that future court rulings will continue in the spirit of siding with First Nations peoples. In fact, the Wet'suwet'en decisions have shown the opposite is often true.

Ultimately, there are several things that must be implemented to increase the likelihood of the GBR experiencing a positive future. First, it is critical that all of those who are affected by the agreement be allowed a seat at the table to express how this agreement is affecting their way of life. As was stated before, the Kwikwassut’inuxw Haxwa’mis First Nations were not consulted during this process, and are now suffering negative consequences because of the agreement. Unfortunately, given that this agreement was decades in the making and has already been formally agreed to, it is doubtful that these groups will be allowed an equal level of power in this arrangement. Also important is that accountability measures be put in place to ensure that all harvesting activities taking place within the GBR are being conducted under ecosystem-based management. Completion of the LRDs [decode] will be a critical step towards making this happen. At the end of the day, while the GBR Agreements may have plenty of rules over what kinds of land management practices are allowed, none of it matters if there are no processes in place to enforce these rules. Additional monitoring will be required in the coming years to see if the GBR Agreement is living up to what it originally set out to do.

However, there are reasons to be hopeful about the future of this region. A key process being undertaken now is the establishment of marine protected areas along the coast of the GBR. The Marine Plan Partnership of the North Pacific Coast is a collaboration effort between 16 First Nations and the BC Government to establish marine protected areas that, like the GBR Agreements, are subject to ecosystem-based management principles. In 2016, implementation agreements were signed between First Nations groups and the BC government that outline how they will carry out marine planning agreements while remaining engaged with various stakeholders, local governments, communities and First Nations (Marine Plan Partnership for the North Pacific Coast, 2016) [32]. This is a positive step forward, as these plans will likely provide some level of protection against pipelines that are planned to be built through this territory. Overall, the significance of the Great Bear Rainforest agreements cannot be overstated. They have garnered international attention, and have allowed coastal First Nations to go from having absolutely no say over what happens in their lands to being treated as their own governments at the negotiating table. However, it is important that these milestones be celebrated for the massive achievements that they are while also being aware of the current limitations to the agreement and the threats to this area. If we focus only on the positives while ignoring the negatives of the agreement, we run the risk of greenwashing it, and making it appear more sustainable than it actually is. This can only be bad for the future of this region, and should be avoided at all costs.


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This conservation resource was created by: Brandon Brown, Dexter Everett and Amy Mudan