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Negotiated Surrender: Outcomes for the Nuxalk and the Rainforest

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Negotiated Surrender

Outcomes for the Nuxalk and the Rainforest

from "Offsetting Resistance: The effects of foundation funding from the Great Bear Rainforest to the Athabasca River", a special report by Dru Oja Jay and Macdonald Stainsby. Released September, 2009.

The Great Bear Rainforest agreement has been promoted as an environmental success story, but critics of the process tell a different story. They note that, negotiating in secret, the Rainforest Solutions Project (made up for ForestEthics, Sierra Club BC, Greenpeace, and at the time, the Rainforest Action Network) originally accepted a deal that protected less than half of the 44-50 per cent recommended by scientists. One experienced observer says it should have been possible to achieve 40 per cent protection based on the recommendation. It was only when First Nations–excluded from negotiations–raised objections based on land use plans that the fully protected area was increased by about 2.1 million hectares.

Valhalla Wilderness Society Director Anne Sherrod says that the lack of public input is a crucial concession. “Both in the Great Bear Rainforest and in the mountain caribou recovery plan, the private collaborative partnership between government, industry, First Nations and ForestEthics and its coalitions has gone on for years,” says Sherrod. “We have seen these partnerships result in issues of huge importance regarding public land and resources being taken out of public view for years; participation by confidentiality agreement in the mountain caribou plan speaks for itself.”

Independent activist Ingmar Lee was campaigning in Germany to extend the boycott of BC forest products in 2003. Those he was trying to influence told him they had received notice of a deal that had already been worked out for the GBR. Lee explains, “This deal had never been publicly announced. It was sort of like an inside, advance notice deal that had been sent out to industry and everything like that, well ahead of the first official announcement that they had achieved this ‘great victory’ in the Great Bear Rainforest.” At that point, the only numbers available were scientists’ recommendations that 44-50 per cent of the forest be completely protected.

By 2006, the area to be fully protected had dropped to 21.2 per cent as advanced by the now ForestEthics-dominated RSP. The new figure had no scientific backing as a benchmark for preserving the intact ecosystem of the Central Coast; the David Suzuki Foundation did not endorse the proposal. A new “Ecosystem-Based Management” (EBM) plan was required to be “phased in” by 2009.

While policymakers haggle over definitions, logging has sped up, unopposed by blockades or disruptions.

The Rainforest Action Network (RAN) disassociated itself from the Great Bear Rainforest deal after it was announced. It no longer promotes the deal as a “victory”.

“‘[Commenters] who stick up for the plan really need to stop saying that people opposed to it wanted it all to be protected,” says Sherrod. “A 17-member scientific panel composed of industry, government, and enviro scientists, recommended 44-50% full protection. When I started out as an environmentalist, you could not find ONE scientist that would dare recommend that. With 17 scientists saying it, the RSP had a straight shot at getting something like 40%. Their protocol agreement with the other groups had set 44-60% as the goal. Instead, in the private deal with industry, they settled for 21.2% full protection and 11.8% partial protection. It was the First Nations’ land use plans that pushed the full protection up to 28%, plus about 5% protected from logging but not from mining.”

“The Valhalla Wilderness Society accepted that level of protection at that time because the government, First Nations and RSP partners promised that a good Ecosystem-based Management plan would regulate logging in an ecologically responsible way,” says Sherrod. “But that too was developed in private confabs between government, First Nations and the RSP. It emerged in a form that was grossly inadequate and totally non-binding on logging companies. Believe me, we have learned why activists of many kinds worked hard in the past for open public process. Backroom deals can never be trusted; if the intent behind them is good, there won’t be a need to keep things secret from the public and the broader environmental movement.”

The deal, some say, has been a disaster for the ecosystem of some of the most important temperate rainforests left on the planet.

According to journalist and activist Zoe Blunt, the implications of the deal go beyond logging.

“In 2006, the final agreement was announced with fanfare by a provincial government eager to paint itself Green after years of cutting park budgets and opening wilderness areas to development and logging. However, the Great Bear Rainforest agreement only commits to a “conservancy” designation for 32 per cent of the land – part of which is open for mining and all of which may be open to roads, hydroelectric projects, tourism and other uses.

“The parties pledged to base the agreement on the best independent science available,” Blunt continues, “and the province requisitioned a scientific review of the central and north coast flora and fauna to make recommendations about habitat protection. In 2005, the Coast Information Team found that a minimum of 44 to 50 per cent of the land area would have to be set aside to save ecosystems and wildlife. The decision to protect only 32 per cent may end up sacrificing the survival of the spirit bear.”

According to Ingmar Lee, an area far more vast than 70% of the GBR may have been sacrificed.

The RSP’s “deals are secret, they’ve got confidentiality agreements and that’s their modus operandi. But suddenly Sierra Club [BC] disappeared from all of their Vancouver Island campaigns.... Suddenly they just walked on it. They abandoned the Quatsino who had gotten all excited that they were going to get some of their territory protected and [Sierra Club BC] just abandoned it. What the hell happened?... It was clear to me they had sacrificed Vancouver Island in order to get mileage on the Great Bear Rainforest. Subsequently my suspicions were confirmed by [the Rainforest Action Network]. RAN admitted... It was on their website for awhile that they found it really regrettable that Vancouver Island had to be sacrificed to the Great Bear Rainforest deal. So you must understand that the pathetic 30% protection that this magnificent, intact tract of primeval temperate rainforest was only part of the sacrifice.”

“One of the worst and most disgusting aspects of the whole Great Bear Rainforest deal was just how many times it has been strung along like these Fake Enviros, ForestEthics being the worst of them [...] they have been just groveling for [BC Premier Gordon Campbell’s] signature over the years and Gordo strung it along until like a month before the [May 2009 provincial] election and then finally endorsed it.”

After Campbell’s signature put the Great Bear Rainforest deal to paper, a press conference and photo op was held with (among others) Gordon Campbell alongside Tzeporah Berman. Berman has since limited her role with FE and now directs PowerUP, a foundation-funded group advocating controversial run-of-the-river private hydro projects in British Columbia.

Because the EBM was not defined for years, companies were allowed to log, using the practice of “highgrading.”

Highgrading means to selectively take the very best trees from a forested area, leaving the rest in the hope that it will recover if left to its own devices after the healthiest trees have been cut. “Consider the years that the RSP accepted for the companies’ logging before the EBM went into effect; The result has been the highgrading of prime coastal temperate rainforest,” explained Sherrod.

She concludes that no environmental group should be allowed to negotiate behind closed doors with industry or government.

“Lastly, and this is overall what I think is the largest damage of these negotiations: No real environmental group needs to, or should, make agreements conceding vast areas of forest to be logged. Part of the shuck of this process is the pretense that environmental groups are forced to sign on the dotted line to get improvements in environmental protection. Pure hogwash. When we stand together in united resistance to environmental abuses we will gain real power to protect the environment, and we won’t have to sell out our ideals to do it. These are greenwashing deals. I am speaking out about this because there is evidence that the collaborative agreement industry may be moving to the tar sands. I want everyone to know that issues where people are dying of cancer from serious pollution is no place for this kind of thing. Open public process is your best friend in situations like this. Insist on it.”



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