Truce Between Green Groups & Timber Companies Could Save Canadian Forests

By Andrew Moseman | May 19, 2010 11:30 am

CBFA-map-largeIf you need a breather from all the bad news coming out of the Gulf of Mexico, take a look way up north. In Canada this week, environmental groups and big industry—timber, in this case—actually agreed on something. With the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement, the groups reached a truce in their fight over the forests of Northern Canada. The breakthrough could protect vast swaths of forest that, if added up, would be bigger than the state of Nevada.

Signatories include AbitibiBowater, one of the world’s biggest newsprint producers; Seattle-based Weyerhaeuser, and Canfor, British Columbia’s biggest softwood lumber producer, as well as nine environmental groups such as Greenpeace, the Nature Conservancy and Forest Ethics [Financial Times].

The environmental groups agreed to suspend their “don’t buy” campaigns in exchange for timber firms agreeing not to cut down forests that constitute endangered caribou habitat until at least the end of 2012. In the meantime, the parties will try to hash out a long-term plan. If this step does result in a more permanent conservation plan, it could have benefits not just for the caribou, but for the planet as well.

Over the past decade, boreal-forest preservation has increasingly been seen to be as vital as tropical-forest preservation in efforts to combat global warming. Although tropical forests cover more of Earth’s surface than boreal forests, boreal forests store nearly twice as much carbon, mainly in their soils [Christian Science Monitor].

As you can see in the map here, Canada is home to one of the two great belts of boreal forest in the world; the other stretches across Russia. The timber companies involved in this pact have government-approved leases to 178 million acres of the forests. This agreement covers roughly 72 million acres, and the companies will suspend logging and road-building immediately in 29 million of those acres (the light green portions seen on the map above), with rules for the remaining 43 million acres to come.

While a reasoned truce is nice to see, this fight will go on. Chloe O’Loughlin of Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society argues that the Canadian governments need to restrict other industrial development in the areas to ensure they remain pristine.

She said there was no way forest companies would abide by the new agreement unless oil and gas companies were also required to respect the habitat. “I’m sure they wouldn’t agree to defer something and then see it thrashed by the oil and gas industry,” she said. “Put it off limits to forestry and then put it off limits to oil and gas” [The Province].

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Image: Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement

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