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Canada: Timber Firms Agree to Protect Rainforest

by Jim CarltonWall Street Journal
April 4th, 2001

In a major victory for environmentalists, Canadian government and timber-industry officials have agreed to protect 3.5 million acres of British Columbia's ancient coastal rainforest from logging.

The action, expected to be announced Wednesday, caps one of the highest-priority environmental campaigns in the world, aimed at protecting one of the world's last temperate rainforests from wholesale logging. Called the Great Bear Rainforest by activists, the wilderness of 1,000-year-old spruce trees has been the scene of anti-logging protests over the past decade. Environmentalists have succeeded in pressuring U.S. companies like Home Depot Inc. and Lowe's Cos. to boycott wood products from the area.

The new accord, which has been approved by British Columbia's provincial government, will be implemented by province officials, who have jurisdiction over the forest. It calls for 1.5 million acres to be permanently protected from logging, and another two million to be protected under a logging moratorium for two years until more-stringent forestry standards can be established.

The area is nearly twice the size of Yellowstone National Park and inhabited by a rare white-colored black bear. Activists say the expansive agreement could help extend protections to other ancient forests and believe it could put pressure on the Bush administration to leave in place President Clinton's order to protect 58 million acres of U.S. national forest from new roads.

"We anticipate this will signal the beginning of the end for old-growth logging," said Michael Brune, campaign director for the Rainforest Action Network, a San Francisco-based environmental group that helped negotiate the accord. Others backing the agreement include: the Natural Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace and ForestEthics, and Canadian timber companies International Forest Products Ltd., West Fraser Timber Co. and Canfor Corp., as well as Weyerhaeuser Co., of the U.S.

Industry officials acknowledge activists influenced their decision-making, but added other issues factored in, including a desire to bring more predictability to timber harvests. "We believe this will go a long way to create the certainty the industry is seeking," said Richard Slaco, chief forester for International Forest, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, and the region's most prolific harvester.

The agreement comes after a decade of rancorous debate, spurred by hundreds of activists who mounted protests on a pristine stretch of Vancouver Island against the industry's practice of cutting down large swathes of forest, which is known as clear-cutting.

After industry executives agreed to leave that area alone, the controversy shifted north to the Great Bear Rainforest, which goes up the British Columbia coast for hundreds of miles to Alaska. British Columbia activists joined forces with their counterparts in the U.S., and mounted a campaign that relied primarily on pressuring buyers of Canadian wood to boycott products from the Great Bear.

In the U.S., environmentalists conducted in-store protests at Home Depot stores, for example, while Greenpeace activists have staged protests and blockades of shipments of Great Bear wood in Europe, North America, China and Japan. They attracted celebrity supporters like actor Jack Lemmon and Bobby Kennedy Jr., a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"The basic goal is for the consumer to ask, 'Where does my wood come from?'" said Matt Price, a British Columbia activist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which is based in New York. "Once they start doing that, good things happen."

A British Columbia official called the agreement a "victory for everyone," saying the pact came as part of a long-term land-use plan being put into place.

Indeed, Home Depot officials announced in 1999 a gradual phase-out of buying wood from ancient forests in general. Rival Lowe's followed suit a few weeks later, announcing a boycott that the company said would specifically include the Great Bear Rainforest.

As a result, the activists early last year persuaded some other timber companies, including Weyerhaeuser and Canada's Western Forest Products, a unit of Doman Industries Ltd., to curb logging in the forest. The campaign against International Forest and West Fraser continued until Wednesday's agreement was hammered out over the past few days.





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