Magazine article Alternatives Journal

Half-Time Report: To Give the Boreal Agreement Staying Power, Industry, Government and NGOS Will Need to Learn and Even Trade Each Other's Roles

Magazine article Alternatives Journal

Half-Time Report: To Give the Boreal Agreement Staying Power, Industry, Government and NGOS Will Need to Learn and Even Trade Each Other's Roles

Article excerpt

"HI, I'M AN environmentalist striving to save the boreal forest, and I would like to sell you some wood." It doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, but this counter-intuitive pitch, which turns environmentalist into salesperson, is the logical - and necessary - outcome if the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (CBFA) is to flourish, says leading forestry-policy expert Ben Cashore.

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In many ways, the incongruity of that vision epitomizes the CBFA's strength. After all, the process that created it was rife with oddities. It was forged by a union between environmentalists and forest-products companies, with the former promising to stop "do not buy" campaigns and the latter pledging to suspend logging on nearly 29 million hectares of forest, much of it prime caribou habitat.

As a result, the agreement quickly came under suspicion from people on both sides of the forest-use debate. The fact that it was agreed upon behind closed doors, and with little input from First Nations groups, didn't help. But now, just over halfway through the three-year agreement, the CBFA stands out as a highly innovative and unique approach to a thorny problem. "[The CBFA] is laudable for trying to maintain this ecosystem in a collaborative way. It's a model for other areas," Cashore says, his voice pressing, but lively over the phone.

"The CBFA's main strength is taking a management position towards the forest, as opposed to a conservation position. This agreement thinks about the long-term needs of other interests: the idea of where to preserve for conservation and where you can extract. That isn't to say it's perfect. We shouldn't let this agreement downplay some people's desire to protect the whole forest. [But] if you want to use the forest, it's innovative."

Even though Cashore is a professor of environmental governance and political science at Yale University, and serves as the director of that university's Governance, Environment and Markets Initiative as well as its Program on Forest Policy and Governance, the expat Canadian is wary of being called an expert. In his line of work, he says, there is just a group of people trying to grapple with constant change.

And forestry is a field divided along many lines: conservation versus management, public versus private ownership, government versus industry regulation. All of these concerns coalesce in the CBFA, which covers 72 million hectares of forest from British Columbia to Newfoundland and Labrador.

On the conservation side, the boreal is one of the three largest intact forests in the world, but there has been strong debate recently among forestry scientists about whether it's particularly important. The boreal is much less biodiverse than tropical forests. One part of the boreal is much like any other, whereas the tropical forest in Borneo is vastly different from that in Sumatra. Although Cashore doesn't share the idea, some forestry scientists argue that because the boreal doesn't hold as much biological value, it should be logged instead of tropical and temperate forests.

"Wanting to save the forest by itself is enough," he says. "There are very few forests of its size that have not been touched. The forest is important as a forest."

Regarding the public-versus private-regulation debate, the CBFA was only possible, and successful, due to Canada's public forest ownership. "Many people argue that the way to protect forests is to privatize forestry. …

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