U.S. Groups Call on Canadian Boreal Forest Protection

NRDC and 12 other environmental groups based out of the U.S. are weighing in with the Canadian Premiers of Ontario and Quebec reminding them of how critical a strong and effective Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification is in the Boreal Forest to U.S. customers. The letter to Ontario can be found here and the letter to Quebec here. If a product like paper, toilet paper, magazines, newspapers, furniture, or dimension lumber is FSC certified, it means that it comes from forests where efforts at ensuring conservation, maintaining biodiversity, and seeking input from local and indigenous communities, as well as providing economic benefits, are taken seriously. To learn more about FSC read here. NRDC and many other conservation groups strongly endorse the FSC system as a critical safeguard and guarantee of effective forest conservation. Unfortunately some forestry companies question whether to stay a part of the FSC system.

Nearly twenty-five years ago, the Forest Stewardship Council was launched to provide a voluntary third-party system for certifying well-managed forests. This followed the Earth Summit in Brazil, where it became clear that instead of focusing on forest mismanagement by southern countries, it was time for northern countries to provide a better example of forest management and protection. The FSC was seen as a way for environmentalists, Indigenous Peoples, the social sector, and companies to participate together in creating a new paradigm for forest management around the world.

Fast forward to 2015. The FSC now has a global presence and no more so than in Canada where more hectares of forest land have been certified--over 50 million acres--than anywhere else in the world. Many products sport the FSC label globally and it continues to prevail as the only independent certification program.

In 2014, to respond to the continued loss of intact forests across the globe's most precious ecosystems (e.g. the Canadian Boreal, the Congo Basin, and the Amazon), the FSC prioritized the protection of intact forests. Thus, the FSC adopted a commitment to protect these massive untouched wild forests (called Intact Forest Landscapes) in a directive called Motion 65. In Canada the majority of these relatively undisturbed landscapes overlap with woodland caribou habitat already the focus of conservation efforts in the Boreal, providing a clear opportunity for synergies.

Intact Forest Landscapes are not just large areas of forest. They provide a home to millions of indigenous peoples who have been stewards to their territories since time immemorial but are also, critical to preventing biodiversity loss, conserveing endangered species, and providingvital ecosystem services. These large forest landscapes also often store a large amount of carbon and therefore are essential to fight climate change.

But there is a concerning trend taking place in Canada, where some forestry companies question whether to remain a part of the FSC system. In an October 28 letter to the Quebec government, the Quebec Forest Industry Council (QFIC) threatened to remove forests from FSC certification. There are also reports that the Ontario Forest Industry Council sent a similar letter. In addition, the largest logging company in Canada, Resolute Forest Products (also the largest FSC holder), publicly questioned the viability of the FSC system and announced that it would not pursue additional FSC certification, citing concerns over the impact of additional conservation measures. This prompted a firm reaction from FSC International, which stated, "We continue to receive worrying messages about attempts from Resolute FP to spread negative stories about FSC."

Today's letters, delivered to the premiers of Quebec and Ontario, lay bare the reality that the logging industry is attempting to weaken protection for threatened forests and human rights, "at the very time that many are looking to Canadian provinces to strengthen conservation." NRDC and the group of signatories call on the logging industry to "work with, not against, the very system that has given them social license in the marketplace."

The letters reiterate the importance of the FSC system to maintaining collaboration on forest management and conservation issues. NRDC and the groups sending the letter point to how maintaining FSC lands provide business certainty, both for logging companies and big buyers, like Kimberly Clark, Best Buy, and literally dozens of companies with billions in purchasing power. This system has without doubt significantly reduced conflict in Canada's Boreal Forest and has been supported by many logging companies as well as environmental and Indigenous Peoples.

Credit: Credit: J. Bertolino/Greenpeace

The protection of large intact forest landscapes are not just theoretical. Consider the pressing issue of the Broadback Valley Forest in Quebec (pictured above). There, the Waswanippi Cree have been fighting for years to protect the last of their traplines (traditional hunting grounds). Of sixty two original traplines, only three remain that are intact. This ancient forest around and above the beautiful Broadback River has never been industrially logged and lies over 10 hours north of Montreal. In July, the Quebec government and the Cree nation announced some additional protected areas near the Broadback, but the vast majority of the Broadback remains to be protected. NRDC traveled there in November at the invitation of the Waswanipi and witnessed firsthand the community's unified interest in seeing their land protected. Intact forest landscapes open to industrial development, such as in the Montagnes Blanches of Quebec or Ontario's Caribou Forest, are also under threat from fragmentation.

While it is true that the logging industry must meet higher environmental standards in forests certified by FSC, customers who purchase the raw materials coming from them have long recognized and rewarded the effort. Therefore, we encourage all stakeholders to work towards a solution that protects these last unfragmented areas in the allocated Boreal Forest. Both the provinces of Quebec and Ontario would benefit greatly from moving to protect these areas and respect the rights of their first citizens. The world is watching.

Groups that signed the letters are: Catalog Choice, Chlorine Free Products Association, Dogwood Alliance, ForestEthics, Friends of the Earth, US, Green America, Better Paper Project , Green Press Initiative, Greenpeace USA, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Rainforest Action Network, Rainforest Relief, and Re-nourish