This news story was originally written by Bjorn Carey and published August 5, 2014, in the online version of the Stanford Report.
Art Sterritt, who has played a critical role in establishing and protecting the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, has been selected as the second annual recipient of the Stanford Bright Award. The $100,000 prize is given annually to an unheralded individual who has made significant contributions to global sustainability.
Photo Courtesy Coastal First Nations
As the founding executive director of Coastal First Nations (CFN) in British Columbia, Sterritt has negotiated many agreements between Canadian federal and provincial governments and coastal native peoples, the crowning achievement being the establishment of the 21-million-acre Great Bear Rainforest north of Vancouver. While protecting the Canadian ecosystem from deforestation and other exploitation, CFN has established services that support its member nations’ efforts to create sustainable businesses within the territory.
“Art Sterritt has done remarkable work in helping to preserve the Great Bear Rainforest, one of the great environmental achievements in North America in recent memory,” said M. Elizabeth Magill, the Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and dean of Stanford Law School. “We are thrilled to be able to honor him with Stanford’s Bright Award.”
The Stanford Bright Award, issued by Stanford Law School, is the only award to recognize significant achievement in conservation across different regions of the world. The prize was made possible by a gift to Stanford Law School from Ray Bright, Stanford Law School class of 1959, and his wife, Marcelle. Bright passed away in 2011, but his brothers, George and Michael Bright, serve on the advisory board.
“For several decades now, Stanford has been committed to research and education that leads to practical solutions for environmental problems,” said Nomination Committee Chair Barton H. “Buzz” Thompson Jr., a law school alumnus, the Robert E. Paradise Professor in Natural Resources Law and the Perry L. McCarty Director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “The Bright Award allows us to recognize and promote the work of people like Art, who are doing exactly what we’re teaching our students they should do when they get out of Stanford.”
21 million acres protected
A few hours north of Vancouver, the Great Bear Rainforest stretches along 250 miles of the British Columbia coast. The land, rich in plant and animal life, accounts for 25 percent of the world’s remaining coastal temperate rainforests. In recent years, Sterritt said, large-scale commercial activity had taken its toll on the natural capital in the region as well as on the indigenous people who once lived comfortably in harmony with the land.
Coastal First Nations is the first-ever alliance of indigenous nations in British Columbia. After it was founded in 2000, Sterritt and other leaders began working closely with environmental organizations, such as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, corporations and local, provincial and federal governments. The result, achieved in 2006 and added to in 2009, was that 21 million acres of the rainforest were placed under a sustainable form of ecosystem-based management by the CFN member tribes.
Five million acres of the Great Bear Rainforest are under full protection, comprised of 128 new conservancies and biodiversity areas. These are totally off-limits to outside activities and are reserved for indigenous social and cultural uses, allowing communities to pursue limited conservation-based commercial activities such as gathering conifer essential oils for the aromatherapy market.
Sterritt led negotiations for commercial access to the rest of the territory. Any activity must meet strict ecosystem-based management guidelines – the individual CFN member nations must grant permission to outside corporations wishing to conduct business in their areas. These are by far the toughest environmental standards for forestry in Canada. Only decades-long sustainable business plans are considered.
Linking environment, economy
To ensure that both the forests and the people flourish, Sterritt raised $120 million from private, corporate and public gifts to endow two funds. Half of that amount endows the Coast Opportunities Fund, which supports many programs, such as the Resource Stewardship Offices and the Coastal Guardian Watchmen. These programs employ CFN members to steward, monitor and protect the forests, rivers and coast, tending to any problems and making sure that laws and regulations are enforced.
The remaining $60 million funds the Economic Development Fund, which is available to all communities in the region that are designing sustainable businesses within the territory. The fund has already nurtured many businesses aimed at reintroducing traditional activities into the modern economy. These include ecotourism ventures, such as guided whale- and bear-watching tours, and shellfish hatcheries. The protected forests also allow CFN to sell a million tons of carbon-offset credits, the income from which Sterritt expects will eventually make CFN’s members entirely self-sufficient in managing the forest.
“Our people inherently understand that if you treat the forest and ocean properly, they will take care of you,” Sterritt said. “But the anchor of this is the economy. You can’t just save the environment; you need to build an economy that supports the environment. If there’s no economy built on preserving a sustainable forest, you will not have sustainable forest. The people who live there will protect the environment for years and years to come if their economy depends on it.”
Sterritt will visit Stanford on Oct. 2 for the formal award ceremony in Paul Brest Hall on the Stanford Law School campus, He will be interviewed in a public event by New York Times national environmental correspondent Felicity Barringer. The event is co-hosted by the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.
Sterritt was nominated for the award by a committee comprised of Stanford Law School faculty and students, with assistance from consultants experienced in this year’s designated North American region. The dean of Stanford Law School selected the final award recipient. An advisory board, consisting of Michael Bright, George Bright and Alan Markle, helps oversee the Stanford Bright Award.
The inaugural Stanford Bright Award was given to Tasso Azevedo of Brazil, recognizing his innovative ideas on promoting sustainable forest management. His efforts have contributed to a reduction in the rate of deforestation in the Amazon by 80 percent, along with a 35 percent reduction of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions. His work serves as a formula for similar efforts around the world. The 2015 award winner will hail from Europe and will be announced in the fall of 2015. For more information about the Stanford Bright Award, see brightaward.stanford.edu.