Opinion

World-Class Forest Protection

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If you're someone who cares about the environment, you're probably ready—really ready—for some good news right now. Despite decades of disputes, loggers and environmentalists have recently joined together to craft one of the world's largest forest conservation agreements. And this bold new plan to protect Canada's boreal forest could influence efforts to save other remaining wild areas around the world.

Though often unheralded in the media, the great Canadian boreal forest rivals the Amazon rainforest in size and ecological importance. In fact, it's teeming with billions of migratory songbirds, tens of millions of ducks and geese, millions of caribou, countless moose, as well as numerous black and grizzly bears. Stretching from coast to coast, the vast green expanse of forests also captures and stores twice as much carbon as tropical forests. Further, it supports the world's most extensive network of pure lakes, rivers and wetlands. Canada's boreal forest is a global treasure.

It is also serves, in many ways, as one-stop shopping for an array of industries that produce goods that many Americans use every day. Canada supplies—along with oil, gas and minerals—as much as half of our forest products. This includes a great deal of the lumber, building materials and paper used around the United States. Yet recent studies have shown that boreal forests, globally, are being lost faster than any other ecosystem. And logging is a big reason why.

Savvy U.S. consumers have started requesting greener forest products, like those certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Environmental groups also have been targeting U.S. consumers of wood from Canada's boreal forest, asking them to demand more responsible practices. Global companies like Home Depot, The Limited Brands and Kimberly-Clark have already agreed to help protect Canada's boreal forest. The governments of Ontario and Quebec have promised bold new forest conservation measures. The trends bode well, promising to eventually make Canada's boreal the most protected forest on earth.

Still, at least one-third of the forest remains at risk due to complicated, long-term logging contracts. So, a few years ago the Pew Environment Group—working with key Canadian partners—convened and facilitated comprehensive talks between the timber companies and environmental groups about those contracts.

It was challenging work, but with both sides committed to looking beyond their traditional differences we knew the resulting agreement could be unprecedented. And coming on the heels of decades of public protests, boycott campaigns and court battles, this cooperation is truly remarkable.

Announced on May 18, the agreement brings together the Forest Products Association of Canada (representing nearly two dozen major timber companies) with nine leading environmental groups (including the Pew Environment Group) in the largest forest conservation plan in history. When fully implemented it will subject 170 million acres -- equal in size to Texas—to strict environmental safeguards. And for 75 million of those acres—roughly the size of Montana—logging plans will be halted to protect endangered caribou.

As all the parties work through the deal, they will be demonstrating extraordinary vision and leadership. If successful, consumers buying Canadian will know that any products from the forests covered under this historic agreement are subject to the world's highest conservation standards.

We often talk about how a healthy environment and economic growth go hand in hand. This agreement proves that it's possible to move past the timeworn battles and develop bold solutions that will change the way conservation is practiced around the world.