This Article is part of the Great Bear Rainforest special report See the full report

Nineteen year battle over Great Bear Rainforest on brink of peace as momentous deadline approaches

In those early meetings, anger and tension blocked every attempt at progress.  But over 19 years, enemies became friends and joined forces to try and save B.C.'s greatest natural treasure. First in a series.

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Valerie Langer, blocking the Bulson River bridge in 1991 (left), photo by Adrian Dorst, and Langer today (right), photo by Moresby Photography 

 

Langer has been an activist for most of her life, largely focusing on protecting the forests on the B.C. coast. She speaks with the insights  gained from years of fighting to keep British Columbia's forests standing.

First Nations, the forest industry, and the environmental community are all aligned and saying ‘we're ready, by the end of 2014 we have a package ready and it can go out’,” Nicole Rycroft said about meeting the upcoming deadline after years of frustrating delays. Rycroft, a native Australian, is the founder and executive director of Canopy, an influential NGO that uses market forces to protect forests around the world. A fearless activist, she was once arrested at the Beijing Olympics for climbing billboards to hang a banner that protested the Tibetan occupation.

She jokes that her hair has "gone gray" since the early years of Great Bear Rainforest conservation efforts.

Nicole Rycroft, Founder of Canopy, on right, with author J.K. Rowling.  Rowling persuaded her Canadian publisher to print the Harry Potter series on recycled paper rather than using paper from Canada's old growth forests.

“Everybody recognizes that it needs to be legislated [to] provide a level of certainty for the Great Bear Rainforest.” 

The Great Bear Rainforest Agreement includes four key elements: rainforest protection, improved logging practices, the involvement of First Nations in decision making, and the provision of conservation financing to enable economic diversification. The Rainforest Solutions Project, a coalition comprised of ForestEthics, Greenpeace, and Sierra Club B.C., describes it as a "conservation and human well-being initiative". 

From blockades to boardrooms

It's hard to imagine today, but up to 2005, just seven per cent of what became known as the Great Bear Rainforest was protected in parks. Logging companies had already been in the area for 100 years, and it wasn't until the 90s that environmentalists -- the very same who had led the biggest blockades in Canada's history at Clayoquot Sound -- demanded that industry stay out of pristine areas of the Great Bear Rainforest. 

“People started to understand what's going on in forestry....[they] were  becoming very concerned about the tremendous increase of the amount of logging in the province,” Langer said. 

"The industry figured that the environmentalists would just never get there. It was so remote and logistically, it would be too difficult," Patrick Armstrong of Moresby Consulting said in a TV interview. A former logger, Armstrong was an forestry industry representative who was at the forefront of the negotiations that were to take place. 

Armstrong was amazed to hear on the radio while at a logging site on Roderick Island that there were people in white coveralls, emerging from the woods. 

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