Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Environmental Groups Make Surprising Concessions in Canadian Forest Deal

The landmark truce announced yesterday by Canadian forestry companies and green groups represents a new direction for the environmental movement.

It’s surprising enough that the former enemies signed a deal involving forestry practices and conservation for an area of the Canadian boreal forest larger than Texas.

Even more stunning is that radical environmental groups like Greenpeace and ForestEthics signed an agreement that calls for “policies and investments that improve the competitiveness of the Canadian forest sector” and “improved prosperity of the Canadian forest sector and the communities that depend on it.” That’s a big switch from contentions that no logging should occur in ecologically sensitive boreal (sub-arctic) forests.

The agreement also recognizes the legitimacy of the industry-backed Sustainable Forestry Initiative in addition to the rival Forest Stewardship Council. (See The Boreal Forest Deal and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative for more on this subject.) Greenpeace has urged its supporters to “look for the FSC label” when buying forest products, and the two groups sponsored a study that concluded only FSC “represents a viable system that delivers positive results on the ground and in the communities where it matters most” and therefore is “the only forest certification system that is broadly supported by conservation groups."

The nine environmental groups also committed to calling off any “do not buy” campaigns targeted at customers of the signatory forest-products companies. ForestEthics is perhaps best known for its successful guerilla-theater-style Victoria’s Dirty Secret campaign. More recent efforts involving the boreal forest have targeted Sears and Kimberly-Clark.

In return, the forest-products companies agreed to “the suspension of logging on nearly 29 million hectares [two-thirds the size of California] of Boreal Forest representing virtually all Boreal caribou habitat within company tenures.” Caribou habitat is often viewed as a rough proxy for boreal forests that are relatively undisturbed by human activity.

The 21 forestry companies (including AbitibiBowater, Kruger, NewPage, and Weyerhaeuser) also committed to working with the green groups and an independent panel of scientists to develop “best practices for biomass harvesting” and then to follow those practices, backed up by third-party audits.

A goal of the agreement is to make Canada “a world leader in conservation and protection of Boreal biodiversity through a mix of conservation measures, the completion of a protected areas network, and the implementation of third-party certification of sustainable forest management practices.”

The agreement offers hope that the environmental movement is growing up and learning to see the big picture. It makes far more environmental sense to work with relatively responsible companies in a well-regulated country like Canada than to cause the demand for paper and other forest products to shift to environmental nightmares like Indonesia.

How the deal will actually work in practice is not entirely clear. Yesterday’s news release, “highlights” document, and abridged description of the agreement left some key questions unanswered:
  • Show me the money: Who will foot the bill for the studies, audits, and other activities called for in the agreement? And will the environmental groups receive any direct compensation in return for dropping the kinds of high-profile campaigns that can be good for fundraising?
  • What will happen to forestry companies that log the Canadian boreal forest but did not sign the agreement? Will they, and their customers, face pressure to sign?
  • Will other environmental groups go along with the agreement? Or will some claim it doesn’t go far enough and start new “do not buy” campaigns against the signatory companies?
  • Will ForestEthics retire Candace the Caribou, the character who often appears at protests of boreal-forest logging? Or will she start appearing at rallies against the destruction of the boreal forest by the extraction of oil from Canadian tar sands?
  • We know from that scholarly movie “Ghost Busters” that one sign of “a disaster of biblical proportions” is dogs and cats living in peace. Does that mean we should be worried when environmentalists and loggers hold hands, sing “Kum Ba Yah” and agree to bury the hatchet?
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    Papyrus said...

    Thanks for covering this announcement. Your post appears to be inaccurate on several points, however, including:

    1. The comment, "That’s a big switch from contentions that no logging should occur in ecologically sensitive boreal (sub-arctic) forests," is an oversimplification. It has never been the message of these conservation groups to have "no logging" in the entire boreal. This and other some other comments in the post reveal a set of personal assumptions about "environmentalists" which may lead to the "surprising" nature of the agreement to the author. A fair reading of the goals and messages of these conservation groups over the years would show this is announcement is consistent with that. (though its certainly legitimate or natural based on history to be surprised that these traditionally confrontational parties achieved such a complex agreement.)

    2. I don't think that the agreement gives recognition to SFI. Can you point specifically to where it does so in the agreement?

    Thanks again for sharing the news about this agreement.

    D. Eadward Tree said...

    To Papyrus: Here is the relevant section of the agreement (abridged version) that deals with the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and the development of a : "In achieving this goal, FPAC, FPAC Members, and ENGOs believe it is important to build on existing work (the standards in the existing three major certification programs) rather than build a new (fourth) set of standards from scratch." A footnote then explains, "Canadian forest managers can certify their forest management practices to one of three internationally recognized forest certification programs: the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI)."

    Some of the anti-logging campaigns have left me with the impression that some groups have opposed all logging in the boreal forest. But perhaps I was reading too much between the lines. The nature of such campaigns is that they have to emphasize shock value and sound bites rather than finer points. In any case, as an environmentalist and paper buyer I'm glad to see this cooperative effort that has the potential to bring about real improvement in the ecology of the boreal forest.

    Papyrus said...

    While the segments you have pulled out are accurate, they are not the complete picture.

    I decided it would be best to go straight to the source and so I have
    followed up with staff at Canopy, ForestEthics and Greenpeace and they have confirmed that the agreements in no way effect their ongoing sole support for FSC and their ability to work in the marketplace to forward FSC as the
    only credible certification system.

    Furthermore, they described the nuance of the agreement as it relates to certification. What it comes down to is that the agreements do not address the ongoing certification debate. The forest companies continue to have
    their various preferences (and for a handful of the 21 companies who have signed - this is FSC) and the ENGOs have maintained their support for FSC as mentioned above. But what the agreements do is commit all parties to improve forest practices.

    The agreement signatories will do this by convening a panel of agreed to experts, who will start with the FSC Boreal Standard and then incorporate other elements from other certification systems, with the end goal being a system that is deemed world class and consistent with the principles of ecosystem-based management. Really I think it is the commitments to a
    robust protected area network and caribou action plans that will be the key in this ecosystem. A chance to get it right, to decide what to leave behind, before deciding what to take. Such a luxury in these frontier forests of the north!

    Only time will tell if these forest practices will measure up to being world class and how much of the boreal will ultimately be FSC certified. The ENGOs involved have a lot of work and will need a lot of support to make sure this is the case, but it is a promising commitment that all parties are
    recognizing and building on the foundation of the FSC Boreal Standard.

    Here is the text from the abridged version that supports this promising
    commitment: "FPAC, FPAC Members, and ENGOs will jointly select a small group (e.g. 2-4 people) of Ĺ’above reproach¹ experts with significant experience in boreal
    forest auditing of sustainable forest management practices (the "Forest Practices Experts Panel") who will be tasked with developing a draft set of practices based on the elements of each of the three existing certification programs that best embodies an ecosystem based management approach, using
    the existing FSC Boreal standard as a reference point";

    So, in other words, don't expect SFI to solve any problems in relation to the ecological performance of your paper or garner support from the environmentalists involved in these agreements.