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Province reveals Great Bear Rainforest protection plan

The provincial government today announced details of the North and Central Coast land management plan, the culmination of nearly a decade of collaboration by government, First Nations, industry and environmental groups.

It takes an ecosystem-based approach to land management in a region that is home to the Great Bear Rainforest, the largest intact temperature rainforest in the world, and an important carbon sink.

A network of protected areas and conservancies will prevent logging in approximately 2 million hectares of forest, as promised by the provincial government in 2006. New logging regulations will require forestry operations to preserve 50 per cent of natural old-growth forest, allowing for the protection of an additional 740,00 hectares of forest.

Jens Wieting, coastal forest campaigner for the Sierra Club of B.C. said although these targets have been set, "a lot of work remains to identify where logging can and can't happen."

He said an outstanding piece of work in the management plan, which can be adapted over time, is to create a network of reserves that would connect isolated pockets of old-growth forest.

Wieting also said that the logging regulations, combined with a $120 million fund for First Nations economic development, will result in "fewer clear-cuts and a higher quality of life for First Nations."

"It's protection [from logging] and also the means to support the alternative," he said.

However, one trade-off for logging restrictions was the creation of special zones designated for biodiversity, mining and eco-tourism. These zones will encompass 300,000 hectares.

They were "the result of multi-stakeholder process needing to come up with a compromise for areas with no logging, but still allowing for economic activity," said Greenpeace senior forest campaigner Stephanie Goodwin.

When asked if biodiversity could be maintained in an area where there is mining activity, Goodwin said that would depend on whether the ecosystem could handle that type of resource extraction.

"I don't know the answer, because it's within the context of ecosystem thresholds. My impression of mining is that it's a very impactful activity."

Goodwin, who had worked in justice-oriented campaigns for 15 years, called this process "the most complex, multiple-perspective, multi-party campaign that I've ever worked on."

She fondly recalled being "bluff-charged" by a bear during a hike in one of the region's protected areas.

"I knew it was an area that would be protected forever from logging, and doesn't allow any hunting of bears," she said. "That was a personal high."

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Hook.

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