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The Great Bear Rainforest—The Book that Saved a Forest

Posted: February 8, 2006

British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell’s announcement on February 7, 2006 of an agreement to preserve 1.2 million hectares of coastal BC Rainforest vindicates a book that was once called “an act of treason” by BC forest union head Jack Munro. The book, The Great Bear Rainforest, published by Harbour Publishing in 1997, catalyzed a world-wide campaign that led to today’s announcement and ranks as one of the most influential Canadian books in recent decades.

Written by Ian and Karen McAllister, two young conservationists who began documenting the central and northern coasts of British Columbia in 1991, The Great Bear Rainforest is a breathtaking portrait of a vast wilderness region with abundant salmon runs, rare spirit bears and dense concentrations of grizzly bears. It is a loving tribute to the largest intact temperate rainforest left on earth.

Alarmed by the clearcut logging threatening the area, the McAllisters brought seven years’ worth of photographs and journal entries to Harbour Publishing in 1996, where staff helped them shape it into the book that has now become recognized as a classic of its kind. The Great Bear Rainforest: Canada’s Forgotten Coast  was published in 1997 to international acclaim, winning the Booksellers Choice Award in BC. Editions were published in both the United States and Germany, and Time Magazine heralded Ian and Karen McAllisters as “Environmental Leaders for the 21st Century” and credited the book as being “…the centerpiece for Greenpeace International’s North American forest campaign.” Now in its fourth printing, it remains the only in-depth book about the remarkable region at the centre of today’s announcement.

Some might say that with the signing of a Great Bear Rainforest agreement, the McAllisters’ work is done. But Chris Genovali, the executive director of the Raincoast Conservation Society, believes that the government requires further commitment to protected areas if the area’s biodiversity is to be safeguarded in the future.

A press release issued by the Raincoast Conservation Society states that while the Great Bear Rainforest announcement represents political progress, at 30 per cent or less protection it falls well short of the ecological criteria set out by the scientific advisors to the region’s land use negotiations.

The Coast Information Team, the assemblage of scientists appointed to inform land use negotiations for the central and north coast, identified 44 per cent protection as the minimum (high risk) requirement for maintaining biodiversity in this globally significant landscape. Even higher levels of protection (as much as 70 per cent) would be necessary to ensure that biodiversity values remain at a low risk in perpetuity.

“Raincoast supports the legislating of the proposed protected areas, but the province should do so with the full knowledge and recognition that lasting protection of the Great Bear Rainforest will require additional steps and commitment from all parties,” said Genovali.