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Time for a boreal forest union

By Tony Kryzanowski

The concept of a boreal forest union—aimed at bringing about a more universal and balanced management approach to this vast forest resource—is an idea whose time has come. It would also help to create a more level playing field in terms of wood supply and discourage destabilizing actions like Russia’s recent decision to defer a hefty tax on log exports that would have curtailed cheap log exports to China from Russia.

And Canada should lead the drive toward the creation of this international organization.

Creation of a union, with the objective of facilitating a streamlined and transparent flow of information, would be a soft glove versus an iron fist approach to establishing minimum management standards.

Rather than a capitulation to radical environmentalists, who still have trouble understanding that the boreal forest is a fire origin forest, this would be a pro-active way for management to be founded on the principles of good science.

The importance of the boreal forest to the future of humanity is obvious. Of the nearly 50 million square kilometres of the Earth’s surface covered by forest, nearly a third, or 16.6 million kilometres, is covered by the boreal forest.

According to information gathered by Canada’s Lakehead University, the biomass of boreal forests “is so huge and so vital that when they are in their maximum growth phase during the northern spring and summer, the worldwide levels of carbon dioxide fall and the worldwide levels of oxygen rise.”

Russia’s recent decision to defer a planned 80 per cent tax on log exports by a year is a good example of the type of piecemeal, short-term decision making that is currently taking place with individual countries, which for financial gain often cave under pressure from customers.

Countries like Russia could benefit from the acquisition of advanced forest management techniques from countries like Canada, the United States, Sweden, and Finland, where management decisions and public policy within individual countries is backed by quality science. It would make it much easier for them to justify elevated taxes or more controlled exports of raw resources in the name of quality resource management. It would discourage the export of raw logs, place a more realistic value on those logs and increase the profile of wood as a more environmentally-friendly building material than concrete and steel through joint action.

It is important to have Russia on board because it represents 22 per cent of the world’s forested area, versus seven per cent in Canada, six per cent in the United States, and two per cent in Nordic countries.

I believe its membership in this union would be an easy sell—Russia has already shown an eagerness to elevate its manufacturing capacity and to boost internal consumption of softwood.

However, Russia must be dealt with in such a way that it understands that technology exchange comes with a price—and that price is raising Russian forest management standards, working toward limiting the export of raw logs, and aggressive enforcement of management standards, including clamping down on illegal logging activities.

This is why I disagree with sharing information at this point about our proven Canadian wood frame technology with the Russians. Essentially we have given away an important bargaining chip that could have been used to level the economic and environmental playing field for our softwood producers.

I am not advocating the creation of an organization like the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), where a single organization essentially holds the rest of the world hostage by manipulating resource output in an attempt to fix prices. What I am advocating is a political decision-making body, backed by sub-committees charged with developing minimum standards and best practices in terms of boreal forest management, aimed at harvesting sustainability, while maintaining environmental biodiversity. If countries choose not to join and essentially “go rogue” in terms of management of their boreal forest, then I believe the world and their customers should know about it.

It’s clear to me that the bad apples need to be called out, but before that can happen, countries need to be given the opportunity to improve their knowledge, implement better policies, boost enforcement, and benefit from potentially better return from their resources over the long term. A union will also encourage them to invest in the internal infrastructure to manufacture more value-added products rather than exporting raw logs.

The “I’m Alright Jack, Keep Your Hands Off My Stack,” mentality as it relates to management of the boreal forest must give way to a more co-operative approach that will yield greater economic benefit to forest product manufacturers, and also benefit the environment. This union could also serve as a template for more balanced rainforest management.