Historic Deal Puts Caribou before Cash

May 20, 2010 Updated: May 20, 2010

TOROTO—A historic agreement between forestry companies and environmental groups will help preserve an area of boreal forest larger than twice the size of Germany and make logging in an area the size of Indonesia subject to stringent environmental standards.

Working directly with each other, nine environmental groups and the Forest Products Association of Canada inked a deal that will see logging companies follow sustainability practices designed to protect endangered species within 72 million hectares of boreal forest and suspend new logging in 29 million hectares.

The deal is being hailed as a historic breakthrough that could reduce greenhouse gas emission by millions of tonnes and preserve the woodland caribou and other endangered species living in the boreal forest.

In exchange for the restrictions on logging, environmental groups, including Greenpeace, ForestEthics, and Canopy, will suspend “Do Not Buy” campaigns targeting companies covered by the agreement.

“The importance of this agreement cannot be overstated,” said Avrim Lazar, president and CEO of the Forest Products Association.

“FPAC member companies and their NGO counterparts have turned the old paradigm on its head. Together we have identified a more intelligent, productive way to manage economic and environmental challenges in the boreal that will reassure global buyers of our products’ sustainability.”

Environmental groups say the agreement marks a shift in relations between forest companies and environmental groups which have traditionally been adversaries.

“This is our best chance to save woodland caribou, permanently protect vast areas of the boreal forest and put in place sustainable forestry practices,” said Richard Brooks, spokesperson for participating environmental organizations and Forest Campaign Coordinator of Greenpeace Canada.

“Concerns from the public and the marketplace about wilderness conservation and species loss have been critical drivers in arriving at this agreement. We have a lot of work to do together to make this agreement successful and we are committed to make it happen.”

The protected area will also capture and retain hundreds of millions of tonnes of carbon emitted in Canada every year, a major concern for groups and governments concerned about global warming.

Finance Minister Jim Prentice hailed the deal on Wednesday, saying it marked a breakthrough in sustainable forestry in Canada and would help the government implement plans regarding species-at-risk.

"The achievement of their goal of completing a network of protected areas representative of the diversity of ecosystems in the boreal would be a significant, tangible legacy for future generations of Canadians,” he said.

He commended forestry companies for deferring logging in protected areas so they could work with environmental groups to come up with a plan to protect the caribou.

The woodland caribou is an “umbrella species,” in that protecting it will offer protection to several other species as well. The caribou was the poster animal for the campaigns environmental companies waged to hit forest companies in the pocketbook by pushing consumers toward more environmental products.

Woodland caribou are elusive and difficult to count, but by some estimates their numbers have declined by as much as 80 percent in some provinces since the 1990s.

Under the agreement, both sides will operate under a plan to develop cutting-edge forest management and harvesting practices and develop a “full life cycle approach” to forest carbon management. The plan will also look at how to support the economic future of forest communities and recognize conservation achievements in the marketplace.