Forestry firms, environmentalists to protect forests

Canada’s largest forest companies and major environmental groups have reached a deal on logging practices in the country’s massive northern forests in what one supporter said might be the “most important forest conservation initiative” in history.

OTTAWA — Canada’s largest forest companies and major environmental groups have reached a deal on logging practices in the country’s massive northern forests in what one supporter said might be the “most important forest conservation initiative” in history.

Sources said the agreement, to be made public Tuesday, will declare a three-year truce in the public relations war between the industry and environmentalists over the logging of one the word’s most precious natural resources.

The formal announcement involving 21 of Canada’s biggest companies — all members of the Forest Products Association of Canada — and nine environmental organizations, is to be made in Toronto.

The industry and environmental groups refused to release details Monday, but sources said it involves protection of the most sensitive parts of the country’s so-called boreal forest in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario — comprising about 70 million hectares of woodlands.

Sources say environmental groups have pledged to suspend international campaigns against the companies in exchange for the industry halting logging in environmentally sensitive areas, such as where wildlife like caribou and other habitat is endangered.

Should industry fulfil its part of the bargain, environmental groups would also help brand Canadian firms as world leaders in the use of best practices.

Environmental groups, although reluctant to discuss the details, were enthused by what it would mean to the boreal forest they call “the lungs of the world” because of its role as a major carbon sink.

“It’s basically the most important forest conservation initiative probably in history,” said Catharine Grant of ForestEthics.

“The stakes are pretty high and both sides are contributing equally to make it happen.”

Sources say the negotiations, which took over two years to conclude, were at times difficult and tense.

Greenpeace spokesman Alex Paterson agreed that the deal involves “strange bedfellows,” given than they have been at each other’s throats for years. But he added:

“We wouldn’t be party to this agreement if we weren’t confident in its validity and what it will do for the boreal forest.”

The truce comes at a propitious time for Canada’s forestry sector, which was particularly hard-hit by the housing collapse in its biggest market, the United States.

But with a global recovery underway, including in the U.S., prospects have improved and the truce means its effort to rebuild markets won’t be undermined by criticism from environmentalists.

The agreement is also a major step in its long-standing campaign to market the industry as modern, self-sustainable and environmentally friendly.