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Joining forces: The new face of forestry

By Aran O\'Carroll

This article was printed in the Fall/Winter 2010 issue of Canadian Wilderness.

Conservation groups and forestry have traditionally been enemies, not partners, on conservation issues. CPAWS, with our history of finding collaborative solutions, is proud to be part of an unprecedented alliance announced earlier this year that stands to change the face of conservation in Canada and across the world.

Canada\'s Boreal forest is globally significant. We have more remaining intact forests than any other country, but the operations of the Canadian forest industry represent the most extensive threat to boreal ecosystems and wildlife. 

After years of discussion, the majority of Canada’s Boreal forest industry and nine leading conservation groups, including CPAWS, have come together to establish a globally significant model for conservation and management in Canada’s Boreal forest.

Signed on May 18th of this year, the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (CBFA) commits the 21 member companies of the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) to work collaboratively with CPAWS and our environmental colleagues over three years, subject to regular independent monitoring and public reporting.  The major conservation goals include:

  • Establishing networks of new protected areas and improving industry conservation practices on the landscapes surrounding them;
  • Protecting habitat of species at risk of extinction, most notably woodland caribou;
  • Protecting the contributions forests make to the regulation of our climate.

The Agreement applies to 72 million hectares—an area the size of Alberta—of some of the most immediately threatened wilderness found in all of Canada’s seven Boreal provinces. All of these public lands are tenured to the forestry companies involved in the agreement.

We believe that an agreement of this size holds the potential to transform the entire scale of wilderness conservation in Canada and even abroad. It has already transformed the way the Canadian forest industry conducts itself, and we\'re seeing early interest in this approach from the mining and oil and gas sectors.

Caribou are key

Protecting the remaining habitat of threatened woodland caribou is central to the Agreement.  One of the initial committments is that no new logging or road-building will occur in 98% of the remaining critical woodland caribou habitat within lands leased to FPAC member companies for the next three years. This "pause" gives us time to negotiate permanent solutions for the endangered forest caribou. With the forestry companies, we will be seeking additional support and engagement of Aboriginal Canadians, other natural resources extractive companies and provincial and federal governments to implement the solutions we develop.

CPAWS is calling for protection of woodland caribou because they are a disturbance sensitive, wide-ranging species whose remaining intact forest habitats occupy more than half of Canada’s Boreal wilderness. Their preferred habitat stores huge amounts of carbon and helps regulate our climate.  CPAWS\' "Caribou and You" campaign, online at, has spurred over 20,000 people to sign their names in support of protecting this species.

The work has just begun

Now that the Agreement is in place, we have a tremendous amount of work to do. With the support of our membership, many CPAWS staff across Canada will dedicate their time to negotiations and technical conservation planning, implementing the Agreement together with our partner conservation groups and industry members. 

CPAWS will be deeply involved in negotiations, including all four of the locations identified as first priorities.  These are all areas where CPAWS has long campaigned for greater protection:

  • The Rocky Mountain Foothills of Alberta, less than 2% protected, but home to some of the Boreal’s most threatened caribou populations, including the Little Smoky herd;
  • Alberta\'s Athabasca Heartland, ground zero for the oil sands industry and a place where forest industry leadership and the cooperation of our oil and gas sector and Aboriginal partners on the Boreal Leadership Council offer a genuine opportunity for conservation;
  • Ontario\'s northeast, where a long-standing collaboration  between CPAWS Wildlands League, local First Nations, and leading forest company Tembec has helped to lay the foundation for a conservation outcome that will ‘hold the line’ for woodland caribou;
  • The Vallée des Montagnes Blanches in east central Quebec, home to some of the province\'s last, large, intact landscapes and WoodlandCaribou populations in the commercial forest zone.

CPAWS will work with existing and new First Nations partners to craft conservation plans supported by Aboriginal peoples.  We were a strong voice at the table during the CBFA negotiations in obtaining the forest industry\'s agreement to explicitly recognize Aboriginal Canadians\' legitimate interests and aspirations. The Agreement is intended to respect the rights and titles of Aboriginal Canadians, and we will require the fair, inclusive involvement of Aboriginal peoples and their governments in our processes.

CPAWS in key role

The timing was right for conservation groups and industry to look for new solutions.  The past several years have been challenging for forestry in Canada for many reasons, including the global economic downturn and fall in new home construction in the US, the rise in the Canadian dollar and its impact on our export competitiveness, consumer demand for “green” products and the impending regulatory reforms to protect at-risk woodland caribou habitat and existing natural carbon capture and storage systems.

All of these influences coincided to create a unique opportunity for collaboration.  And that is where CPAWS came in.  CPAWS has a proven track record of finding conservation solutions with the Canadian forest industry and others. We were founding members of the Boreal Leadership Council; we had secured conservation for woodland caribou with a key forest industry leader, Tembec, in British Columbia and Manitoba.  We were in the midst of negotiations with the Nova Scotia forest industry, including influential FPAC members, for an expanded protected areas system in that province.  We are working with the influential Irving company for conservation outcomes in New Brunswick. This track record, plus our history of collaboration in the negotiations for new protected areas, convinced the forestry association and its members that working with conservation groups could be mutually beneficial. Based on our history of success, CPAWS is optimistic that, with the support of its membership and other conservation organizations, our work will deliver a network of new protected areas and significant improvements in Boreal forest management that will benefit Aboriginal Canadians, the forest sector and the broader Canadian public.  Now it\'s time to get down to work!

Aran O’Carroll is National Manager of Legislative and Regulatory Affairs for CPAWS. He is on leave to work on implementing the agreement at the CBFA secretariat.