Kyoto gurus are barking up the wrong tree on Canadian boreal forest management

By Tony Kryzanowski

It was inevitable, I guess. The most radical environmentalists have started to become more vocal about connecting the words “protecting the boreal forest” with the words “Kyoto Accord”—which should make every logger and sawmill owner in Canada stand up and take notice.                                   

No doubt the industry has already figured out that “protecting the boreal forest” is enviro-speak for taking more wood fibre out of production. In other words, it’s an opportunity to create many more pockets of overmature wood across Canada—so that we can spend our summers fighting forest fires and choking on smoke, instead of harvesting trees that could be processed into lumber. I only have two words for these individuals—back off!                                   

Canada’s forest industry has an exceptionally good record over the past 20 years of adopting sustainable forest management practices. In other words, we get it.                                   

Canada is home to the largest Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) approved forest in the world. Initiatives like the Ontario government’s mandate that Sustainable Forest Licence holders join a third party forest certification program is just one more example of Canada’s leadership in demanding that loggers and forestry companies adopt sustainable forest management practices.                                   

The province of British Columbia has banned logging in many identified forests with cultural, social, and recreational value, such as the Spirit Bear Sanctuary, and the forest industry has adapted to work around these restrictions. Logging practices have advanced so far that even Parks Canada, which manages Canada’s national parks, has allowed some careful logging in Jasper National Park, realizing that towns like Jasper are in danger without some measure of forest management of overmature wood. Quebec has reduced its annual allowable cut by 20 per cent, despite serious financial consequences to communities dependent on the forest industry. Alberta is close to adopting                                   

Integrated Landscape Management as its land management model, where resource industries will work together to minimize the industrial footprint on the environment.                                   

Part of the problem seems to be that this brand of environmentalist does not understand, or refuses to publicly admit, that the boreal forest is a fire-origin forest. If its trees are not harvested, they will eventually become overmature and burn. It is not like the coastal rainforest or Great Lakes forest, where trees can live for hundreds of years. It is impossible to find a healthy 200-year old conifer in the boreal forest.                                   

Canada’s industry has also taken a strong position on maintaining biodiversity in the boreal forest, unlike many Nordic and Southern Hemisphere countries that treat forestry like agriculture. In these countries, trees are planted as monocultures and harvested like grain crops. While Canada also has its fair share of monocultures, scientists are bringing forth new recommendations on mixed wood forest management and how mixed forests should be allowed to regenerate to maintain biodiversity.                                   

The problem is that it is so easy for radical environmentalists and poorly informed scientists to pick on the forest industry in Canada and the management of the Canadian boreal forest. They can let loose with all sorts of inflammatory sound bites in the general media, set up roadblocks, or march on Parliament Hill without any fear of physical retributions. I’d like to see these individuals publicly campaign in Russia, China, Central Africa, Colombia, or Indonesia, where very serious forest management issues exist. That’s where the environmental movement needs to be the most active. For example, only five per cent of Pakistan’s natural forest remains intact. Astronauts on the space shuttle have commented about the brown cloud visible from space over Asia, resulting from cooking fires and uncontrolled burning of forests to make room for agricultural land. However, with the threat of a baton across the head or imprisonment without benefit of a charge or legal representation in some of these countries, the life of an activist is so much cozier in law-abiding Canada.                                   

Not all environmental groups have gone out of their way to attack Canada’s forest industry. I am very appreciative of organizations like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which has developed modeling tools to help industry develop forest management plans that more carefully take wildlife habitat into consideration.                                   

Industry needs these types of tools because foresters want to do whatever they can to maintain biodiversity. Frequently, when an environmental issue is raised, it is not that easy for industry to snap its fingers and make it happen. They are governed by plans that run anywhere from one to 50 years. They value the constructive input from environmental experts to resolve environmental concerns, and want to achieve mutual understanding.                                   

To those individuals and groups thinking of making an issue of Canadian boreal forest management by tying it to the Kyoto Accord, you are barking up the wrong tree. If you truly care about global warming and the role that forests can play as carbon sinks, put it all on the line and call those countries seriously out of compliance to account. Demand that they institute reforestation programs and practise sustainable forest management.                                   

You would not only be helping the environment, but you would also be helping your country. Canada’s forest industry often finds it difficult to compete against foreign competitors who are not required to operate to the same environmental standard as the Canadian industry. You would be helping the industry level the playing field—and probably earn a bit more respect from the industry in the process.  

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