Down to the Wire

by Faisal Moola
Large Carnivore Projects Coordinator

Victoria, BC, March 2005

It’s election time in British Columbia this spring (May 17) and campaigning by the various political parties has already begun in earnest.   In addition to the persistent concerns of the electorate on health care and education, the environment could also be a factor in closely contested ridings. The ruling Liberal government has a dubious environmental record and has enacted numerous anti-conservation policies, such as lifting the moratorium on trophy hunting of grizzly bears. As such, the Liberals are likely looking to establish their “green” credentials before they head to the polls.

Recently completed land-use agreements that impact the fate of the Great Bear Rainforest just may be the environmental issue the Liberals attempt to highlight in the run-up to the election. These land-use plans have recommended protection for 21 – 24 % of the Great Bear Rainforest (including existing parks) in which logging, mining and hydroelectric development are prohibited.  An additional 11 – 12 % of the landbase will be off-limits to forestry, but surprisingly will remain open to other ecologically harmful practices such as mining and road building. The trophy hunting of large carnivores such as grizzly bears, wolves and black-phased Kermode bears would be permitted throughout the Great Bear Rainforest, including virtually all the proposed protected areas.

While the negotiated land-use agreements are a welcome step towards conservation in  the Great Bear Rainforest, they suffer from a number of significant shortcomings that have been identified by scientists at Raincoast.  In most cases, the proposed protected areas are too small and too isolated from each other on the landscape. They don’t protect enough of the habitat of wildlife, including species at risk such as marbled murrelets and northern goshawks, and minimally protect unique ecosystems, such as those found on the outer islands of the Great Bear Rainforest, whose critical ecological importance is only now being investigated by scientists. In the opinion of Raincoast’s senior science advisor, Dr. Paul Paquet, not one of the proposed protected areas is likely large enough or satisfactorily protected from all ecologically harmful human activities to maintain a single pack of coastal wolves.

Collectively, the weaknesses in the proposed protection plan provide a strong ecological incentive for a cautious and low-risk management approach for the surrounding unprotected landscape under so-called Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM).  However, despite millions of dollars and the assistance of an independent panel of scientists (including myself),  the EBM elements now under consideration by government are largely cursory, primarily non-prescriptive, and will be phased-in over many years. None of the EBM elements have yet been made legal objectives and unless they eventually are, EBM implementation will depend wholly upon the voluntary compliance of the big timber companies operating in the Great Bear Rainforest.  Even with legal standing, forestry regulations have proven to be highly ineffective at safeguarding our precious forests since government has historically refused to enforce them.  For example, the Sierra Legal Defence Fund found that Greater Vancouver’s library patrons paid as much in overdue book fines as forestry companies paid for destroying important environmental values under the old Forest Practices Code; legislation which has since been replaced by an even weaker law.

I firmly believe that we need to build the EBM “safety net” to bolster the unfulfilled conservation gains that may soon be announced by government for the Great Bear Rainforest.  However, until this happens we must continue the fight for comprehensive and scientifically-based protection in this globally unique region.

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Raincoast’s in-house scientists, collaborating graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and professors make us unique among conservation groups. We work with First Nations, academic institutions, government, and other NGOs to build support and inform decisions that protect aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and the wildlife that depend on them. We conduct ethically applied, process-oriented, and hypothesis-driven research that has immediate and relevant utility for conservation deliberations and the collective body of scientific knowledge.

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Coastal wolf with a salmon in its month.
Photo by Dene Rossouw.