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Guest Column

Protection/Certification Link a Step to Peace in the Woods

by Linda Coady and Arlin Hackman

This past fall in Vancouver an irresistible force met an immovable object once again-and the topic as always was how to best manage Canada's forests. But this time there was a difference, with environmentalists and forest industry representatives actually agreeing that the time has come for cooperation to complete a nationwide network of protected areas that represent all of Canada's forests. The occasion was the release of a report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) titled Canada's Commitment to Forest Protected Areas, which outlines the accomplishments and significant challenges facing industry, government and environmentalists in meeting commitments Canada has made on protected areas. To be sure, the "war in the woods" is not over and not all combatants are ready to throw down their chainsaws and protest signs or exchange caulked boots for Birkenstocks.

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Nor will it be easy to progress from a general agreement on intentions to the comprehensive action necessary to protect our forests, while at the same time ensuring the economic health of the forest industry. The devil, as always, is in the details. But at the Vancouver discussions, two old adversaries nodded their heads in agreement with each other's views. Stan Coleman, Woodlands Manager for MacMillan Bloedel-now Weyerhaeuser Canada-in Nanaimo, BC has seen his share of protests and blockades against logging operations. John Broadhead, who coordinates the BC Endangered Spaces Campaign run by WWF, was on the front lines of forest protests for many years, including the fight over South Moresby Island in the Queen Charlottes. "There's a point where fatigue sets in," says Broadhead. "There's a human resources cost to environmental organizations in being constantly involved in conflict. "Two years ago I wouldn't have believed this could happen," Broadhead says. "But the ice is broken. Dialogue is starting to happen." "If there is one thing we have learned as a company, it is that there is a cost to conflict," says Coleman. "We are starting to understand each other much better ."

They both see there has been a fundamental shift in attitude, with progress being made in finding common ground across Canada and on several fronts. First, forest companies, environmental groups and the federal and provincial governments have all agreed on the need for a nationwide system of protected areas, a target of World Wildlife Fund's global Forests For Life campaign. While Canada's commitment in 1992 has not yet been met, significant progress has been made in a number of provinces. Last year in Ontario, for example, negotiations between the provincial government, the forest companies (led by Tembec Inc. and Domtar Inc.) and conservation groups, including WWF Canada, led to the largest single expansion of protected areas in that province's history-2.4 million hectares. And the WWF report identifies immediate opportunities for substantial new protected areas, including on British Columbia's coast, as well as in Alberta, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick where forest companies such as Alberta Pacific Forest Industries, Weyerhaeuser Canada Limited and J D Irving Limited have already proposed specific sites for protection. Second, the forest industry is responding to the emerging green marketplace.

The announcement by building supply giant Home Depot that it would phase out products from endangered areas and demand suppliers adopt independent third party certification standards for wood products is part of a trend, creating new demands for both stronger forest management and establishment of protected forest areas. Third, an agreement last year on environmentally sensitive logging between environmental groups, MacMillan Bloedel and First Nations in the Clayoquot Sound on Vancouver Island-site of the largest mass civil disobedience protest against the forest industry ever in Canada-is a hopeful sign of things to come. But significant challenges remain ahead. While Canada, the provinces and the forest industry have committed to protecting representative forest areas by 2000, the WWF report shows we are less than half way there. And it is clear that the relationship between the two critical issues of forest management and protected areas needs to be resolved. While some in the forest industry see these as separate issues, conservationists and others in the industry believe that there is an integral relationship between them, that one cannot be successful without the other.

Forest certification provides a crucial opportunity in this regard. In short, the credibility of the certification process demanded by Home Depot and other firms depends upon finding a formula that includes both protection and forest management, not one or the other. In fact, if the fragile beginning of a new relationship between environmentalists and the forest industry is to grow, extreme positions must be avoided-for instance, that there is no connection between certification and protected areas or that certification should only proceed once protected areas have been legislated. Keys to moving ahead are the development of broadly supported regional certification standards, as well as a public policy regime that provides financial incentives for more conservation sensitive land management. Weyerhaeuser Canada and WWF are supporting efforts to find breakthroughs on both fronts. Ultimately, a healthy forest industry, a certification process that recognizes the need for sustainable forest management and the establishment of an ecologically representative network of protected areas are not only compatible but the desirable outcome of a new dialogue that finds middle ground and cooperation instead of conflict.

Linda Coady is Vice President, Environmental Enterprise, Weyerhaeuser Canada. Arlin Hackman is Vice President, Conservation, World Wildlife Fund Canada.



This page last modified on Monday, November 03, 2003