Canadian companies, environmentalists reach conservation deal

Posted May 19, 2010, at 1:13 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:30 a.m.

TORONTO – Canada’s major pulp and paper companies said Tuesday they will restrict logging in environmentally sensitive areas of the country’s northern boreal forest as part of a groundbreaking deal with environmental groups.

The Forest Products Association of Canada, whose members include forestry giants such as AbitibiBowater Inc. and Weyerhaeuser Co. Ltd., said the industry has agreed to immediately suspend logging for three years on 75 million acres of boreal forest – roughly the size of Montana – where wildlife and habitat is endangered.

“We have identified a more intelligent, productive way to manage economic and environmental challenges in the boreal,” said Avrim Lazar, president and CEO of the association. “[It's a] process that will set a forestry standard that will be the envy of the world.”

Canada’s boreal forest stretches like a giant green belt southeast from the Yukon to Newfoundland and represents about 75 percent the country’s woodlands. The Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement covers 170 million acres of the region – an area nearly twice the size of Germany – and includes forests in seven of the country’s 10 provinces.

“The ecological significance of this [agreement] is very important,” said Duke University conservation ecology professor Stuart Pimm in North Carolina, “looking at the huge amount of carbon [dioxide] that would one way or another be put into the atmosphere if these forests were cut down. Internationally, the global environmental community is going to applaud Canada on becoming a major player for contributing to carbon capturing.”

The forest, consisting mostly of coniferous trees such as spruce, fir, pine, and wetlands, is home to two-thirds of the country’s estimated 140,000 species of plants, animals and micro-organisms. The area is also a prime caribou habitat, and its preservation has been a major objective of environmentalists.

The corporate signatories, 21 members of the forestry organization, agreed to suspend logging in the region for three years so a plan can be developed to preserve the 36,000 woodland caribou that live in the region.

In exchange, environmental organizations have pledged to suspend international “Do Not Buy” anti-logging campaigns against Canadian lumber.

“This is our best chance to save woodland caribou, permanently protect vast areas of the boreal forest and put in place sustainable forestry practices,” said Richard Brooks, Greenpeace forest campaign coordinator and a spokesman for the nine participating environmental groups including Greenpeace, the Pew Environmental Group, ForestEthics and the Ivey Foundation.

Steve Kallick, director of the Pew Environment Group’s International Boreal Conservative Campaign, said Canada’s boreal forest rivals the Amazon in size and ecological importance, capturing and absorbing twice as much carbon dioxide as tropical forests, which helps fight global warming.

Kallick said the agreement took two years of negotiations between the two parties that have been at loggerheads over the issue for years. Pew, which brokered the deal, said it was the largest commercial forest conservation agreement ever concluded.

“The political nature of this, of getting these two groups together, is remarkable,” said Duke University’s Pimm. “It’s hugely encouraging that the logging companies are sacrificing such a huge area of logging. Brazil was recently able to cut its deforestation rate significantly, but I do not know of another similar agreement such as the one announced today.”

The truce comes at a propitious time for Canada’s forestry sector, which was particularly hard-hit by the housing collapse in its biggest market, the United States.

Don Roberts, vice chairman of renewable energy and clean technology at CIBC World Markets, said the agreement will distinguish Canadian companies at a time when forestry companies are having difficulty moving products.

“This is a classic example of how a crisis is a terrible thing to waste … it’s forced us to say, ‘Well, now how do we rethink things?’”

The agreement will help the industry to rebuild by enabling forestry companies to market themselves as modern, self-sustainable and environmentally friendly.

“This is a business strategy for us,” said Forest Products Association’s Lazar. “We’re doing it not just because we love the forest, but because this is where industry is heading.”

The union representing Canada’s forest sector issued a statement Tuesday saying that positive market impacts from the agreement could help struggling Canadian forest companies in global markets.

“This agreement is a light of hope for a battered industry,” said Dave Coles, president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union. “It is time now to make environmental leadership a value-added advantage for Canadian forest products.”

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