Big compromise reached on Canada's Boreal by environmental groups and forestry industry

Jeremy Hance
May 19, 2010

In what is being heralded as the 'world's largest conservation agreement' 20 Canadian forestry companies and nine environmental organizations have announced an agreement covering 72 million hectares of the Canadian boreal forest (an area bigger than France). Reaching a major compromise, the agreement essentially ends a long battle between several environmental groups and the companies signing on, all members of the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC).

The companies will suspend any new logging in 29 million hectares of forest—about the size of Montana and approximately 40 percent of the land agreement—that is considered prime habitat for caribou. The logging suspension will last for three years during what is being called a 'planning period'. The woodland caribou are seen as a flagship species that, if protected, will aid other threatened species.

In return for the logging three-year moratorium, the nine environmental groups have vowed to stop protesting the companies involved, including 'Do Not Buy' campaigns headed by ForestEthics, Greenpeace, and Canopy.

Scenery in the Canadian Boreal. Photo by: Richard Brooks/Greenpeace.
"This is our best chance to save woodland caribou, permanently protect vast areas of the Boreal Forest and put in place responsible forestry practices," says Forest Campaign Coordinator of Greenpeace Canada, Richard Brooks, highlighting what the environmental groups gain. "Concerns from the public and the marketplace about wilderness conservation and species loss have been critical drivers in arriving at this agreement."

The agreement also includes higher environmental standards for the logging areas in the remaining 43 million hectares. In total the agreement covers two-thirds of Canada's logging concessions.

The compromise comes at a time when companies logging in the boreal have been increasingly concerned about their 'green' image; they hope that the new initiative will give them a market advantage among increasingly environmentally-minded consumers.

"The importance of this Agreement cannot be overstated," said Avrim Lazar, President and CEO of FPAC in a press release. "FPAC member companies and their ENGO counterparts have turned the old paradigm on its head. Together we have identified a more intelligent, productive way to manage economic and environmental challenges in the Boreal that will reassure global buyers of our products’ sustainability"

Lazar adds that the agreement will set a forestry standard, which will be "the envy of the world."

The Pew Environment Group and the Ivey Foundation acted as mediators to the negotiations, bringing together long time enemies to find common ground.

Caribou bull. Photo by: Wayne Sawchuck/Canadian Boreal Initiative.
"For years we have helped bring opposing parties together to conserve this global treasure, Canada’s boreal forest," said Steve Kallick, director of the Pew Environment Group’s International Boreal Conservation Campaign. "We’re thrilled that this effort has led to the largest commercial forest conservation plan in history, which could not have happened without both sides looking beyond their differences."

Both the companies and the environmental groups are now meeting with local communities, provincial governments, and Canada's First Nations to bring them into the agreement. The agreement must be approved by these disparate groups before it becomes formal policy. For indigenous groups the agreement recognizes that their aboriginal and treaty rights must be respected.

Not every green group sees the agreement as a step in the right direction. Head of Ecological Internet, Glen Barry, labeled it "disgraceful", saying that it "traded temporary protections for business as usual industrial forestry across huge expanses of primary and old growth forests."

"Greenpeace's commitment to 'sustainable' and 'ecosystem based' forest management—for consumer items including toilet paper and lawn furniture from old forests—is an ecological crime, as we know we have already lost more primary forests than necessary to maintain global ecosystems and the biosphere. This will not stand," Barry added. Ecological Internet advocates a global moratorium on industrial-scale logging in primary forests both in temperate and tropical forests.

Boreal flora. Photo by: Wayne Sawchuck/Canadian Boreal Initiative.
Appearing to anticipate that not all environmentalists would be happy with the agreement, Greenpeace stated in a question-and-answer form that while some may wonder if Greenpeace is getting 'too close' to long-targeted companies, the organization "strongly believes that this agreement is the best chance to save woodland caribou and to protect the most important and very large areas of intact wilderness in the Boreal Forest."

"We also believe the Agreement will lead to sustainable management of the Boreal Forest. The Agreement is a roadmap to get there; we realize that those who manage and log in the forest must be part of the solution," Greenpeace wrote.

A 2009 study in Trends in Ecology and Evolution found that the Boreal forest, which spreads across Canada, Alaska, Russia, and Scandinavia, was facing rapid destruction with 60 percent of the forest fragmented or degraded due to fires, mining, a recent pine-beetle infestation, climate change, and, of course, logging. Fire was found to be the number one destroyer. In turn less than 10 percent of the Boreal was protected from exploitation. According to the authors, the findings have significant implications for global carbon emissions and biodiversity. A quarter of the boreal forest is in Canada.

Environmental organization that signed to the agreement include: Canadian Boreal Initiative, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Canopy (formerly Markets Initiative), the David Suzuki Foundation, ForestEthics, Greenpeace, Ivey Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, and the Pew Environment Group’s International Boreal Conservation Campaign.

The companies that signed the agreement include: AbitibiBowater, Alberta Pacific Forest Industries, AV Group, Canfor, Cariboo Pulp & Paper Company, Cascades Inc., DMI, F.F. Soucy, Inc., Howe Sound Pulp and Paper, Kruger Inc., LP Canada, Mercer International, Mill & Timber Products Ltd, NewPage Port Hawkesbury Ltd, Paper Masson Ltee, SFK Pulp, Tembec Inc., Tolko Industries, West Fraser Timber Co. Ltd, Weyerhauser Compnay Limited−all represented by the Forest Products Association of Canada.

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (May 19, 2010).

Big compromise reached on Canada's Boreal by environmental groups and forestry industry.