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?
- Marcal Challenges the Green-ness of Greenpeace: A paper company accused Greenpeace of selling out by setting its standards for eco-friendly paper too low and for backing off on its efforts to protect Canada's boreal forest.
- The Great Forest Certification War: ForestEthics accused the Sustainable Forestry Initiative of tax fraud and greenwashing; SFI fired back.