Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Great Bear deal shows B.C. adapting to a new world

VICTORIA - Nine years ago it was called the Midcoast Timber Supply area, and the government's interest was in seeing it logged.
Environmental groups were a nuisance, or in the words of then premier Glen Clark, "enemies of British Columbia."
And First Nations were pretty much irrelevant to any land use discussion.
Flash forward to this week for a reminder of just how extraordinarily things have changed.
For starters, it's now the Great Bear Rainforest, the clever name coined by the environmental groups back in 1996 when they wanted to win support for protecting the area.
And when Premier Gordon Campbell proudly announced a new land use deal for the region he shared the platform - and lots of praise - with First Nations and the same environmentalists who had been so maligned.
The new reality has arrived. First Nations have established a legal right to a say in decisions that affect land they are claiming as traditional territories.
Environmental groups have built political clout within the province, and shown a consistent ability to marshal international support to put economic pressure on industry and government.
After a bumpy start - especially with First Nations - the Liberal government has accepted the new reality, and showed with this announcement an ability to make the most of it.
On the day Campbell announced the new plan, it got big favourable news coverage across North America and around the world. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times International Herald Tribune and hundreds of others ran stories. Britain's Channel 4, in a typical coverage, ran film of beautiful scenery and playful bears and hailed "a major blow for preserving the planet's wildlife."
In terms of tourism promotion, figure a multimillion-dollar PR coup. The government's communication shop - with big help from the environmental groups, who have excellent press contacts - made the most of the opportunity.
The local impact of the land use plan is tougher to sort out.
The plan completes a process begun under the NDP. It covers a huge stretch of the coast, from just north of Powell River to Alaska. About one-third of the land will be protected from development. The rest will be open to commercial activities, including logging, but under a new Ecosystem Based Management regimen. Committees will review plans for each area, balancing environmental protection and the economic benefits and losses from any planned activities.
The forest industry was represented in the land use talks, and at the announcement. For the companies, any move towards certainty is valuable after all this time.
There are costs to his kind of agreement.
For starters, B.C. has put up $30 million for a new First Nations' economic development fund, and hopes the Harper government will match it. Environmental groups have raised another $60 million, mostly from U.S. foundations, for a First Nations fund to help with environmental issues.
All in, it will be $120 million. A lot of money, but less if it's considered a payment for allowing resources to be removed from lands claimed by First Nations while the treaty process continues.
The increased protection areas will also cost money. The annual allowable cut for the region had been estimated at four million cubic metres. The new land use plan will see that fall to about 3.1 million, a potential loss of jobs and government revenue.
There are benefits too. Certainty means more investment on a range of fronts.
And the reality is that there was no alternative. Everyone involved recognized a compromises would have to be reached or nothing would happen, and government brokered the deal.
It's not likely a model that will be repeated across the province. Most land use issues are less complex and polarized.
But on the big issues, things like coalbed methane, offshore gas and fish farms, expect some similar resolution of the inevitable conflicts.
The world has changed. B.C. has no choice but to acknowledge the new reality, and make the best of it.
Footnote: The government's announcement didn't make any mention of the $120-million fund for First Nations, or the province's contribution. Lands Minister Pat Bell said the government didn't want to highlight the fund until the new federal government had a chance to consider the $30-million request. Expect new Liberal David Emerson to deliver a fairly quick yes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This deal has been a long time coming. But it still allows logging and other things in the area. Maybe echo tourists and who knows what else. who will be picking up after teh folks spend time in that so wonderful space?

Selective logging means different things to different people . The interesting thing is the present government spent a lot of time complaining how the previous government had set space aside for parks, without hiring staff to cover the areas.

Many of us will watch carefully to try to make sure that sufficient staff to partol the areas so no sneaky deals are happening. The present premier has often promised things and done a 180 degree shift shortly after.