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Canada unveils vast Great Bear Rainforest

2/9/2006

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Canada unveiled a 16-million-acre preserve this week, including parkland covering an area twice the size of Yellowstone, teeming with grizzly bears, wolves and wild salmon in the ancestral home of many native tribes.

Closing another chapter of the wars between environmentalists and loggers, the Great Bear Rainforest is the result of an accord between governments, aboriginal First Nations, the logging industry and environmentalists.

It will stretch 250 miles along British Columbia's rugged Pacific coastline — the ancestral home of groups whose cultures date back thousands of years. The area also sustains a rare white bear found only in British Columbia.

"The agreement on these areas represents an unprecedented collaboration between First Nations, industry, local governments and many other stakeholders in how we manage the vast richness of B.C.'s coast for the benefit of all British Columbians," said Premier Gordon Campbell, who was accompanied by native dancers and drummers for the announcement and formal First Nations blessing.

"The result is a strong marriage that balances the needs of the environment with the need for sustainable jobs and a strong economic future for coastal communities," he said.

Campbell said 4.4 million acres would be protected outright and managed as parkland, with another 11.6 million run under an ecosystem management plan to ensure sustainable forestry with minimal impact on the environment. Yellowstone National Park is 2.2 million acres.

Full implementation of the project is not expected until 2009.

British Columbia's lush evergreen forests have been the scene of decades of confrontation between environmentalists and loggers. Successful boycott campaigns in the 1990s led to large international companies turning away from British Columbia paper and wood products, forcing the government to find a negotiated solution.

"British Columbians are showing that it is possible to protect the environment and provide the economic foundation for healthy communities," said Lisa Matthaus, coast campaign co-ordinator for the Sierra Club of Canada's British Columbia chapter. "This innovative rainforest agreement provides a real world example of how people and wilderness can prosper together."

The region is home to hundreds of species, including grizzlies, black bears, the so-called spirit bear, wolves, cougars, mountain goats, moose and deer. The spirit bear is a rare white species and is also called the kermode bear.

A central component of the Great Bear Rainforest project will be a $104 million conservation financing package to support the land-use agreements.

To date, Greenpeace Canada, the Sierra Club of Canada and ForestEthics, the Nature Conservancy, Tides Canada Foundation and several private U.S. and Canadian foundations have raised $52 million to help establish the financing package.

The provincial government has committed $26 million and project partners are working to secure the rest from Canada's federal government.

Speaking on behalf of the 25 aboriginal groups involved in the project, Art Sterritt of the North Coast First Nations said the agreement would allow for controlled use of the land and let natives continue their traditional lifestyles.

"It wasn't an easy job," he said. "Everyone had to make compromises here and there."