Is the War of the Woods Over?
Do we finally have peace in Canada’s forests between the environmental groups and the industry’s big players? If you read the “official” press release issued in mid-May by nine prominent environmental organizations and the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) on behalf of its 21 member companies, you might think so.
November 10, 2011 By Bill Tice
The press release touts the news as the “world’s largest conservation agreement” and talks of “the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement” and “how it will apply to 72 million hectares of public forests licensed to FPAC members.” It tells how the agreement, when fully implemented, “will conserve significant areas of Canada’s vast Boreal Forest, protect threatened woodland caribou and provide a competitive market edge for participating companies.”
But isn’t this what we, as an industry, including many FPAC members, have been doing in one form or another for some time? Maybe it hasn’t been as a group effort, but just take a look at the sustainability and environmental reports issued by some of the major companies that date back not just years, but decades. In these reports, you will find that many of the large companies have had wildlife biologists on staff since the 1980s, or earlier. Some have set aside or deferred harvesting for caribou protection and other wildlife values going back to the 1980s. And almost all of them have been doing all of the right things to obtain forest certification status under programs administered by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) or the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) since certification became an all important marketing requirement back in the 1990s. That was when the giant U.K. home improvement chain B&Q told its forest products vendors that all wood products being sold in its stores had to be FSC certified or they wouldn’t get through the doors. All of these measures weren’t good enough for the environmental groups in the past, but all of a sudden, now that we have an “agreement” in place, everyone is on the same page.
Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement is a negative thing. I’m just questioning how two sides that were so far apart and had so much mistrust between them can make happy and satisfied bed partners. I also have to wonder just how long the peace will last? On the industry side, FPAC’s website presents mainly factual information without a great deal of hype. If you go to the websites of some of FPAC’s biggest member companies, you won’t find any mention of the agreement. However, if you log on to the websites of some of the environmental groups that are listed as participants in the agreement, it seems like a contest to see who can have the best bragging rights for making this happen.
Greenpeace – “To end destructive practices, Greenpeace has played a leading role in the development of the historic Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement.”
ForestEthics – “ForestEthics’ unique ability to turn our corporate adversaries into allies has helped us secure agreements to protect more than 65 million acres of forest land, including the Great Bear Rainforest, the Inland Temperate Rainforest, Chile’s Native Forests and Canada’s Boreal Forest.”
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society – “Following two years of negotiations, CPAWS and sister conservation organisations have reached an historic agreement with the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC). CPAWS played a leadership role in achieving this agreement.”
Regardless of which environmental group gets the most credit for spearheading this initiative, I have to ask, how long will it be before they come back for more? Supposedly, the agreement calls for a three-year truce between the signatories, but does this protect FPAC members from new environmental non government organizations (ENGOs) that may spring up, and how about attacks on companies that are not FPAC members? Are they being left out in the cold even if they have sound environmental policies, and will the ENGOs simply move their sights to these companies?
Already, ForestEthics is asking the public to “take action” and be a “Boreal watchdog.” On the front page of their website, you will find a link allowing you to sign up for this task. When you click on the link, ForestEthics asks, “will you sign up to become a Boreal Watchdog and let leaders of the Canadian forestry industry know the world is watching this agreement?” This begs the question of where’s the trust and what’s next?
So yes, we have a truce for now and FPAC has to be commended for spending the last three years putting representatives from its member companies in the same room as the environmentalists. And the good news is that if all goes well, at least FPAC members will be able to focus on rebuilding markets over the next three years instead of fighting economic blackmail where the ENGOs threaten wood products (solid wood and pulp and paper) customers with protests outside of their stores and plants. But will it last? That’s a question that will only be answered over time, but with the level of distrust between these former adversaries, it’s probably a topic of discussion that has already been quietly raised in the boardrooms of the environmental groups and the forest industry companies.
Bill Tice, Editor,
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