14 lessons in eco-cooperation from the Great Bear Rainforest

A veteran forest negotiator shares his insights into how to save a rainforest – while giving the economy a chance

The Fall of 2015 stands as a historic moment for conservation in British Columbia and the world. With the Great Bear Rainforest agreement in full effect after 22 years of toil, it is a global model for conserving precious lands while also recognizing human needs.

Born of conflict at a time when the Internet barely existed, the movement to protect the GBR tracked the evolution of social media and the birth of modern environmental activism. It was an era in which the forest industry fundamentally changed its approach, adopting a collaborative model that has since influenced how conflict is managed in every other resource industry. 

A veteran of the process, author Patrick Armstrong of Nanaimo, shared some lessons picked up along the way.

14 lessons in eco-cooperation from the Great Bear Rainforest

  1. Establish a set of agreed principles to guide planning. Refer to the principles throughout the process as a measure of progress and to ensure things remain on track. 
  2. Work diligently to differentiate between positions and interests. Be prepared to use mediation to identify common goals and interests, and as a means of resolving disputes when they arise. 
  3. Clearly document agreements in writing. This establishes an institutional memory and reduce the likelihood of future conflicts. 
  4. Avoid wishful thinking while remaining open-minded. Recognize that all parties will be subject to scrutiny. Expect the unexpected, including within your own organization. Admit mistakes immediately. 
  5. Practice empathy. Recognize that to do so includes both understanding another’s situations, attitudes, concerns and motives and sharing your own. Getting to agreement tends to require more listening than speaking. 
  6. Don’t seek to undermine the power and influence held by others. Make use of it by linking influence with accountability. 
  7. If you plan to oppose something, be prepared to provide a constructive alternative.
  8. Be strategic in your thinking, and take the long view. Relate whatever happens in the short term (and your response) to the desired long-term outcomes.  
  9. Do not expect quick results. Be prepared to invest sufficient resources, both human and financial. 
  10. Deal with problems promptly when they arise, do not allow them to fester.
  11. Be prepared for changing personnel. Develop an effective and efficient means to transmit learning so that time is not lost in bringing new people up to date with what has already occurred. 
  12. Utilize the best available information and make it widely available. Make sure that all parties have access to and utilize the same data sets on compatible platforms. 
  13. Practice the rule of quid pro quo. The means of ensuring that agreements between parties deliver something to and expect something from each interest. 
  14. Expect to find allies in unexpected places, and problems arising from those you consider allies. Long lasting, sustainable outcomes require support from all stakeholders. Any group with the ability to influence the durability of the agreement must be included in the process.

Photos copyright Moresby Consulting Ltd.

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