Environmentalists and Canada’s pulp and paper companies—including three operating in Manitoba—have decided it’s better to co-operate than fight.
On Tuesday, an historic agreement was announced that will halt new logging on 29 million hectares of forest for three years while plans are developed to protect endangered caribou and other species.
How it affects Manitoba
Manitoba has a total of 15.9 million hectares of commercial forest within its boreal zone.
Three forestry companies who operate here are signatories to the agreement: Tembec, Tolko Industries and Louisiana-Pacific Canada.
About 13.3 million hectares of the 72 million hectares of total public forest lands licenced to the Forest Products Association of Canada are located in Manitoba.
The Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement commits to no harvesting or road-building on about 10 million hectares (25 million acres) in Manitoba for three years while action plans are put in place to protect at-risk species such as the woodland caribou.
Tolko’s management area in Manitoba alone is nine million hectares, of which 4.3 million hectares are considered productive forest lands.
At the same time, Greenpeace and other environmental watchdogs are suspending “do not buy” campaigns targeting Canadian forestry companies. The groups had previously lobbied paper suppliers Staples and Office Depot and fashion house Victoria’s Secret against buying paper from Canada.
“The essence of the agreement is breaking the adversarial win-lose model and learning how to live in a problem-solving way,” said Avrim Lazar, president of the 21-member Forest Products Association of Canada.
A local leader of one of the nine environmental groups that signed on to the deal called it “the largest conservation agreement” ever.
“It’s a fabulous opportunity for industry and environmental organizations to work together towards common goals,” said Ron Thiessen, executive director of the Manitoba division of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS). “We both have a vested interest in the outcome.”
He said CPAWS will be sitting down with Manitoba’s three large forestry companies—Tolko Industries, Tembec and Louisiana-Pacific Canada—to work out caribou management plans along with representatives of First Nations and the federal and provincial governments.
The agreement announced Tuesday will give Canadian pulp and paper companies “an edge in the marketplace as more buyers are looking toward buying more environmentally friendly or responsible products,” Thiessen said.
If talks fleshing out the deal are fruitful, environmental groups will become allies of the forest companies, who are attempting to rebound from an economic downturn.
Lazar said the agreement could eventually help companies gain quicker access to the trees they need to stay in business. “We’ve got to put aside some land we were hoping to log. They (the environmental groups) will go with us to government saying, ‘C’mon, we’ve got to find a way of letting these guys stay in business and protect the environment.’ “
A spokesman for Tembec, which has idled its Pine Falls paper mill and put it up for sale, could not be reached on Tuesday. An official with Louisiana-Pacific referred a reporter to the forestry products association for comment.
Doug Hunt, woodlands manager for Tolko Industries in Manitoba, which operates a kraft paper mill at The Pas, said the agreement won’t have a significant impact on its Manitoba operations.
He said Tolko has worked closely with the province on “caribou planning” since the early 1990s. “When we (go) to an area that the government has considered significant with respect to caribou habitat, we sit down and work out a detailed plan of where we can cut and where we can’t cut. This process takes quite a while to work out,” he said, adding that now the process will be more transparent.
The new deal wasn’t uniformly praised by environmental groups. The Wilderness Committee said the 29 million hectares of protected forest cited by proponents is misleading. It comprises the area surrounding logging cut blocks that was not going to be logged anyway, the group said in a news release.
However, Eric Reder, a Manitoba spokesman for the Wilderness Committee, welcomed the new “working relationship” between logging corporations and environmental groups. “Canadians have little reason to celebrate yet, but hopefully real work will result from this,” he said.
Meanwhile, Grand Chief Ron Evans of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said he was “very encouraged” by the agreement.
“In Manitoba, many First Nations live in or near the forest. It provides food, shelter and medicines. As stewards of the land, we want to ensure all who utilize the boreal forest respect it’s place on earth and have the checks in place to ensure it is not exploited,” Evans said in an email.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 19, 2010 A4