Clayoquot Sound


Land Use Decision

Clayoquot Sound is over 2,600 square kilometres (1,000 square miles) of magnificent inlets and rainforest on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The wealth of natural resources and wilderness values in the sound has resulted in long-term differences of opinion about appropriate land uses and the level of land development.

 In April 1993, the government of British Columbia made a decision on land use in Clayoquot Sound that sought to ensure environmental protection and the economic health of local communities. The government decision came after years of inconclusive discussion among local citizens, industry, First Nations, environmentalists, and others.

 As a result of the 1993 Land Use Decision, almost 900 square kilometres (350 square miles) — 34 percent of Clayoquot Sound — is now preserved for all time. The protected area forms a natural reserve linking the interior mountains to the ocean shore. It includes the largest intact watershed on Vancouver Island, significant old growth forest, lake and river salmon spawning habitat, rare marine ecosystems, and 29 rare plant species. It also includes over 700 square kilometres (270 square miles) of coastal temperate rainforest.

The decision placed a further 21 percent of the Sound under special management, which allows some sensitive logging while emphasizing the protection of wildlife, recreation, and scenic values.

 Before the land-use decision, the area assigned to general integrated resource management — the usual designation for logging and other resource extraction — included 81 percent of Clayoquot Sound. The Government reduced this to 40 percent.

Since the 1993 decision, many of the initiatives promised by government to promote more sustainable forest management in Clayoquot Sound have become a reality. Before forest companies gain approval for logging anywhere in Clayoquot Sound they must meet stringent new standards for planning, road building and harvesting.



Scientific Panel

The provincial government set up an independent Scientific Panel for Sustainable Forest Practices in Clayoquot Sound to review forest practices standards and ensure that forest stewardship stands up to world scrutiny. The Panel, which includes First Nations resource management experts and leading scientists, made its final recommendations to government in May 1995. In July, the government of British Columbia accepted the recommendations of the panel and promised to fully implement them.

Implementation of the panel’s recommendations will mean significant changes to the way forests are managed in Clayoquot Sound. Conventional clearcutting will be replaced with a variable retention harvesting system in which key elements of the forest are left in place. Harvest levels will be based on watershed planning rather than on a predetermined annual allowable cut. Comprehensive ecological assessments will be completed on all untouched watersheds in Clayoquot Sound.

Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations

In March 1994, the British Columbia government signed an agreement with the First Nations in Clayoquot Sound, the Nuu-chah-nulth people. The agreement fosters new economic opportunities for First Nations in forestry, tourism, and other businesses. It also establishes a joint management board to oversee land use and resource management decisions. Through this board, the First Nations have a direct voice in the management of resources within their traditional territories.

The board is reviewing strategic and operational forestry plans which set out the standards and conditions for timber harvesting in the area. It is empowered to review and recommend modifications to any specific harvesting or road-building application.

In April 1995, the Nuu-chah-nulth and the governments of Canada and British Columbia began public negotiation towards a comprehensive treaty settlement.

In addition, the governments of British Columbia and Canada, and a society representing a partnership of First Nations and other groups with an interest in forests signed an agreement in 1994 to establish a 4,000 square kilometre (1,500 square mile) model forest which encompasses Clayoquot Sound. The Long Beach Model Forest provides British Columbia with an important link to forest managers in the rest of Canada and around the world. It establishes a working model of sustainable forest management to serve as a laboratory for advancing national and international knowledge and practices.

Biosphere Reserve

Since 1993, the provincial government has indicated that it would consider putting forward a proposal to designate Clayoquot Sound as a United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Biosphere reserve if there was favourable community consensus.  Premier Clark reiterated provincial support provided that the designation is consistent with existing processes, there is community support and the federal government is willing to provide financial support. For the past year the Ministry of Environment Lands and Parks and the Central Region Board have been carrying out discussions with the local communities to test the level of support for such a proposal.  A public forum was held in Tofino on December 6,1997 to determine if there was sufficient community support to move forward with a proposal in time to meet the January/February submission deadline for 1998 designations.

The application to UNESCO will involve the co-operative efforts of the people of British Columbia and Canada, the central region tribes of the Nuu-chah-nulth, the Central Regional Board, labor, local communities and interested environmental organizations.  Designation will see Clayoquot Sound recognized for its environmental and conservation values while it is managed for the sustainable needs of the communities it supports."

A biosphere reserve is an area designated as representative of one of the world's important ecosystems. Each reserve is intended to serve as a model for sustaining economic, social and cultural development.  A biosphere reserve designation for Clayoquot Sound is important because it will provide international recognition for this area's superb natural landscapes and seascapes.  It will also demonstrate the commitment of First Nations, local governments, community groups, industry and environmentalists to a successful balance of preservation and resource use.

In Tofino, British Columbia, on May 5, 2000 - Representatives of First Nations, local governments, the Province of British Columbia, the Government of Canada, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) were joined by local residents and invited guests from around the world to officially commemorate the designation of Clayoquot Sound as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.  Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was in attendance to celebrate and announce a $12 million endownment fund for the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust from which income will be used to support research, education and training in the Biosphere region.

The Clayoquot Biosphere Trust, a new non-profit organization, made up of First Nations and local communities of Clayoquot Sound, was established as the cornerstone of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve to promote research, education and training in the Clayoquot Sound region. The mandate of this partnership between local communities and First Nations is to reflect the UNESCO Biosphere themes of protecting environmental values, promoting sustainable economic development and supporting research, education and training.

The Alberni Clayoquot Regional District, the communities of Ucluelet and Tofino and Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations fully support the UNESCO designation. Last year, the nomination was put forth by First Nations and local government to UNESCO, in partnership with federal and provincial governments.  First Nations played a leading role in the development of the UNESCO proposal.  The new motto for the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust - 'life in the balance' - captures the essence of this challenge to us all.


The Scientific Panel recommends a new approach to forest planning in Clayoquot Sound.  Decisions are based on ecosystem management principles and the people most closely affected by decisions are responsible for making them.  The Panel further recommends that planning be done in full consultation and shared decision-making with the Nuu-chah-nulth people of Clayoquot Sound.

With this in mind, the government Clayoquot Implementation Team collaborated with the Central Region Board (CRB) to develop a planning framework with input from government officials, elected local governments, labor, forest licensees, and environmental groups.  After one year of discussions and deliberations, the planning framework was ratified by the CRB, the provincial government and the Central Region Chiefs.

The framework centers around a community-based planning concept whereby local people and the provincial government work together to develop plans pertaining to ecosystem management.  Specifically, the Planning Committee is comprised of the twelve-member CRB and one representative each from the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks; the Ministry of Forests; the Ministry of Small Business, Tourism, and Culture; and the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs.  The mandate of the Planning Committee is to co-ordinate all planning activities in Clayoquot Sound in accordance with the Scientific Panel recommendations and provincial legislation.

The Scientific Panel recognizes three levels of planning - subregional-, watershed- and site-level planning.  The Planning Committee is responsible for subregional planning; the Watershed Groups are responsible for developing watershed-level plans; and the licensees are responsible for preparing site-level plans.

Watershed-level plans are a critical link between the planning levels.  Some of the planning objectives identified by the Scientific Panel at the subregional-level are completed prior to watershed-level planning, such as identifying watershed-level planning units and objectives for the establishment of reserves.  Some objectives are developed concurrently, such as integrating reserves established during watershed-level planning with land use zones.  In addition to giving context to subregional plans, watershed-level plans also give direction to lower level plans at the site level.  The Scientific Panel recognizes the importance of watershed-level plans.  It states: “the watershed level is the key long-term planning level, because it is within individual watersheds constituting the watershed-level planning unit that the cumulative effects of all land-use activities create stress on ecosystems.” Consequently, planning efforts to date have been at the watershed-level.

The process used to develop watershed plans closely follows the planning process identified by the Scientific Panel. This process is outlined below.

 The Watershed Planning Process

Defining Watershed Planning Units


Setting Watershed Objectives


Undertaking Inventory and Assembling Baseline Information


Analyzing the Information and Preparing the Watershed Plan


Implementing and Monitoring

The Planning Committee delineated watershed-level planning units by taking into consideration the Scientific Panel’s recommendations regarding size of planning unit of 5,000 to 35,000 hectares and appropriate mapping scale of 1:10,000 to 1:20,000.  It also followed the Panel’s recommendation by adopting physiographic or ecological land units, rather than administrative units, as the basis of planning.  In total, 15 watershed planning units were established by the Planning Committee.

Watershed objectives, as identified by the Scientific Panel, are applicable to all watershed planning units.  These objectives focus on identifying reserves and harvestable areas within the planning unit and on developing special management considerations which respect the sensitivities of resources.

In its report, the Scientific Panel identifies information requirements for an ecosystem-based approach to planning in Clayoquot Sound.  It also recognizes that adopting this approach may “necessitate the collection of information additional to, or different from, that addressed in the RIC inventory standards or in the Forest Practices Code field guides.”

Prior to 1996 many of the existing inventories in Clayoquot Sound were out-of-date, or data was inconsistent between tenures, and some areas had no inventory information at all.  The need to plan according to physiographic units (i.e., watershed units) and not according to tenure, made it very difficult to piece together existing inventories because of different sources, different methods of information collection, and different standards. 

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