How to Build a Conservation Economy: A Lesson from BC’s Great Bear Rainforest

First Nations have created a strong conservation economy in Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest, one of the largest intact old-growth temperate rainforests left in the world. The conservation economy has been developed through sound investments in sustainable development and environmental stewardship projects that link the health of nature to the wellbeing of the 27 coastal First Nation communities.

A conservation economy marries conservation and development. Biosphere Reserves, like the Niagara Escarpment, are designated as internationally significant learning places for sustainable development and management of biodiversity – the perfect place to implement a conservation economy.

A conservation economy is essentially an economy that sustains itself on income earned from activities that conserve and restore rather than deplete the natural capital of the region (geology, soils, air, water, and all living organisms). In a conservation economy, local communities take over stewardship of natural resources and ecosystems for the benefit of future generations, and help to stimulate new local employment/business opportunities, where the benefits stay in the local economy. A few examples of conservation economy initiatives:

  • Responsible tourism – ecotourism and regenerative tourism
  • Wellness communities and initiatives
  • Wild harvesting and foraging
  • Local cuisine
  • Sustainable forestry
  • Outdoor schools and education
  • Open air fitness gyms
  • Indigenous cultural tourism
  • Impact tourism with a philanthropic element
  • Regenerative agriculture

In 2016 the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements (signed by industry, governments, and local communities) established ecosystem-wide management of the temperate rainforests that stretch across 6.4 million hectares of the remote British Columbia coastline and Haida Gwaii, also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, an archipelago off British Columbia’s west coast. Today more than 85 percent of the Great Bear Rainforest is permanently off-limits to industrial logging and provides First Nations with decision-making powers within their traditional territories.

First Nations in the Great Bear Rainforest and Haida Gwaii, in developing a resilient economy, have invested in a diverse array of economic sectors from sustainable forestry and energy to manufacturing and real estate. Ecotourism, in particular, has become an important and growing part of many First Nations’ economies. Good examples include:

  • Spirit Bear Lodge in Klemtu, a cultural ecolodge and tour business
  • Nawalakw Healing Centre & Ecotourism Resort, a social venture and charitable enterprise in Kwakwaka’wakw territory
  • Hiellen Longhouse Village in Old Masset on Haida Gwaii
  • Homalco Wildlife Tours out of Campbell River, a world-class wildlife viewing and cultural experience tour provider
  • Knight Inlet Lodge, a world-class wildlife viewing operation

Here, in the southern Georgian Bay region, we must together work to protect the most critical economic and recreation asset we have in the Collingwood/Blue Mountains and Beaver Valley areas. We can grow a robust conservation economy that supports the protection of one of the richest ecological networks along the length of the Niagara Escarpment, for the sustainable benefit of future generations of both residents and visitors. We must live up to the UNESCO Biosphere commitment for a fully connected corridor supporting sustainable development and management of biodiversity.

Conservation is a responsibility, not an option.

In our region, we must protect the natural lands on the Escarpment and grow a conservation economy. Help ECA send this message to our politicians by:

Mike Robbins is a Board member with the Escarpment Corridor Alliance and an ecotourism consultant.

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