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Unusual effort to aid Canadian forest

By Tom Knudson - Bee Staff Writer

Published Tuesday, December 2, 2003

An unusual coalition of environmental groups, aboriginal communities and timber companies unveiled a sweeping proposal Monday to better conserve Canada's boreal forest, one of the world's most important ecosystems and a major source of wood, paper and newsprint for the United States.

The Boreal Leadership Council, which does not include representatives of Canada's federal or provincial governments, called for protecting at least half of the vast forest and wetland region from industrial development and managing the remainder in more environmentally friendly ways.

The Boreal Forest Conservation Framework, as it is being called, is being billed as one of the largest forest protection proposals in history. All told, it would touch about 1.3 billion acres -- 53 percent of Canada itself and an expanse of land 13 times larger than California.

Although not government policy, the proposal is sure to capture attention in part because three major Canadian timber companies are endorsing it.

"We've seen the mistakes of the past and we're not willing to repeat those mistakes," said Jim Lopez, executive vice president of one of those companies, Montreal- based Tembec Inc., a major manufacturer of lumber, pulp and newsprint.

"It's nice to make a lot of dividends for your shareholders, but at the end of the day, the environment still comes first," said Bill Hunter, president of Alberta Pacific Forest Industries, another large Canadian company that is part of the boreal council and is backing the proposal.

The state of Canada's boreal forestwas explored in a special series of articles in The Bee earlier this year called State of Denial.

Among other trends, the Bee reported that as the volume of wood cut has declined in California and the United States -- the result of environmental pressures it has increased in Canada.

And much of that Canadian wood is shipped south to the United States and California.

"Americans have both an opportunity and a responsibility to ensure that the boreal is conserved responsibly," said Cathy Wilkinson, director of the Canadian Boreal Initiative, an Ottawabased group supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts that brought the boreal leadership council together.

Although the council's membership is diverse -- it comprises three timber firms, an oil company, three aboriginal communities and four environmental groups, including San Franciscobased Forest Ethics -- it is not wide. Many important players in the boreal -- from timber and paper industry giants such as Weyerhaeuser Corp. and Abitibi Consolidated to indigenous "First Nation" communities -- have yet to sign up.

"It was never our intent to get an exhaustive list (of members). What we wanted was a representative group. I think we've got it," said Monte Hummel, president of the World Wildlife Fund Canada.

Stretching from the Atlantic coast to the Alaska-Yukon border, Canada's boreal is a seemingly endless maze of woodland and wetlands. Not only does the region help protect the planet from global warming -- by filtering out and storing carbon -- it is also one of the hemisphere's great bird sanctuaries and incubators.

Every spring, its canopy comes alive with more than a billion nesting warblers. Its puddles and ponds are nesting grounds for throngs of migratory waterfowl, including many that migrate through the Central Valley, such as widgeons, green-winged teal and pintail ducks.

"It's a unique forest. The boreal is not the majestic coastal forest. This is a forest where the more we look, the more we are amazed," said Gary Stewart with Ducks Unlimited, Canada, another council member.

Alberta Pacific's Hunter said he feels the framework -- if shaped into policy -- would be good not only for the boreal but also for business, by creating a strongerdemand for environmentally sustainable products.

It's important to "be in on the building of an opportunity," Hunter said. "For us, that means developing a system where we can sustain access to raw materials and the marketplace with a very strong demonstration of environmental stewardship."

Like corporations everywhere, timber companies shun public conflict. "The boreal is the next potential war of the woods," said Tembec's Lopez. "Most of the West Coast issues had been slain. "Is it possible we can do it differently this time? A few of us have been talking and we said, 'Yeah, it's worth a shot.' And that is how this thing was hatched."

But turning plan into reality will be difficult because Canada's provinces -- which have jurisdiction over logging -- are not yet part of the process.

"We think we can bring them on board," said Lopez. "We figure if industry, the conservation and aboriginal groups can agree, we have a united front to approach provincial governments, one by one, to get them to buy in."

About the Writer

The Bee's Tom Knudson can be reached at (530) 582-5336 or


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