The Great Bear Rainforest: K3H in British Columbia, Canada

'Nuxalk Ceremonial Mask' at the Royal BC Museum, Victoria. By Adam Jones via Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0.

K3H is an area of forest currently under a community forest license issued to the Nuxalk Nation.[1] It is located near Bella Coola in the central coast of British Columbia.[2] The K3H license features a 20,000m3/year AAC.[1] K3H is within the ancestral territory of Nuxalk Nation, who have historically have lived on the land for generations.[3] Despite several decades of participation between members of the Nuxalk Nation and logging industry, tensions arose in the 1990’s between industrial logging companies and the community.[4] The conflict expanded to include environmental organizations, logging companies, the divided local communities, and the BC government.[5][4] The forests around Bella Coola went through various negotiations and agreements before community forest licenses were issued in 2011.[6] The conflict at Bella Coola became part of an international environmental campaign which was coined The Great Bear Rainforest Campaign.[4] The campaign ultimately resulted in the introduction of ecosystem-based management for the broader region.[7] However, environmental organizations drew criticism for maintaining a neocolonial mentality during the campaign.[8] What impact did the campaign have for Nuxalk Nation or the other stakeholders? Does the new arrangement satisfy every stakeholder?

Location: Bella Coola



Bella Coola is located in central British Columbia, at the end of North Bentinck Arm, an inlet which is fed by the Bella Coola River. Bella Coola and the surrounding areas have an oceanic climate, which features a milder winter and summer.


The town can be accessed by Highway 20. Highway 20 is a 457 km long highway which extends from Williams Lake to Bella Coola. Portions of the highway remain unpaved, which has earned the road some notoriety.[9] The town can otherwise be accessed by air or by ferry in the summer time.[10][11]


The forests in the valley are made up of cedar.[12] Pine and Spruce trees grow on the mountains.[12]


An old rendering of 'The Bella Coola Indians'. By Wilhelm Sievers via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain


The Nuxalk First Nation has lived in the region since time immemorial.[12] First contact with Europeans was made in 1793.[12] Prior to this, all history of the region was passed down orally.[12] The Nuxalk relied on the cedar to build their homes, tools and cultural items.[12]

After over a century of contact with settlers, by the 1920's some of The Nuxalk had joined the logging industry.[12] Beginning what was to become a culture of inter-generational loggers in the community.[13][12] The industry began to change a lot in the 1990’s. Due to increased reliance on machinery and centralized hierarchy, members of the Nuxalk Nation began to feel alienated and tensions began.[4]

The Great Bear Rainforest Campaign

In 1995, members of The Nuxalk Nations, including hereditary chiefs, and with the assistance from the Forest Action Network, blockaded the construction of a logging road near Fog Creek on King Island.[14][5] They cited that the logging company, International Forest Products, had designated an area of land deemed sacred by the Nuxalk Nation to be clear cut.[15] This ignited a conflict with the logging company, International Forest Products, as well as the provincial and federal governments.[4] After Interfor successfully obtained an injunction, 22 people were arrested.[15] Later that year, a provincial supreme court case was held. The Nuxalk argued that those lands belonged to them because they had never signed a treaty ceding those territories.[4][15] The court ruled in favour of Interfor.[15][16] Resistance from the Nuxalk continued, but as a deeply community.[15][4]

Factions were formed within the Nuxalk Community. Some of the hereditary chiefs insisted on continuing to resist attempts from Interfor to log on their territory.[4] The other faction, led by the elected council chief, insisted that unemployment was a greater concern than logging, therefore Interfor shouldn’t be resisted.[4] Archie Pootlass, the elected chief counsellor said  "[The] most important issue facing this community is unemployment. I will address this issue."[15] The conflict, although it appeared to be about logging, was also a struggle between traditional authority and the government imposed by the Indian Act.[4] As the campaign went on, tensions were so high in the community that most members refused to publicly take sides.[4]

During this time, the environmentalists involved in the conflict had transformed their mission into a much broader campaign. This was eventually dubbed the Great Bear Rainforest campaign.[4][17] The environmentalists, including Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, had begun rebranding the north and central coasts of BC as the Great Bear Rainforest.[17] The campaign involved a sophisticated public relations effort. It worked by trying to induce people into seeing the forestlands as a beautiful and unique ecosystem as opposed to a resource to be harvested.[17] It also brought many First Nation people, including hereditary chiefs of the Nuxalk Nation, abroad to make appeals to the international community.[4] An international boycott effort was also led against any wood products known to be sourced from the area labelled the Great Bear Forest.[4][7]

The Nuxalk Nation continued to be paralyzed by internal conflict and isolationist tendencies. In 1999, the Nuxalk applied to the BC government for a community forest license and was successful.[4] However, due to a lack of consensus within the community, the licence was put on hold for 7 years.[4][6] This trend continued when the Nuxalk imposed an injunction on Interfor’s operations in their territory in the year 2000.[4] Although the conflict ended with a new accord with many benefits for the Nuxalk, they did not make use of it due to fears of having any relationship with Interfor.[4] When the Central Coast LRMP was up for discussion in 2001, the Nuxalk had elected a largely traditionalist council, resulting in their withdrawal from the discussion.[4] When the LRMP was finally announced it was praised by environmentalists, logging industrialists, and the government.[7] It introduced the idea of ‘ecosystem-based management.[7] However, it was still surprisingly unpopular with First Nations.[4]

In spite of the optimism shown by many of the stakeholders, the initial LRMP did not reach a final agreement.[18] The planning process entered a phase 2 which lasted from 2001 to 2007.[18] ] In phase 2, a two-tier process was introduced for negotiating with First Nations in BC.[18] This process was added in recognition of the unique position BC’s First Nations have in the negotiations, such as the absence of treaties.[18] The first tier comprised of all parties at the negotiation table.[18] After the agreement is reached in the first tier, it is then submitted for finalization in the second tier. This second tier only contains First Nations and government, and the process is referred to as government-to-government negotiations.[18] After long negotiations, The Great Bear Rainforest land use decision was announced by both Provincial and First Nation governments in 2006.[18]

Tenure Arrangements for the Nuxalk Nation

The Nuxulk are awarded a probationary community forest agreement in 2007.[6] This later becomes the agreement K3H.[19][1] K3H is 48,614 hectares, with the dominant trees being Western Hemlock, Western Red Cedar, Amabilis and Mountain Hemlock.[19] It has a 20,000m3/year AAC.[1] K3H is a forest management agreement, giving the Nuxalk First Nation the liberty to manage their designated forest the way they want to.[19] The license is a forest management agreement, and is still beholden to the principles of ecosystem-based management and provincial regulations.[19][1] The Nuxalk seek to use the license to not only manage the forest for timber, but to benefit their culture and environment as well.[19]

Administrative Arrangements

The management of resources is a co-management between the provincial government and First Nations.[7] This is unique to British Columbia in terms of scope and power allocation.[7]

Ecosystem-Based Management

Ecosystem-based management is outlined in the agreement.[20] It has a large definition with many features, some of which are:

  • Ecologically derived boundaries[20]
  • Combining peer reviewed data with traditional and local knowledge[20]
  • Systems thinking[20]
    • These means taking into account that ecosystems and social systems are interdependent when making decisions.
  • Collaborative decision-making between interested and affected parties.[20]

The Nuxalk Nation

The Nuxalk Nation is the major affected stakeholder in the Bella Coola area. They have ancestral ties to the land and have attempted to stop the logging of sites they see as sacred.[14][4] Their main objectives are to preserve their traditions and culture, while prospering as a people.[19][15] It is hard to determine how much power they currently have. The dynamics have shifted since 1995 during the Interfor blockades.[15] Ecosystem-based management claims they now have a collaborative arrangement with the government.[7] Despite this political power that they have, there is still the history of a traumatized community.[4] The trauma and damage inflicted by colonialism weakens them significantly. They have the potential to wield more power than most interested stakeholders, but presently it appears the Nation effectively wields the least power.

Environmental Organizations

The environmental organizations seek to preserve as much of the 'untouched' forests as they can.[8] Although these organizations may not have the legal power that First Nations have, they handily make up for it with finances and organization.[4] By successfully rebranding a large region as the Great Bear Forest and causing a massive boycott of British Columbia wood products, they have demonstrated significant power in this case study, enough to stand up to the logging companies.[17]

Logging Companies

The logging companies seek to make a profit.[18] The companies historically have been able to wield a lot of power, including setting down injunctions and having members of the Nuxalk arrested.[15] Their ability to provide jobs also holds a lot of sway in areas where unemployment rates are high.[15][4] Even though courts had more recently ruled in favour of First Nations rights, and environmental groups have been able to run a good propaganda campaign, they still get a seat at the table.[7] The forestry industry will continue to be an allure for the economically discouraged and can offer tangible benefits to people in the region and province. The companies have much more power than the environmental organizations, although they do need to mind their public image to prevent effective boycotts.

The Provincial Government

The Provincial Government is beholden to the electorate and therefore is driven by popularity. The government also wields the most power because it has access to the RCMP to enforce a monopoly on violence.[14] Based on the documents available, it would appear the government's main role in the conflict is to mediate disputes and assist in reaching compromise.[18][20] It should be noted, this is after First Nations and environmental organizations began winning in the court of public opinion.[7]

'Hiking Bella Coola'. By Christopher Michel via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY 2.0.

One of the intentions of this community forest study is to explore the relationship between First Nations and environmental organizations. It is a coalition that has been successful in shifting land and resource policy in BC.[7] However, do these two groups really share the same vision? Also, has the K3H community forest license really helped the Nuxalk Nation?

Rossiter explores how First Nations were represented by environmental organizations during the Great Bear Campaign, with a focus on Greenpeace.[8] He outlines multiple examples of Greenpeace's media in which First Nation peoples are shown in conjunction with rich forests.[8] In his paper, he goes on to make the case that Greenpeace has represented First Nations in the region as strictly traditional, and omit modern aspects from their cultures.[8] Rossiter also observes that there is no mention at all of more modern use of the land by First Nations.[8] When considering the divisions in within the Nuxalk Nation, the case presented from Rossiter offers some insight into why many Nuxalk refused to side with environmental organizations.[4][8] This representation, effectively limits First Nations people to be stewards of the forest and ignores many of their concerns such as unemployment.[15][4]

Has the K3H license helped the Nuxalk Nation? This is a Nation which can be condensed into having two sometimes opposing goals: preservation of traditions, and economic prosperity.[4] In 2015, the median annual income of the Bella Coola reserve was $15,344.[21] Over 25% of the reserve earn less than $10,000 annually and have no certificate, diploma or degree.[21] The unemployment rate was also at 26.9% in 2015.[21] The country-wide unemployment rate was 7.7% at that time.[21] It is safe to assert that the Nuxalk still face significant economic challenges. It would be challenging to verify if the implementation of the LRMP agreement had any significant effect due to the confounding nature of the global and regional economies at this time.[22] Evidently, more needs to be done.[21]

When considering that many Nuxalk cultural sites were logged during the campaign, there is a real victory is in winning enough recognition from the provincial government to be prescribed areas of forest that they have discretion over.[14][4][6] K3H allows the Nuxalk to practice forestry in the way they see as true to their traditions, but within a modern context.[19] In spite of how they were represented by Greenpeace, the Nuxalk are legally able to practice industrial forestry if they so choose.[8][19]

It is safe to speculate that if Greenpeace and other organizations attempted to represent First Nations in a more realistic and modern context, then they may have formed a more united coalition.[8][4] A more united coalition between these two stakeholders would likely have led to more effective direct action demonstrations and First Nations would likely have been more effective in reaching internal consensus during negotiations.[4] Environmentalists need to be be more aware of power dynamics in their dealings with First Nations in order to prevent many from feeling alienated.[8]

The Provincial Government's introduction of a two-tiered model for the LRMP negotiation was an effective new precedent.[18] Giving First Nations a seat next to the provincial government allowed for greater approval and investment from First Nations where it had previously been difficult.[18][23] This model should be used in settling future disputes.

Ecosystem-based management is a revolutionary concept which promises to take into account social systems, power dynamics, and the inter-connectivity of ecosystems when making land use plans.[20] However it is too early to tell if the plan will result in a truly new way of reaching decisions due to the challenges associated with implementing something radically new.[7] Attention from all parties should be paid to the implementation and adherence to ecosystem-based management, as it can be easy to revert to previous dynamic in the face of frustration.

The Nuxalk are just one example of how the traumas of colonialism and genocide can impact a community and prevent it from functioning to its potential.[4] If there were a few simple recommendations that could heal this wound, they would be listed. K3H provides the Nuxalk with an opportunity to honor their traditions while also giving them an economic resource.[19] More deals similar to K3H should be explored, and additional funding for infrastructure should be considered.

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Government of British Columbia. (2018). Issued and Invited Community Forests (as of February 19, 2018). Retrieved November 20, 2018, from
  2. Schwalm, K. (2008). NICC Community Forests Location Map (Canada, Ministry of Forests and Range, NICC Geomatic Services). Retrieved November 20, 2018, from
  3. Hagen, S., Siwallace, S., Nuxalk First Nation, & British Columbia. Ministry of Agriculture and Lands. (2008). Strategic land use planning agreement: Between the nuxalk first nation (the "nuxalk" or the "first nation") and the province of british columbia (the "province"), as represented by the minister of agriculture and lands (each a 'party' and collectively the "parties"). Victoria, B.C: Ministry of Agriculture and Lands
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 4.14 4.15 4.16 4.17 4.18 4.19 4.20 4.21 4.22 4.23 4.24 4.25 4.26 4.27 4.28 4.29 4.30 Tindall, D.B; Trosper, Ronald L; Perreault, Pamela (2013). Aboriginal Peoples and Forest Lands in Canada. Vancouver, Toronto: UBC Press. pp. 231–4.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Edwards, Gavin (September 30th, 1997). "Nuxalk Nation Blockades Logging". Earth First!. Check date values in: |access-date=, |date= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 British Columbia, Ministry of Forests and Range (2007). "Bella Coola Awarded Community Forest Licence". Ministry of Forests and Range. Victoria, BC.
  7. 7.00 7.01 7.02 7.03 7.04 7.05 7.06 7.07 7.08 7.09 7.10 Price, Karen; Roburn, Audrey; MacKinnon, Andy (2009). "Ecosystem-based management in the Great Bear Rainforest". Forest Ecology and Management. 258 (4): 495–503 – via Elsevier Science Direct.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 8.8 8.9 Rossiter, David (April 1, 2004). "The nature of protest: constructing the spaces of British Columbia's rainforests". Cultural Geographies. 11 (2): 139–164 – via SAGE journals.
  9. Azpiri, Jon (May 12, 2016). "The Hill: The story behind one of BC's most treacherous roads and the locals who built it". Global News. Retrieved November 24, 2018.
  10. "An Incredible Flight". Bella Coola (dot) CA. Archived from the original on November 24, 2018. Retrieved November 24, 2018.
  11. "Discovery Coast Connector (Summer Service along BC's scenic Central Coast)". BC Ferries. November 24, 2018. Retrieved November 24, 2018.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5 12.6 12.7 MacIlwrath, T F (1948). The Bella Coola Indians. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-0-8020-2820-4.
  13. Knight, Rolf (1996). Indians at work : An informal history of native indian labour in British Columbia 1858-1930. Vancouver: New Star Books. p. 354. ISBN 0921586507.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 Blomley, Nicholas (1996). ""Shut the Province Down": First Nations Blockades in British Columbia, 1984-1995". BC Studies (111).
  15. 15.00 15.01 15.02 15.03 15.04 15.05 15.06 15.07 15.08 15.09 15.10 Capozza, Korey (1998). "Nuxalk Reborn". Albion Monitor.
  16. Little Eagle, Avis (1997). "Germaine Tremmel Jan. 16, 1996: "Things are Very Tense Here," Germaine Tremmel, Lakota mediator visiting the Nuxalk nation in British Columbia to observe human rights violations". Akwesasne Notes.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 Page, Justin (2014). Tracking the great bear: How environmentalists recreated British Columbia's coastal rainforest. Vancouver: UBC Press. ISBN 9780774826716.
  18. 18.00 18.01 18.02 18.03 18.04 18.05 18.06 18.07 18.08 18.09 18.10 McGee, Gordon; Cullen, Andrea; Gunton, Thomas (2010). "A new model for sustainable development: a case study of The Great Bear Rainforest regional plan". Environment, Development and Sustainability. 12 (5): 745–762 – via ProQuest.
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 19.4 19.5 19.6 19.7 19.8 Bull, Gary; Pledger, Sean; Splittgerber, Matthias; Stephen, Jamie; Pribowo, Amadeus; Baker, Kahlil; Singh, Devyani; Pootlass, Dallas; Macleod, Nick (2014). "Culturally driven forest management, utilization and values: A Nuxalk First Nations case study". The Forestry Chronicle. 90 (5).
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 20.4 20.5 20.6 "North Coast Land and Resource Management Plan: Final Recommendations" (PDF). Government of BC. 2005.
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 21.4 Statistics Canada (2017). "Bella Coola 1, IRI [Census subdivision], British Columbia and Canada [Country] (table). Census Profile". Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-316-X2016001. Ottawa.CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  22. Lamb, Danielle (2015). "The Economic Impact of the Great Recession on Aboriginal People Living off Reserve in Canada". Relations Industrielles / Industrial Relations. 70 (3): 457–484 – via EBSCO.
  23. Cullen, Drea; McGee, Gordon J.A.; Gunton, Thomas I; Day, J.C. (2010). "Collaborative Planning in Complex Stakeholder Environments: An Evaluation of a Two-Tiered Collaborative Planning Model". ociety & Natural Resources. 23 (4): 332–350 – via Taylor & Francis Online.

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