Canadian forestry firms agree to curb boreal forest logging

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The Independent Online

Forestry companies announced Tuesday a pact with environmentalists to stop logging huge swathes of Canada's boreal forest and protect caribou herds in exchange for suspending protests.

Twenty-one members of the Forest Products Association of Canada, who manage two-thirds of Canada's forests, agreed to suspend new logging on nearly 29 million hectares of the boreal forest.

They also will adopt strict new environmentally-sensitive forestry practices in an area twice the size of Germany, or 72 million hectares, and develop conservation plans for endangered species in this region, including caribou.

Nine environmental groups led by Canopy, ForestEthics and Greenpeace, for their part, will end a decades-long "Do Not Buy" campaign for wood products from the 1,000-kilometer-wide (620-mile-wide) belt across Canada's north.

"We're thrilled that this effort has led to the largest commercial forest conservation plan in history, which could not have happened without both sides looking beyond their differences," said Steve Kallick of the Pew Environment Group.

The 1.3-billion-acre Canadian boreal forest - made up of mostly spruce, fir, pine, birch, poplar and cottonwood trees - is one of the largest intact ecosystems remaining in the world.

Its valleys, wetlands, lakes and tundra are home to wolves, bears, and the largest caribou herds in the world, as well as a nesting ground for more than 300 bird species.

Its trees and peat moss also store an estimated 200 billion tonnes of CO2.

"It is one of the last truly vast wilderness spaces that we have left on the planet and we've been fighting this environmental fight for many years," said Greenpeace's Richard Brooks, spokesman for participating environmental groups.

"This is our best chance to save woodland caribou, permanently protect vast areas of the boreal forest and put in place sustainable forestry practices," he said.

"It really is a truce after many years of fighting each other," he added.

Included in the pact are forestry giants AbitibiBowater, Canfor, Kruger, West Fraser Timber and Weyerhaeuser.

"This is a business strategy for us," Avrim Lazar, president of Forest Products Association of Canada, told reporters. "We know where the future is and the marketplace is going to reward the environmental progressives."

The deal will not interrupt fiber supplies to mills, worth billions of dollars annually, the two groups told a press conference.

Talks with provincial governments, local communities and aboriginal groups across Canada are still being held to solicit their backing. Implementation of the agreement is expected to take three years.