Seventeen companies representing a range of sectors have urged Canada’s federal and provincial officials to implement safeguards around industrial activities that threaten species and landscapes in Canada’s boreal forest. In a letter sent last week, companies warned that without effective policies that protect boreal woodland caribou habitat, industrial logging will continue to threaten many traditional territories of Indigenous Peoples, imperiled species’ habitat, and the boreal forest’s effectiveness as a carbon storehouse. Last week’s letter reiterated the key asks of a letter sent in October by eight companies including The Procter & Gamble Company, Kimberly-Clark Corporation, and Greystone Books. Because a significant portion of boreal materials are exported – particularly to the United States – this growing chorus of corporate calls for action indicate that if Canada does not implement environmental protections, it could lose its reputation as a sustainable source for forest products.
"[W]e are concerned by the lack of action by Canada’s federal and provincial governments to protect the habitat of the threatened boreal woodland caribou: a species whose population is in decline, and whose health is considered to be indicative of the overall state of the Canadian boreal ecosystem."
—Company letter to Canadian federal and provincial leaders, June 22, 2018
The degradation of the boreal forest is a problem that extends beyond Canada’s borders; Canada’s exports are closely integrated into a global supply chain. The United States imports 80 percent of the combined boreal forest product exports from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador. These forest materials end up in many widely-used products including fiber used for clothing, paper, and packaging. The industrial logging practices feeding these supply chains are currently unsustainable, demonstrated by the rapidly declining numbers of Canada’s iconic boreal woodland caribou.
Many scientists consider Canada’s boreal caribou to be an indicator species: the state of this species’ populations reflects the broader health of the Canadian boreal ecosystem. The fact, therefore, that 30 percent of boreal caribou could decline in the next 15 years under current conditions, and that wildlife scientists say habitat degradation is the key driver of their decline, should serve as an alarming warning for policymakers and buyers of boreal forest products.
Yet, as the Canadian government concluded in a recent report, boreal caribou habitat remains broadly unprotected across Canada. In 2012, the federal government asked provinces to implement protection plans that would limit degradation in boreal caribou ranges to no more than 35 percent—a threshold scientists say is lenient to industry. However, some industry groups have lobbied against the prospect of even these commonsense solutions, and provinces missed the five-year deadline set by the federal government. Across Canada, Indigenous Peoples, non-governmental organizations, companies, and local officials have proposed alternative models that would both allow economic opportunities and conserve intact forests that protect species like the boreal caribou. However, governments have broadly failed to support these plans with enforceable protections, with consequences for local communities, species, and the global climate.
Canada’s conservation inaction has managed to slip somewhat under the radar, based in part on a global perception that the country is an environmental leader. Policymakers’ unwillingness to implement boreal protections, however, is taking an environmental toll, and members of the corporate and academic community are taking note. For example, the same week that companies sent their boreal letter, student environmental groups, student governments, and sustainability coordinators from universities across the United States sent their own letter urging officials in Canada to implement protections in the boreal forest.
Safeguards could help protect species and traditional Indigenous territories from unsustainable logging practices, and could help give the international marketplace confidence that forest products from Canada are responsibly sourced. Solutions exist, but policymakers need the will to implement them. If they do not, Canada’s international environmental reputation—and the marketplace’s faith in the sustainability of Canada’s forest products—risk being tarnished.
The company letter can be found here.
NRDC’s press release can be found here.