Finding Common Ground (Fall 2010 Trust Magazine Article)

Author: Doug Struck

11/19/2010 - For most of his professional career—except for a couple of lost years trying to write a novel—Steve Kallick had done battle with loggers. In Alaska, where he earned his environmental spurs, he had taken on the state’s most powerful alliances to preserve the Tongass National Forest. On the wall in his office in Seattle is a picture of an Alaskan pulp mill being demolished, the sweetest victory of his battle.

Now, running the Pew Environment Group’s International Boreal Conservation Campaign, he was dining with the very symbol of the logging industry. Avrim Lazar, head of a powerful association of logging companies working in the Canadian forests, had asked him to lunch, a meeting of foes. Kallick ordered a steak. Lazar blanched.

“Don’t you know raising meat to eat is one of the biggest contributors of greenhouse gases?” Lazar asked. A lifelong vegetarian, he asked for a plate of vegetables.

The two men eyed each other. Lazar, the industry man, a wiry athlete with a shaved head, the physique of a long-distance runner, a serious Zen Buddhist. Kallick, the environmentalist, softer and rounder, with full red hair and beard, a convivial hunter who stocks his freezer with caribou when he can.

“You’re not exactly what I expected,” Lazar said. “The feeling’s mutual,” Kallick replied.

Their lunch in May 2008 at The Bridges restaurant near Vancouver’s famed Stanley Park began an unlikely relationship. It brought together powerful forces over the fate of one of the most valuable natural assets on the globe: Canada’s boreal forest. Since the great glaciers raked the earth in retreat 10,000 years ago, the boreal forest has girded the northern tier of the globe, a green shawl stretching across three continents, from Alaska through northern Canada, Europe and Russian Siberia.

Less exalted than the forests of the wild Amazon or Africa, the subtle boreal is the largest pristine stretch of forest in the world. It covers 6.5 million square miles in rolling seas of spruce, fir and pine in the great, cold North, closer to the Arctic than to man’s cities. Even in Canada, the boreal had long been uncelebrated, its soft-needled paths trod lightly by wolves and bears and the aboriginal Canadians—usually called First Nations—who still live there. But in the last decade, the specter of climate change helped awaken the public to this sweeping forest and its crucial role in the ecological health of the planet.

Boreal forest slideshow

Click on the image above for a slideshow of photos from the boreal forest.
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So vast is the boreal that it has been called “the lungs of the world.” It inhales carbon and exhales oxygen in such quantities that scientists believe it is the largest vault of carbon on land. In the tropics, fallen vegetation is quickly consumed by teeming life; in the slow and cold North, the needles of the boreal’s conifers have collected for centuries, trapping carbon in thick mats of peat, nearly 3,000 tons of carbon per acre.

If that carbon were released—by destruction of the trees or melting of the permafrost, for example—the boreal could become a carbon bomb. Adding massive carbon to the atmosphere would accelerate global warming with such speed that even cautious scientists freely use words like “catastrophe” and “disaster.”

But the hoarded carbon is not its only value. The boreal is home to some 85 species of mammals, among them bear, moose, hare, fox, beaver, lynx and the woodland caribou. In the summer, its skies are thick with migrating birds— ducks, geese, loons and songbirds. It is the world’s greatest avian nursery: most of the birds that visit backyard feeders in North America were hatched in the boreal, which issues an estimated three to five billion new chicks each spring.

The boreal also captures and filters water in ways that make the hydrology of the seas work. Canada contains 25 percent of the world’s wetlands, most of it in the boreal. From the western Canadian boreal, rivers flow north into the Arctic Ocean, stirring the great ocean currents and feeding the ice cap of the Arctic. In the eastern boreal, watersheds contribute half the volume to Lake Superior and the Saint Lawrence Gulf.

The most visible treasure of the boreal, however, is its trees. Logging began in its southern reaches of Quebec in the early 1800s, with timber camps of woodsmen sawing trees through the winter and floating logs to mills with the thaw. The timber industry was one of the first, and it grew to one of the largest industries in Canada. At its height, early last decade, the industry felled two million trees a year in the boreal, plucking them whole from the ground with giant machines that could sever a large tree at its trunk, lift it, shear its limbs, measure and cut it into precise logs,and stack the logs for the mills in just 25 seconds.

For efficiency, the mills were located nearby, and towns grew up around them, wholly dependent on the forest and its bounty. From the mills came the lumber that fed the huge housing booms in North America, the newsprint for America’s papers, and cardboard for its industries. The forest industry was Canada’s single largest net exporter, and the United States its biggest customer.

And the boreal holds other treasures: oil, natural gas, diamonds, uranium. As glimpses of the booty became clearer in the last three decades, miners and drillers cut roads into the forest to draw the wealth from under the ground.
The forest is grand but vulnerable. Whole blocks of trees were swept away, leaving only stumps. The logging roads cut the natural pathways of wildlife. Woodland caribou, seeing the newly opened spaces as attack zones for wolves, retreated.
Birds that had returned to certain fens for generations found them confusingly altered, drained by logging roads that cut through streams.

It became clear the robust health of this ecological treasure was at odds with the industries formed to harvest its bounty. The awakening public attention to the boreal forest, as the 1990s turned to a new century, created a movement to save it. The Pew Environment Group was at the forefront of this newfound concern about the world’s boreal forests.

By the time Kallick and Lazar sat down to steak and vegetables in Vancouver, the lines had been clearly drawn and battle begun. Both sides were formidable.

In the 1980s, provincial officials offered up large tracts to guarantee future logging. The timber companies were awarded “tenures” giving them logging rights covering nearly one-third of the boreal.

Lazar’s timber industry had grown to one of Canada’s foremost, responsible for nearly 3 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. Some 274,000 Canadians worked in the mills and forests, and the number of spin-off jobs supporting those loggers was nearly triple that.

More than 600 communities, many of which are First Nations, are scattered through the Canadian boreal and they hold heavy political sway with local, provincial and national officials. Many are timber-dependent. Lazar’s association,
the Forest Products Association of Canada, represented the majority of big timber companies, giant employers and taxpayers like AbitibiBowater, Tembec, Canfor and Weyerhaeuser.

But their opposition, the environmental movement, was no longer made up of the ragtag tree-huggers of the first Earth Day in 1970. Environmental groups now had clout, organization and belts notched with successes. As the millennial passed, they had divided up their targets and taken on the companies.

The eco-group ForestEthics aimed at the catalog industry, which used so much of the paper produced in the boreal. It bought eye-catching ads in The New York Times entitled “Victoria’s Dirty Secret” to shame the lingerie company, which mailed out nearly one million catalogs a day, made largely of glossy Canadian paper. The ads showed models wearing little more than angel wings and toting chainsaws. By 2006, Limited Brands, the parent of Victoria Secret, had capitulated, saying it would no longer use paper produced from the forest.

Greenpeace used demonstrations and advertising to target Rona, a big-box retailer, and Kimberly-Clark, the largest tissue manufacturer. One cartoon by Greenpeace showed the forest ravaged to stumps for tissues, with the lyrics, “Another box of Kleenex, another forest gone.”

Canopy, which had started as a one-woman organization in Vancouver, took on publishers. It enlisted J.K. Rowling, who dictated that the last of her Harry Potter books in 2007 should be printed on recycled and sustainable paper, a decision that sent reverberations through the publishing industry.

As public interest in the environment grew, politicians took up the cause. Canada’s Conservative government of Stephen Harper took office in 2006 and initially fulfilled environmentalists’ fears by cutting government environmental programs. But public opinion was soaring in the other direction: for a time, Canadians listed concern over climate change as their top worry. In December 2006, the opposing Liberal Party of Canada picked a strong environmentalist, Stéphane Dion, to challenge Harper.

Politicians got the message. In 2007, Harper surprised environmentalists by announcing the preservation of 25 million acres of wilderness—11 times the size of Yellowstone National Park—in the Northwest Territories. Provincial leaders scrambled for the title of “most green.” The premiers of Ontario and Quebec pledged to preserve huge swaths of boreal forest in their provinces.

In all, the provincial and national governments pledged to lock up nearly 600 million acres of Canada’s wild northland, a protected area a third larger than Alaska and California combined. Environmentalists rejoiced.

But they were sobered by scientific studies that warned of fragmented forests. Tracts—even big tracts—interrupted by roads and clear cuts would not save some species. They needed uninterrupted forest.

Almost a decade earlier, the Pew Environment Group had worked with scientists, First Nations and interested corporations to formulate a plan that would protect at least 50 percent of the Canadian boreal forest as new parks and refuges and apply strict standards to any industrial development in the remainder. There was growing recognition that such vast tracts had to be preserved to save species like the caribou. And that meant lands already held in the tenures of logging companies.

By 2008, Canada’s federal government was being pushed to save the threatened caribou. Numbers of the skittish creature were conjecture, but they had disappeared from nearly half their traditional range since the loggers’ intrusion, according to a report by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. A fight over classifying the caribou as endangered would push the industry in a tough public relations corner. Lazar’s industry did not want that battle and was under other pressures. The recession had hit, newspapers were folding, and the Canadian currency had appreciated 25 percent against the dollar, eroding profits. The industry was reeling: by 2008, nearly 50,000 jobs had been lost and 227 mills had closed.

The industry leaders did not want environmental criticism to add to their economic woes. Some wanted an aggressive pushback, striking out at the boycott campaigns. When he sat down to lunch with Lazar, Kallick had already seen an internal lumber industry memo that urged the association to open up a new attack in the war of the woods, to take on the environmentalists.

Lazar acknowledged as much.“He said, ‘My boys are itching for a fight, and we know you are behind a lot of this,’” Kallick recalled.

Kallick had been through these battles before. “At the end of the day, it never works. But it takes up a lot of time and effort,” he said. Lazar, too, thought the fight would not be worth it.

“There were years of bad relations and culture,” Lazar said later. “There was a huge frustration on our side. Some of our CEOs felt insulted, outraged, because the attacks from environmentalists almost inevitably involved half-truths. There was definitely among the CEOs a lack of respect for the environmentalists.”

But instead of slugging it out, Kallick and Lazar agreed, why not work together to try to solve the dispute? “Avrim could see down the road and where we would be in five years,” Kallick said. “And he said, ‘Let’s just skip to that.’”

“If we keep approaching our hard problems with a win-lose attitude, everybody loses. We have learned that over and over again,” Lazar said. “We have to find a solution together.”

It would not be easy. They began to bring others into a series of quiet negotiations between the lumber industry and the environmentalists. They asked Dan Johnson, an experienced mediator, to help guide the process.

With the locked-up tenures, the political trump card of jobs, and the money of a big industry at his disposal, Lazar had a strong hand. But Kallick assembled an array of environmental cards. He brought in Tzeporah Berman, a charismatic and media-savvy activist who had helped organize Canada’s largest civil disobedience to protect rainforest in British Columbia. Greenpeace was at the table, ready to take tothe streets in protest. Tim Gray from Toronto’s philanthropic Ivey Foundation, a veteran campaigner with encyclopedic knowledge of the forest industry, joined in.

Greenpeace, Canopy and ForestEthics, with their campaign successes, were flanked by groups with respected records: the David Suzuki Foundation, Nature Conservancy, the Canadian Boreal Initiative and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. For two years, they met every few weeks in Vancouver, Toronto or Ottawa. Sometimes they met in the boardrooms of logging companies, sometimes in the offices of the environmental groups.

“I kept pushing to meet at ForestEthics. They had better food than our companies,” said Lazar, the vegetarian. The crux of the negotiation was how to marry two seemingly contradictory goals: to keep loggers working and to save the forest. They quickly agreed that to succeed, they must do both. And they set out to try to figure out how.

“We had a clash of systems,” Lazar said. “The first thing we had to do was embrace each other’s imperatives. I needed the environmental community to say to my board that 50,000 job losses are enough, and we are not going to try to shut any mills down. And they needed my members to say that we understand saving the wilderness is an imperative.”

“We needed to see that one side was not made of evil trolls destroying the planet, and the other side was not out to put everybody in the forest industry out of a job,” said Gray, of the Ivey Foundation.

The environmentalists adopted survival of the woodland caribou, among the most vulnerable of the mammals of the boreal, as a chief goal. The iconic caribou—its image is on the Canadian quarter—was a good indicator species, “like the eagle for Americans,” Kallick said. To save enough territory for the caribou would save the boreal, the environmentalists believed.

Progress in the talks came gradually, and more by the dint of grueling meetings than from any single breakthrough. There were squabbles, as often within ranks as between them.

“We had tons of fights over this stuff. There was a fair amount of strife and tension within our caucus, and I presume Avrim had the same thing within his,” Kallick said.

The contrast of the two men seemed to work. “Avrim was the Energizer Bunny, with more energy than anyone else in the room,” Gray said. “Steve talks more slowly, and wasn’t jumping up and down like Avrim. But he had great strategic sense and was very much focused on the outcomes.” Lazar said the meetings became a common endurance test that brought the participants together.

“While we were in the room together, our job was to find a joint solution,” Lazar said. “When you do that over a period of time, you become a community. Slowly, trust builds, trust in each other, honesty with each other.”

“It was the time we spent in the meetings,” agreed Greenpeace’s Brooks. “With time, it becomes easier to see this as not just a faceless corporation, but as people.”

Eventually, it occurred to each of the members that they had gone too far to turn back. “There was a sense that there was no walking away from this,” Lazar said.

By early 2010, they had achieved enough to take to their constituencies. The environmentalists had won a promise from the industry that the caribou must be protected. Lazar’s group agreed to not log 71 million acres—virtually all of the caribou habitat in the tenure-rights areas. And the industry agreed to follow tough standards for sustainable logging on the other areas, in all, setting protection for a huge area of 178 million acres.

The environmentalists, in turn, agreed to suspend their boycott campaigns against the industry. And—although a tough pill for some of them to swallow—agreed to defend the industry if it followed through on its promises, offering an environmentalists’ seal
of approval to the Canadian loggers.

“Absolutely, it’s uncomfortable,” said Brooks,of Greenpeace. “There are people not happy with it, who see any deal with the companies as a sell-out.”

But enlisting that endorsement was essential to the gamble being taken by Lazar’s side. The forest industry is hoping it can create an environmentally correct brand for Canadian products, with higher prices to make up for surrendering
almost half their remaining logging rights. It is a leap of faith, in effect admitting that Canada cannot compete with the unrestrained clear-cutting from the Amazon and Asia.

“We are betting that the world is going to be craving, demanding, looking for products that don’t do damage to the environmental system,” Lazar said. “That’s part of the calculus. And it’s part of our long-term business plan to have our brand confirmed by environmental groups as responsible products.”

On May 18, 2010, the negotiators unveiled their agreement between 21 companies of Lazar’s forest industry and nine environmental organizations. They stood side by side at a press conference in Toronto; Greenpeace and the industry praising each other, and Pew’s Kallick, broker of the deal, grinning between them.

The agreement, each said, broke historic ground. Counting the land already promised or preserved by the federal and provincial governments, the agreement would raise the number of areas already protected or on their way to protection to nearly 800 million acres, more than two-thirds of the undisturbed land of the boreal forest.

It would be the largest forest protection pact in history for one of the world’s last great wild and undeveloped frontiers. It would make the Canadian boreal, Kallick noted, “the largest protected primary forest in the world,” bigger than the Amazon or Indonesian protected areas. “There’s no precedent for it.”

That claim made headlines around the world, a splash of good news among dismal accounts of slash-and-burn deforestation in the tropics. Editorials and public officials praised the agreement as brave cooperation between long-time foes, a model to solve other seemingly intractable problems.

There were critics. “Who ever elected or appointed the environmentalists?” demanded columnist Peter Foster in the conservative Financial Post. Others insisted the forest industry would never have logged the caribou region anyway. Still others noted that logging companies not part of the agreement still could invade the boreal. “There are a million ways to say this doesn’t do everything,” acknowledged Gray.

Most worrisome, perhaps, was the chilly reception by the First Nations groups, unhappy they were not included in the negotiations. More than 600 aboriginal communities have varying claims on land in Canada; Kallick estimates 125 to 150 of them claim a stake in lands covered by the logging tenures.

The negotiators had not been able to bring all those First Nations into the meetings; it would have been far too unwieldy to work, Kallick said. But he was quick to stress that the agreement did not attempt to give away the First Nations’ rights to any lands.

Instead, it sets up an elaborate, three-year process for negotiating those rights among the aboriginal groups, the industries and the local governments. That process will be long and exhausting, Kallick said, and ultimately will determine if the agreement is a success or not.

“It’s going to be a slog. I think we are going to have a ton of hard work to do,” he said.  But he, Lazar, and the others predict the cooperation shown in reaching the agreement will set the course for the next round of negotiations. “This is a roadmap to get things done,” said Brooks.“This is our best and last chance to save woodland caribou and the boreal forest over a vast area that is twice the size of Germany.”

Two months later, some of the organizers of the negotiations met at a retreat, an old mill house outside Ottawa, to decompress, review and plan the next steps. It was an easy, relaxed mood as they shared wine and a meal, Kallick said.

Lazar, as usual, ordered a salad. “There was some grisly piece of beef on the menu,” Kallick said. He eyed it longingly. And ordered pasta.

The two men laughed.

Doug Struck, the former Toronto bureau chief of The Washington Post, is a Boston-based science and environmental writer.

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