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Editorial: Why do environmental groups villainize the forest sector?

Aug. 2, 2017 - I had a conversation with a close friend recently that naturally turned to our jobs. I told her I’m proud to work with an innovative industry that’s helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


August 2, 2017
By Maria Church

Her eyebrow shot up.

That reaction is not surprising, I told her. It’s counterintuitive for the public to see an industry that’s chopping down trees as a champion of the environment. Campaigns like Greenpeace’s “Resolute: Forest Destroyer” have garnered support from celebrities and use strong language to persuade the public that the company is wiping out “critical habitat areas” and “endangered forests.”  

It doesn’t take much convincing. Trees are the obvious symbol of a healthy environment. Cutting trees down, naturally, must be bad for the environment. It’s a simple story to sell. But nothing is ever that black and white.

Canada’s forests are among, if not the most sustainably managed in the world. According to Natural Resources Canada, 94 per cent of the country’s working forests are on public land – owned and managed by provincial, territorial and federal governments. Those governments have strict allowable annual cuts and require companies to develop forest management plans that consider habitat and nearby communities (often First Nations). Regulations prevent illegal logging and require respect for Indigenous treaty rights as well as specific harvesting and regeneration practices.

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But beyond the regulation from NRCan and provincial environment ministries, from what I’ve seen, Canada’s forest products companies are taking it upon themselves to partner with First Nations, respect habitats and advance the bioeconomy.  

Interfor in B.C. partners with 60 different First Nations, Karen Brandt, vice-president of corporate affairs and sustainability, told the audience at the BC Council of Forest Industries convention last spring. “It’s not a check box. It’s tied to everything we do,” she said.

Resolute Forest Products’ mills in northwestern Ontario signed an MOU with six First Nations in the area that led to contracts for construction, transportation, logging and yard services.

Visiting with loggers in the bush, I’ve listened to many speak with reverence about the wildlife in the area and explain how their logging patterns mimic wildfire – a natural occurrence that we actively suppress because of proximity to our communities. I’m willing to bet these weathered contractors have a lot more knowledge about the environment than they’re given credit for.  

That’s not to say the forest industry doesn’t require oversight. As with every industry, we require checks and balances to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Industry associations are doing their best to correct misinformation. Forests Ontario has created #ItTakesAForest campaign that highlights the sustainability of forestry and its economic importance for small communities. The Forest Products Association of Canada has an active role in Ottawa advocating for the industry and promoting clean tech innovation within the sector.

Beyond the sustainability and partnership pieces, we also know that building with wood stores carbon – the king of greenhouse gases. Unlike other building materials that produce carbon as they are made, trees absorb carbon to grow and then store that carbon in them when they are turned into lumber or engineered wood products. The science is irrefutable.

So what’s missing? Why do people fund campaigns to “save the forests” in Canada?

Perhaps there’s some onus on all industry members to educate themselves about public perceptions and realities when it comes to forest sustainability and carbon storage. And to those who already are, let’s share more. Let’s have fact-based discussions with our fellow Canadians about the carbon-storage power of wood, and about sustainable silviculture practices.

And let’s support those organizations going to bat for the industry, and sharing the facts about how Canada’s forest sector is making our country a greener place.