President & CEO, Coast Forest Products Association
The Great Bear Rainforest – A 20-Year Exercise in Relationship Building
It was a cold, damp, Monday morning – typical of a mid-winter Vancouver day. As I drove under the canopy of towering cedars that lined the road on my way to the Museum of Anthropology at UBC, I was reminded of the trees in the Great Bear Rainforest (GBR) where I had visited only a few short days before.
That day in Bella Bella was nothing short of magical. In fact, it took me a full 24 hours to really come to terms with the gravity of the day’s events. Dallas Smith of Nanwakolas, Premier Christy Clark, Minister Steve Thomson, and several others including myself flew up that day and were welcomed by the Heiltsuk band and community, one of the 26 First Nations groups who signed the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement.
I was honoured to have been invited to join this small group. My role, as lead negotiator for the Coast Forest Conservation Initiative (CFCI), was to work towards creating certainty and predictability for forest products companies so they could sustainably operate in the region that we today call the Great Bear Rainforest. Comprised of five companies including BC Timber Sales, Catalyst Paper, Howe Sound Pulp & Paper, Interfor and Western Forest Products, the CFCI had been given a mandate by First Nations groups and the provincial government to solve what had become an international controversy in the 1990s in the region.
Instead of playing into the “us versus them” approach laid out through the public campaigns launched against forestry, CFCI opted to focus on collaboration, which, later proved to be a very successful approach. Collectively and over a period of decades, that group dedicated millions of dollars and countless hours to arrive at a consensus with Greenpeace, Sierra Club BC and Forest Ethics.
The end result was the successful delivery of recommendations to the Province of BC and First Nations who then went on to finalize the Agreement to the satisfaction of all four signatories.
Chief Marilyn Slett, represented the Heiltsuk Nation on that day in Bella Bella. She, along with her council, graciously welcomed our group. In her address, Chief Slett told us that the Heiltsuk were supportive of the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement because it was good for them and in-line with their values. We were then treated to a ceremony featuring traditional dancers moving to the rhythmic beat of drums that reverberated in my ears long after they had gone silent.
And after we left on the plane to return home, it struck me that the celebration signified much more than the signing of the GBR Agreement. It was a celebration of the culmination of a full 20 years of relationship building, negotiation, research, discussion, frustration, persistence, and, eventually, compromise that led to consensus.
A few days later, as I arrived at the Museum of Anthropology on that damp, coastal winter Monday morning, I once saw those familiar faces from Bella Bella. They were joined by a much larger group made up of government, First Nations, media, industry and environmentalists joined my friends. And, as the warm and friendly buzz in the museum’s great hall eventually turned to one of reverent awe once the Agreement was officially announced to the world, the camaraderie we had forged from decades of relationship building was palpable.
More about Coast Forest Conservation Initiative: http://www.coastforestconservationinitiative.com/
Rick Jeffery has acted as the lead negotiator for the Coast Forest Conservation Initiative since 2012. Jeffery is also the President and CEO of Coast Forest Products Association.