A Canadian Model for Sustainable Land Management

Image: Meghan Coughlin/Flickr

by Ashira Morris

From fishery management to forest protection, the environmentalist vs. industry frame is often a roadblock to sustainable practices. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In Canada, environmentalists, logging companies, and First Nations people came together to create a management plan for the Great Bear Rainforest. This stretch of the British Columbia coast is part of the largest old-growth temperate rainforests on earth. The process “started with the companies and the environmental groups realizing they had more to gain through negotiating than through fighting,” The Tyee reported

The agreement, finalized in 2016, sets aside 85% of the forest as off-limits to logging. The remaining area open to forestry must follow management rules that protect waterways, endangered species, and cultural values. And, importantly, First Nations people now have decision-making powers on their own land.


Why This Matters: In order to prevent the worst impacts of the climate crisis, we must protect 30% of our land and oceans by 2030. The Great Bear Rainforest is a model for centering indigenous stewardship, creating new protected land, and establishing sustainable industries in surrounding areas. It’s also a success story that proves protecting biodiversity doesn’t come at the expense of jobs. First Nations’ sustainable development projects, supported by a government grant, created more than 1,000 jobs, from wildlife surveyors to ecolodge employees.

First Nations in the Great Bear Rainforest have created “a road-map for how we can sustain the most ecologically significant places on the planet while enhancing the well-being of the people who have lived in those places for thousands of years.” the fund’s board chair, Huux Percy Crosby of the Haida Nation told MongaBay last year. “This model can and must be replicated across the globe.


Expanding Protections, On the Ground and in the Law: Protections for the Great Bear Rainforest were designated to include all of the different habitat types and covers more than 20,000 square km — more than twice the size of Yellowstone. The agreement quadrupled the protected area of the rainforest. It also created a new type of protected area, since the current models didn’t codify respect for First Nations traditional uses and cultural values or that natural resources would continue to support their cultural and economic needs. In action, this new designation means that First Nations co-develop management plans for the protected area. 

Want to see some beautiful footage of Great Bear? There’s an IMAX documentary — narrated by Ryan Reynolds — all about it. Maybe skip the big screen for now and watch the videos available online.


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