A troubling development in Canada


More details have emerged about the historic deal reached in Canada between the forest industry and environmental groups, an agreement that we wrote about earlier this month.

Just to recap, Canada’s timber companies, including members of the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC), have promised to severely limit logging on 173 million acres of boreal forest, a massive area that crosses into three provinces. In exchange, environmental groups, such as Greenpeace and Forest Ethics, will give their stamp of approval to the industry’s practices and cease all marketing against Canadian wood products.

As the Globe and Mail put it: “Tree huggers and tree cutters are to switch from being sworn enemies to something resembling partners.”

Some observers in Canada have said in the past week that the environmental groups got the better deal. Columnist Peter Foster with the Financial Post said the FPAC “has effectively cried ‘uncle’ and called it accommodation.”

We will reserve judgment on the overall wisdom of the deal, but one slice of the agreement is troubling: the timber industry agreed to use only the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) environmental standard when it harvests wood in the boreal forest. This may not mean that the timber industry will exclusively use the FSC standard across the country, but the boreal forest is huge, and at the very least, this raises some serious questions about the direction of wood certification in Canada. And this development needs to raise some red flags in the U.S. as well.

As we’ve written about many times, there is passionate debate in the U.S. between the FSC and Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) wood-product standards. Some environmental groups think that FSC should be the only accepted standard, which would probably kill the timber industry as we know it and cost countless jobs. And the timber industry says there should be multiple standards to choose from, including SFI.

This debate is manifesting itself as the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) considers changes to its widely accepted LEED green building standard. If the USGBC does not allow SFI products to be part of the LEED standard, then it delivers a large hit to the American timber industry.

What can we glean from the decision by the Canadian timber industry to side with FSC, at least for this one deal? It’s certainly not good news, and it’s more reason to continue to fight here in the U.S. for the acceptance of other wood-product standards.