Canada’s Forest Industry Papers Over Threat to the Boreal

“The Broadback is basically our last intact forest. All of the traditional and cultural activities that we practice out there on the land, that's who we are. That's us.”

So explains Youth Chief Melanie Neeposh, one of the voices of the Waswanipi Cree featured in a video calling for the protection of the Broadback River valley, which contains some of the last intact boreal forest landscapes remaining in territory they’ve called home for millennia. This call for boreal forest protection has come under attack by Canadian forest industry trade organizations in recent weeks. A recent letter from the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC), the Quebec Forest Industry Council (QFIC) and the Ontario Forest Industry Council (OFIC) suggest they want to see logging in this region continue. They specifically attack NRDC for our partnership with the Waswanipi Cree. Our response? Canada’s boreal forest is an ecosystem of global importance that is under threat.

Specifically, the threat to the Broadback River valley is being driven in a large part by the U.S. demand for Canadian forestry products—tissues, toilet paper, paper stock, newspaper print and lumber. We have a responsibility to ensure that this demand does not come at the expense of Canada’s boreal forest and First Nations communities. As Deputy Chief Mandy Gull makes clear: in fighting for protections in the boreal forest, the Cree are fighting to protect livelihoods, not to undermine them.

As Deputy Chief Mandy Gull notes: “A lot of people don't realize that the Cree people are subsistence hunters. We do hunt and trap daily,” Gull says. “We're here because we want to ask the logging industry to accommodate and cooperate in how they conduct harvesting practices.”

She adds that:

 “A trapline system is a hunting territory. The trapline system of Waswanipi is heavily impacted by forestry roads. We have 33,000 kilometers spanning through the territory. Recently, we see companies coming into more northern areas, and they're planning on building roads in areas that are left untouched.”

When that kind of development takes place, “when we see these large spaces that are clearcuts, vast, open areas, we often consider them to be dead zones. There's no wildlife in these areas. The vegetation doesn't grow back.”

Canada’s boreal forest is home to many of North America’s iconic species, plays a globally important role in regulating global carbon emissions and contains many of the world’s remaining intact forest landscapes—large areas of truly wild, ancient forests. However, science shows that many parts of the boreal are under acute threat:

  • Since 2000, boreal forest logging has covered a geographic footprint more than 23 times the size of the tar sands industry, according to the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute.
  • Over the same time period, Canada has lost nearly 40 million acres of intact forest landscape—equivalent to the size of Florida—and 32 million of those acres were on tracts owned by forest companies. While companies claim to be replanting the forests they cut, on the ground regeneration rates are well below Canada’s legally-mandated 100 percent standard.
  • Meanwhile, Canada’s woodland caribou herds, which thrive only in intact boreal forest areas, are under severe threat from clearcutting and other industrial activities. Only 17 of the 57 herds have self-sustaining populations, and without intervention, the other 40 are likely to die out. Perhaps this is why Canada places 102nd for biodiversity in the Harvard/MIT Social Progress Index—a ranking that undermines FPAC’s claim that Canada’s forests are among the world’s best managed.
  • The forest industry relies on the IPCC’s statement that forest management can be a way to mitigate climate change. However, if a forest management regime is leading to degradation, that is not what the IPCC had in mind. The IPCC identifies the type of permanent protection called for by the Waswanipi Cree as an effective means of combatting climate change by maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks. Forest management policies that promote clearcutting in Canada’s boreal forest disrupt carbon sequestration in fragile, carbon-rich boreal soils.
  • The forest industry has set up several certification systems, a number of which face criticism for providing inadequate protection, limited transparency, and too many loopholes that allow producers to shirk their responsibility for forest conservation. Even rigorous, strict, independent, scientifically sound certifications like the Forest Stewardship Council are just an important first step in protecting intact forests and species biodiversity. The other key ingredients are science-based policy and community control, both of which lie at the heart of the Waswanipi Crees’ requests.
  • Environmentally sustainable forestry and conservation does not need to come at the expense of Canada’s northern communities. In fact, the forest industry’s own reports do not find First Nations or local community access, caribou or other species protection, or land conservation as factors making significant contributions to the industry’s current decline.

The U.S. marketplace has a role in the boreal

NRDC has been working with partners in Canada for over 30 years to mitigate the harm that the U.S. market demand for forest products can wreak on Canadian natural resources. As the destination of over 80 percent of the exports from the forests of Ontario and Quebec, the U.S. marketplace has a responsibility to ensure that its demand does not come at the expense of Canada’s boreal forest and First Nations communities.

We can do better than turning irreplaceable, ancient forest into diapers, paper towels, coffee filters, and advertising flyers.

NRDC is proud to stand with the Waswanipi Cree in their fight to protect their community—which also means protecting the forests, wildlife, and wider ecosystem of the Broadback River watershed.