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Forests Win Protection

One of the world's largest ever environmental protection measures was achieved in December when a coalition of environmental groups, Canadian First Nations peoples, and private industry agreed to conserve 1.3 billion acres of Canada's boreal, or sub-arctic, forests. This is one of the largest unspoiled woodlands in the world and amounts to about one-quarter of the globe's remaining forest. It contains 80 percent of the world's fresh water, and the protected area makes up about 53 percent of Canada.
Environmentalists hope the agreement will protect not only Canada's northern forests, consisting largely of pine, spruce, and poplar, but also native wildlife—such as caribou, wolves, and bears—and migratory birds, including whooping cranes, yellow rails, warblers, and sparrows.

“The Canadian Boreal Forest Initiative is the largest conservation agreement yet made in the world,” said Monte Hummel, president of World Wildlife Fund Canada, one of the initiative's key participants.

The initiative was conceived about three years ago after the Pew Charitable Trusts in the United States, realizing that Canada contains a massive chunk of the world's remaining virgin forests, donated $4.5 million (U.S.) to help the plan come to life.
The initiative includes some compromises. Roughly 50 percent of the area will be open for development, including logging and oil and gas exploration, using “ecologically sustainable” methods that have yet to be defined.

The agreement is also missing several key parties. One is the Canadian government. Without government involvement, some environmentalists worry that the agreement will lack enforcement power. The government may join the initiative in the future. Another missing party is the largest lumber producer in the world, Weyerhaeuser, which has major operations in Canada since it took over MacMillan Bloedel.

Bill Hunter, president and chief executive of the Edmonton-based Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries Inc., one of the largest pulp mills in North America, said the plan is so large and so unusual that it's unsettling even for those who struck the deal. “I'm scared,” he said. “But if this works, man, oh, man, what a model it will be for the world.”

“We are conserving abundance,” said Cathy Wilkinson, director of the Canadian Boreal Initiative, which helped pull together the framework. “We're flipping the paradigm…This is just a first step.”

In contrast to the Canadian agreement, the Bush administration recently announced that the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, the largest in the country, would be exempted from the Clinton-era Roadless Areas Conservation rule, opening up more than half of the 17-million-acre forest for development and logging.


—Rik Langendoen
For more information on the Canadian initiative, see www.borealcanada.ca.


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