Canadians keen to protect boreal forests

June 2, 2008

OTTAWA — Canadians overwhelmingly want more of their boreal forest protected, a new survey indicates.

The study comes on the heels of Stephen Harper’s boasting in Europe of his government’s conservation efforts.

Using a slide show of Canadian parks and landscapes as a backdrop, the Prime Minister spoke in Bonn last week about the environment and said Canada currently protects more than 10 per cent of its land mass from development.

“An area greater than the size of France and Germany put together,” he pointed out to the global gathering of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

But when Canadians are asked what percentage of Canada’s remaining boreal forest should be protected, the mean response from survey respondents was 67 per cent.

The Conservative government has largely been on the defensive when it comes to the environment, owing to heavy criticism at home and abroad for a climate change plan that critics say lacks urgency.

But a series of government announcements protecting Canadian lakes and forests have been well received. The survey by McAllister opinion research found a strong majority who said the decision to protect more of the forest in the North West Territories had a positive effect on their view of the federal government.

“The recognition that Canada’s Boreal is both valued by Canadians and weighs into Canadian voting preferences is quite significant,” said Larry Innes, the executive director of the Canadian Boreal Initiative, which commissioned the study and is releasing it today.

The survey of 1,007 Canadians was conducted between April 29 and May 9, 2008 and is said to have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

In addition to the Prime Minister’s speech last week, issues surrounding Canada’s northern forests are triggering heated debate across the country. In B.C., the ravages of the pine beetle raise economic concerns for foresters and northern aboriginals. In Alberta and Saskatchewan, expanding oil and gas exploration is raising environmental concerns over the loss of trees and the impact on water. Manitoba is expanding its hydroelectric generation in the north, while Ontario has seen high-profile clashes between natives and mining prospectors.

Further issues related to the forests are expected to surface Tuesday, when the all-party House of Commons committee on natural resources releases a report on Canada’s forest industry.

Mr. Innes said Canada’s forest industry has made huge strides in adopting more sustainable practices, but the oil-sands expansion and the battles between aboriginals and mining prospectors show other resource industries could be doing a lot more.

He hopes the combination of issues will lead Ottawa and the provinces to protect as much as half of the forest and update provincial mining laws.

“Canadians can speak now, in some ways, of their Amazon because this forest is truly of that sort of significance on a global scale,” Mr. Innes said. “We’re seeing that Canadians are becoming aware of it, a majority of Canadians have heard of it and are demanding action from their government to protect it.”

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