Ten years ago today on April 4th, 2001, after years of media coverage, public outcry and determined lobbying, the government of British Columbia announced an historic land-use agreement designed to save the spirit bear and create a framework for sustainability on the BC coast.
And ten years later, despite numerous strides in the right direction, the spirit bear remains threatened.
It all started in February 2001. Sensing the growing conflict surrounding the fate of their traditional territory, the Kitasoo First Nation set out to develop a land-use agreement that would create protected areas and economic development.
The result was a strong foundation for discussions that engaged all stakeholders involved in the debate surrounding the spirit bear, including the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition.
What had started as a discussion focusing simply on the Kitasoo traditional territory – the Land of the Spirit Bear – spread to envelop the fate of entire BC coast or what has become known as the Great Bear Rainforest.
Simultaneously, inspired by one letter written by one young person – after having received more letters on this issue than any environmental issue in Canadian history – BC’s minister of environment, Ian Waddell, and BC’s premier, Ujjal Dosanjh, decided it was time to do something about the future of the spirit bear.
The multi-stakeholder agreement – the first of its kind in the world – proved to be just the framework the BC government was looking for to create a resolution to the issue, announcing the deal on April 4th. At the time, it was the largest land protection measure in North American history.
In all, 20 ecologically significant watersheds on the BC coast were recognized by all parties to be in need of immediate protection – 441,256 hectares in total.
The protected areas announced – the Lockhart Gordon, the Ahnuhati, the Upper Klinaklini, Tallheo Hot Springs/K’kwatsta, the Koeye, the Foch/Giltoyees, and the Spirit Bear Conservancy – represented 13% of the Great Bear Rainforest.
In the Land of the Spirit Bear, just over half of the 250,000 hectare wilderness required by the spirit bear for survival was protected, including critical habitat on Princess Royal Island, Pooley Island, and the adjacent mainland watershed, the Khutze.
THE NEXT STEP
While the agreement was significant, it was only a first step in finding a lasting solution for the spirit bear and the entire BC coast.
Agreements were not reached as to the future of many critical areas. As a result, 68 additional watersheds – a total of 533,838 hectares – were deferred from development while discussions continued.
The other half of the spirit bear’s last intact habitat was included in this parcel of land that remained in purgatory.
After the camera lights went dark on the April 4th announcement, the hard work resumed in partnership with a new premier and a new government in BC.
And though negotiations lasted for far longer than anyone imagined, on February 7th, 2006, the BC government unveiled their final land use plan for the BC coast.
THE SPIRIT BEAR REMAINS THREATENED
This plan equally accomplished a great deal for the many coastal stakeholders and increased protection of the spirit bear’s key habitat to two-thirds, but it did not save the spirit bear and, this time, there was no promise of more work to be done on the issue.
Less than 200 times the size of Vancouver’s Stanley Park, the Green-Sheep Passage/Tolmie Operating Area is the final, unprotected third of the spirit bears habitat: it must be protected in order to sustain the delicate ecological balance that produces this rare bear.
And while it is illegal to hunt the white Kermode bear, within 98% of its range, including protected areas, it is legal to hunt the black Kermode bear that carries and produces the unique white gene – a direct threat to the survival of the subspecies. The creation of a trophy hunting sanctuary for all bears is needed in this one area in order to maintain the genetic diversity of the population.
Let us be clear: it is possible for logging to occur and the bear to survive; but it is equally possible that logging, combined with trophy hunting in this one area, will set in motion unintended, irreversible consequences that will, over a generation, lead to the extinction of the white bear. It is the belief of the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition that, when speaking of the very last chance to save a bear worth its weight in gold and critical to a globally important ecosystem, we must err on the side of caution, especially when a more viable economic alternative is available.
SAVING THE SPIRIT BEAR
Conservatively, The Spirit Bear animated movie is projected to be able to inject tens of millions of dollars into the region to help erase the human resource and infrastructure deficit that is widely believed to be preventing any hope of economic revitalization. The funds would exceed any bank loan, government hand-out, and potential profit from developing the ecosystem and allowing the coastal bear trophy hunt to continue.
The potential investment could build and sustain a viable tourism industry, develop the emerging sea shell aquaculture industry, create long-term conservation-based jobs, and launch a value-added, community-run forestry operation in areas other than this bear’s critical habitat. And then, off course, there is the ability to use the protected forest to offset carbon emissions – a multi-million dollar industry.
The Spirit Bear Youth Coalition feels that our track record is one of being positive, cooperative, engaged, and pragmatic; not one of being alarmists or dogmatic ideologues in addressing this issue.
The movie has the potential to generate more profit for the affected First Nation community than logging in an area that amounts to .003% of the entire coast’s operating area, but development is money now.
If government can help us work with the affected community to create a plan that allows us to put our money where our mouth is, we can create a new paradigm between ecology and economics that will meet everyone’s bottom line, most especially the bears.
On this anniversary of the historic April 4th land-use agreement, please take the time to make your voice heard and help us ensure that the next announcement is the one that truly does save the spirit bear for generation after generation.
FIVE WAYS TO SAVE THE SPIRIT BEAR:
2) SMS text “NOTROPHYHUNT” to 21-21-21
FOR MORE INFORMATION: The Case to Save the Spirit Bear