Spirit Bear Rainforest Conservation Funded

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Canada, February 1, 2007 (ENS) - A public-private partnership has raised C$120 million to conserve part of the largest coastal temperate rainforest left on Earth. The Great Bear Rainforest with its 1,000 year old cedar trees shelters the endemic white spirit bear, black bears, grizzlies, wolves, deer, and eagles.

From the northern end of Vancouver Island, across Queen Charlotte Strait, and up the central coast of British Columbia to the Alaskan border, the Great Bear Rainforest stretches more than 250 miles. Tall Sitka spruce trees fringe streams on valley bottoms where salmon still run.

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The white spirit bear, also called the Kermode bear, Ursus americanus kermodei, is unique to the central British Columbia coast. (Photo by Ian McAllister courtesy Western Canada Wilderness Committee)
Today, nearly 60 percent of the world's coastal temperate rainforests have been logged or developed. The Great Bear Rainforest represents one-quarter of what remains.

Over the last two years, the Nature Conservancy and its partners have raised C$60 million to help leverage matching funding from governments in Canada for conservation in the Great Bear Rainforest.

Late in January, the Canadian federal government committed C$30 million for work in the rainforest. Those funds, combined with C$30 million previously committed by the provincial government of British Columbia, make up the public funding component of the Great Bear Rainforest project.

“The economic challenges facing the people of the Great Bear Rainforest are as important to address as the area’s conservation challenges,” said Steve McCormick, president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy.

Together, the commitments from the governments and the private support raised by the Conservancy and a core group of U.S. and Canadian foundations will create two public-private funds totaling $120 million.

The contributions of the foundations and environmental groups will provide an endowment fund for conservation management and research projects to be known as the Conservation Endowment Fund.

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The Great Bear Rainforest is indicated in yellow on this map of British Columbia. (Map courtesy Environment Canada)
Governmental funding will provide financial support for an economic development fund for Coastal First Nations communities and for sustainable development initiatives known as the Conservation Investments and Incentives Initiative, CIII.

The combined federal-provincial contribution to this fund will be directed toward economic development opportunities for First Nations businesses involved in activities such as sustainable fisheries, forestry and tourism.

Examples of businesses that may be eligible for funding under the CIII fund include tourism, including cruises and wildlife viewing; non-timber forest products and ecosystem-based management forestry operations; green building projects, and fisheries.

Activities that will not be eligible include open net-cage finfish aquaculture; trophy hunting; any activity associated with the large scale extraction of subsurface resources; and unsustainable exploitation of fish and wildlife in the area.

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Carver Guujaaw stands in front of a culturally modified giant cedar tree. Guujaaw serves as president of the Council of the Haida Nation, one of the Coastal First Nations. (Photo by Paul Joseph Brown courtesy Cathedral Grove)
The two funds are intended to transform the economies of the 21 million acre Great Bear Rainforest and support land use agreements announced last February with First Nations.

"By working together governments, foundations and First Nations have created a unique approach to sustainable development on B.C.'s coast," said Art Sterritt, executive director of the Coastal First Nations. "The funds will ensure the well-being of our people, lands, and waters. We look forward to working closely with all our partners as we move forward to create an economically and ecologically sustainable coast."

"We've been waiting a very long time for this federal funding and I'm pleased it has finally come," said Kitasoo First Nations Elder Percy Starr. "This would not have happened without the leadership of the provincial government who facilitated and brokered what I hope will be a long-lasting relationship that will bring many benefits to our people."

coastal rainforest

Brew Island and Laredo Inlet are part of a new 75,000 hectare reserve in the Kitasoo Plan for biodiversity protection. (Photo courtesy Kitasoo First Nation)
"This initiative is a clear illustration of the partnerships and cooperation that are necessary to build a diversified economy on the coast," said Dallas Smith, chair of KNT First Nations.

"We know there is a strong link between a healthy ecosystem, a healthy society and Canada's economic prosperity," said Canadian Environment Minister John Baird. "This ambitious and collaborative initiative will achieve just that, and we are committed to work closely with First Nations and non-government organizations to bring it to life."

British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell said, "This commitment recognizes that this unique part of our province truly is a national treasure and that we must work in partnership to advance economic opportunities for First Nations who have been such strong partners in charting the future of the coastal regions of B.C."

A coalition of environmental organizations - Greenpeace Canada, ForestEthics, Sierra Club of Canada-British Columbia Chapter and the Rainforest Action Network - has worked to build consensus for long-term conservation of the Great Bear Rainforest.

Merran Smith, B.C. Coast program director for ForestEthics, said, “The challenges of our age require innovative approaches that place a premium on a healthy environment. With today’s announcement we’re proving that conservation can attract investment and actually support jobs that won't threaten the living systems that we depend upon."

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A conservationist overlooks a 1998 Interfor clearcut into Rivers Inlet in the Great Bear Rainforest. (Photo by Ian McAllister courtesy Western Canada Wilderness Committee)
Until April 4, 2001, industrial clearcut logging was destroying the Great Bear Rainforest, with industrial salmon farming, trophy hunting of grizzly bears, mining, and offshore oil and gas exploration on the horizon.

On that date, the B.C. government, some forestry companies and some environmental groups came to a negotiated interim agrement to set aside 16 valleys and several key ecological areas for possible protection. Other intact rainforest valleys were put under temporary moratorium from industrial development, and a planning process was established to define and implement ecosystem-based planning.

From that tentative step have grown the new funds and plans for conservation and economic development that go hand-in-hand.

The Nature Conservancy's McCormick said, “Protected areas are vital to the future of the Great Bear Rainforest, yet they alone are not enough to ensure the long-term survival of the rainforest and the human and natural communities within it. The establishment of this public-private fund is a global model of what conservation must become - an inherent part of economies, environments and cultures."

The Great Bear Rainforest protected areas network includes:

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Kermode bears in the Great Bear Rainforest (Photo courtesy Save the Great Bear)
Also conserved is the only habitat of the spirit bear, also called the Kermode bear. This is a unique subspecies of the North American black bear in which about one in every 10 bears is colored white or cream. Some have orange or yellow colors on their backs, but Kermode bears also can be all black.

The scientific name, Ursus americanus kermodei, honors naturalist and museum curator Frances Kermode of the British Columbia Provincial Museum.

The term spirit bear comes from First Nations tradition, which holds that the white bears are to be revered and protected.