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CPAWS advises feds on forestry sector package

By Tim Gray and Aran O\'Carroll
This op-ed ran in the Toronto Star, online edition, on December 23, 2008 [link]

As members of the organization that is Canada\'s leading voice for wilderness conservation, we don\'t always find ourselves on the same side as the forest industry. But this time we do.

We think Finance Minister Jim Flaherty would be wise to heed the forest sector\'s call to invest some cash in this industry, rather than direct it all toward manufacturers of vehicles that few want to buy, and who show little sign of changing their ways.

To be sure, we have some unfinished business with the forest industry. We haven\'t been great fans of many companies\' records in protecting the habitat of endangered species, regenerating forests after logging, conserving aquatic systems, or addressing First Nations rights.

But we do support the forest industry\'s efforts to secure investments from the federal government. That\'s because we truly believe that the forest industry could become a leader in a Canadian green industrial strategy. With over a third of the world\'s boreal forest, one-fifth of the world\'s temperate rainforest, and a tenth of Earth\'s forest cover, Canada has the ability to use forests as a cornerstone of a new economy.

Here is what we should do:

Invest in green power: Pulp and paper mills are many provinces\' largest consumers of electricity. In Ontario a lot of this is dirty and coal-fired. These same mills produce millions of tonnes of biomass waste. Instead of a disposal problem, this waste could be a source of biomass-derived heat and electrical energy. Increased application of this proven technology could replace the mills\' electricity consumption and turn them into net contributors to the grid.

Invest in bio-refinery add-ons: Pulp and paper mills create by-products that can act, in many ways, like the organic molecule mix found in oil. They are the perfect source for a host of valuable chemicals and products that range from ethanol to rayon. With their existing industrial campuses and transportation infrastructure, mills are perfect candidates to become new bio-product facilities.

Help position Canada\'s industry in a growing green marketplace: Increasingly, customers of paper and wood products are demanding that forest companies prove their operations are sustainable. This means showing that the industry is helping to protect, not annihilate, endangered species such as the boreal woodland caribou.

The federal government has the power and responsibility under the Species At Risk Act to identify and protect the extensive "critical habitats" of woodland caribou across Canada\'s boreal forests. By implementing a recovery strategy for this nationally threatened species, the federal government can give forest companies the opportunity to increase their green market share by conserving the critical habitats of this species within their tenures.

Some leaders in the forest sector have made private investments in environmental land-use plans to identify habitats to be protected. If the federal government were to require and invest in supporting the development of such plans for the whole industry it would level the playing field and position Canada\'s industry as green. This would give it more leverage to squeeze out unsustainable and illegal producers from the market place.

Sort out the carbon rules: Canada\'s boreal forests and peatlands store around 186 billion tons of carbon. These areas play a significant role in mitigating climate change and enabling species to adapt to its growing effects. We need federal incentives to keep the carbon where it is and not release it into the atmosphere. And we need to enhance the ability of Canadian forests to store even more carbon. This requires clear rules that favour forest conservation and discourage activities that would lead to greater emissions.

Invest in land-use plans for the North: The northern portion of our forests has not been allocated to industry. Before that happens, we need land-use plans that address ecological needs, First Nations rights and the economic potential of these regions. The federal government has a responsibility for completing these plans in the Northwest Territories. It could also invest in ways to support recent commitments by Ontario and Quebec to prepare land-use plans that will protect at least 50 per cent of their northern boreal regions.

Fix the outdated forest "tenure" system: In the 1930s large tracts of public land were assigned to pulp companies. Industry invested capital and put thousands of people to work cutting trees and in the mills. Government collected taxes. But conditions have changed and industry can\'t keep up its end of the deal. It\'s time to renegotiate contracts and have forests managed by public, not-for-profit corporations that sell wood and other products for the highest price. Forests would become sources of revenue for communities rather than cost centres for companies. New industries would have access to wood supply, the pulp and paper industry would have lower costs and the Americans would have one less argument against Canadian lumber imports.

As he figures out where to send the stimulus cheques, we hope that Minister Flaherty takes time to look up from his desk and glance across the Ottawa River. There he will see forested hilltops and glimpse a key part of Canada\'s green industrial future. We have more forests than any other advanced country in the world. Let\'s not miss this opportunity to be smart about how we use them to support our future.


Aran O\'Carroll is a senior staff member of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) and sits on the Government of Canada\'s Forest Sector Sustainability Table. Tim Gray is a member of CPAWS\' Board of Trustees and of the Ontario Minister\'s Council on Forest Sector Competitiveness.