VANCOUVER, Feb 1 (Reuters) - British Columbia is set to announce on Monday an historic agreement to protect a massive swath of rainforest along its coastline, having reached a deal that marries the interests of First Nations, the logging industry and environmentalists after a decade of often-tense negotiations.
The agreement will see roughly 85 percent of forest within the Great Bear Rainforest protected, with the other 15 percent available for logging under the “most stringent” standards in North America, environmental groups involved in the talks said.
The Great Bear Rainforest is one of the world’s largest temperate rainforests and the habitat of the Spirit Bear, a rare subspecies of the black bear with white fur and claws. It is also home to 26 Aboriginal groups, known as First Nations.
“Under this landmark agreement, more old and second growth forest will be protected, while still ensuring opportunities for economic development and jobs for local First Nations,” said Premier Christy Clark in a statement.
The province will introduce new laws to support the measures later this year.
The Great Bear rainforest, which includes forests, waterways and mountains, covers 6.4 million hectares of the province’s coast. More than half its surface is forest, including 2.3 million hectares of old-growth forest, which store high levels of captured carbon.
In the 1990s, frustrated over what they saw as destructive forestry practices on their traditional lands, First Nations partnered with environmentalists to fight back against logging companies, blockading roads and protesting.
By the early 2000s, environmental groups and industry players, including Interfor Corp, Western Forest Products Inc and Catalyst Paper Corp, had started talks. At the same time, government began negotiating with the Coastal First Nations and Nanwakolas Council.
The final agreements, reached more than a decade later, will “help mitigate climate change, support improved community well-being, and provide economic certainty to the forestry sector,” environmental groups that engaged in the process said.
The deal will also see the end of the commercial grizzly bear hunt within Coastal First Nations territories, though other existing tourism-related businesses will not be impacted.
“This full implementation of the Great Bear Rainforest agreements is one of the most visionary forest conservation plans on earth,” said Valerie Langer, ForestEthics Solutions Director, in a statement.
“It is a principled approach that sets a new legal and science-based standard for sustaining healthy forests.”
The announcement will come nearly two years after a landmark Supreme Court decision that granted title to a vast swath of British Columbia’s interior to First Nations, who had gone to court to stop logging in their traditional lands.
The Tsilhqot’in Decision, named for the bands involved, has bolstered First Nations across the province, who now have a legal precedence for fighting development on their traditional territories. (Reporting by Julie Gordon; Editing by Bruce Wallace and Michael Perry)