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Great Bear Rainforest agreement under Rio summit microscope: scientists

Scientists at next week's Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro will point to B.C.'s Great Bear Rainforest Agreement as a potential model for global conservation efforts, so it's time to speed up the process, critics say.

In advance of the summit, a group of 54 scientists lead by Dominick DellaSala sent a letter to Premier Christy Clark, urging her government to accelerate fulfillment of the agreement.

"The leaders of the world are getting together to see how to make progress on sustainable development," DellaSala explained.

Discussion in Rio is going to focus on making sure economic activity described as "green" is actually beneficial to the environment, an issue that's at the core of the agreement, said Jens Wieting, coastal forest campaigner for the Sierra Club BC.

The main commitments of the agreement cover the amount of protected area, new logging regulations and ensuring "there can be jobs without destroying the environment," he said.

"The Great Bear Rainforest is being seen as a strong model and we have to demonstrate that it can be done, and that we have it not just on paper but as a reality."

But before that agreement becomes a reality, approximately another 400,000 hectares of forest land need to be protected, Wieting said. That addition would make a total of 70 per cent of the rainforest off-limits to logging, as opposed to the current 50 per cent.

In 2009, the agreement had been to increase the amount of land conserved by 2014, but environmental groups have since called to move up the date to March 2013, before the next provincial election.

DellaSala has been working closely with research scientist Kyle Gracie from the Global Footprint Network to have Great Bear hailed in Rio de Janeiro as "a global model," as long as the commitments are honored.

"It's so critical, on a global scale, to get these agreements going," DellaSala said, adding that the Great Bear Rainforest is one of only four intact temperate rainforests left in the world.

According to DellaSala, the forest stores the equivalent of approximately three times B.C.'s annual CO2 pollution, as well as hosts salmon runs and old growth forest.

DellaSala thinks the process of completing the conservation agreements needs central leadership in order to move forward.

"It needs a spark and the B.C. government can certainly provide that spark," DellaSala said.

In a statement emailed to The Tyee, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations said that the province continues to work toward implementing the commitments by 2014, but noted that "the province is only one of the parties at the table and there have been discussions about accelerating the original implementation timeline by one year."

Hanah Redman is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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