Resolute Puts Onus on Governments to Regulate Clearcutting

NRDC's analysis showing clearcutting in certain protected areas of the Canadian boreal prompted a surprising response from Resolute Forest Products.
Intact forest landscape in Broadback River Valley
Intact forest landscape in Quebec's Broadback River Valley
Credit: Photo courtesy of Greenpeace

Several weeks ago, NRDC released new maps documenting continued logging in boreal forest areas that were placed under a voluntary logging moratorium via the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (CBFA). Prior to the blog’s release, the forest industry called for the provincial and federal Canadian governments to cease their efforts to protect woodland caribou habitat. Our maps clearly refuted their contentions about logging in caribou habitat.

Following the release of our mapping analysis, one response surprised us: Resolute Forest Products. Resolute is the largest logging company in Canada, with significant operations in Quebec, and their spokesman placed ultimate accountability for the activity we noted with the governments that decide the rules of the game.

"It's the Quebec government that gives companies permission to go and harvest on these lands. We do not go where we want. We go where the government allows us to go."

--Resolute spokesperson Karl Blackburn

Blackburn’s comment points to an important bit of common ground between NRDC and one of the largest logging companies operating in the Canadian boreal. We too believe it is ultimately up to provincial and federal governments in Canada to develop and enforce sound and truly sustainable forest management practices.

By illustrating the logging that persisted in threatened areas throughout the timeframe of the voluntary CBFA moratorium, satellite maps show that some of the agreement’s core measures did not provide the woodland caribou habitat protections that its signatories had hoped.

A Chance to Get It Right

Evidence of logging within the CBFA’s moratorium areas doesn’t mean all is lost. This fall, Canada’s federal government, led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has an opportunity to work with provincial governments to put forward a strong set of caribou conservation and recovery policies. The development and implementation of these policies have been a long time coming. The woodland caribou was first listed as “threatened” under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (the equivalent of “endangered” in U.S. parlance) in 1984, with threatened herds in all ten “boreal provinces” today.

In October, there will be a moment for Canada and those who purchase its forest products to take stock of the federal and provincial government’s commitment to protecting woodland caribou and, by extension, sustainable forestry on public lands. The national Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou requires provincial governments to submit scientifically credible plans to protect caribou populations next month. It’s a crucial deadline. If they miss it, as we wrote in early August, provinces “should be prepared to implement strong interim protections on remaining critical caribou habitat until these plans can be developed.”

Time for Logging Companies to Look in the Mirror

Unfortunately, the logging industry’s lobbying efforts show they are interested in moving Canada in the opposite direction. The Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) has asked the federal government to “take a step back and reconsider the processes associated with the recovery strategy,” CEO Derek Nighbor wrote a few weeks ago.

In a clear break with Resolute—which pointed to federal and provincial governments as the ultimate sources of policies and rules that can ensure limited clearcutting and minimal impacts to remaining critical caribou habitat—FPAC wants to go in the opposite direction. Despite five years since the federal government signaled that woodland caribou protection was going to be an issue for the logging industry to address, and despite 33 years since the first herd ran into trouble, FPAC’s Nighbor urges a balanced approach and further delay, writing: “We have asked the federal government to undertake an urgent review of the current process with a view to ensuring that the provinces do not move ahead with their caribou range plans with undue haste in an effort to meet the federally imposed deadlines.”

There are two big problems with this statement. First, if balance is the goal, when do the woodland caribou get to put a thumb on the scale? And second, provinces were directed to develop and implement caribou range plans five years ago. To date, they have done nearly nothing to meet their legal obligations to do so.

As this debate plays out, Canada’s largest customers are watching. Companies want to offer consumers sustainably produced forest products whose sustainability can be backed up under close scrutiny of on-the-ground conditions. And Canada’s “brand” is sustainability.

So, as Resolute suggested, NRDC continues to advocate to Canada’s provincial and federal governments that they take their responsibility to protect woodland caribou seriously and act decisively after years of foot dragging. Further delay, as a bellwether species faces localized extinctions, is the antithesis of responsible or sustainable forest management.