A tenuous truce in the woods between forestry companies and environmental groups has suffered a setback after Greenpeace Canada withdrew from a conservation pact, alleging logging violations by Resolute Forest Products Inc.
"This comes down to a definite breach of trust," Greenpeace forest co-ordinator Stephanie Goodwin said Thursday, accusing Montreal-based Resolute of building a 20-kilometre-long road in an off-limits area in Northern Quebec. She said the new logging road in the Lac St-Jean region, called Montagnes Blanches, is a flagrant snub of the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement signed in May, 2010, by 21 forestry firms and nine environmental groups.
Greenpeace investigators found evidence of the freshly built road and bulldozed trees, taking photos to document the violations, Ms. Goodwin said. She alleges that Resolute has breached the spirit and intent of the pact that calls for halting logging in endangered forest, which includes woodland caribou and old-growth trees. In the ceasefire signed in 2010, environmentalists agreed to suspend their "do not buy" campaigns against offenders in the forestry sector as long as companies honoured their commitments to stop logging in ecologically sensitive areas of Canada's boreal forest.
Resolute vehemently denies any wrongdoing, said Seth Kursman, the pulp and paper maker's vice-president of communications, sustainability and government affairs. He said the issue of logging in conservation areas is complex, and Resolute remains strongly committed to be being a green corporation.
"This is a smear campaign," he said. "But we won't degrade ourselves by getting into the mud and responding in a tit-for-tat way with misinformation. Resolute continues to respect the forest agreement in its entirety. Any allegations to the contrary are simply unfounded."
Mr. Kursman likened Greenpeace's withdrawal to a sports player rewriting the rules part way through a game, and then quitting because of perceptions that a rival broke the rules.
Richard Garneau, Resolute's chief executive officer, wrote a letter Thursday to shareholders and other interested parties to defend the company's environmental record, saying: "Resolute will continue to deliver on our sustainability objectives." He added that "it is incumbent on all parties who truly care for the boreal to work together to protect the forest for future generations."
Vancouver-based Canopy, a not-for-profit group that supports environmentally friendly paper, said it has suspended "all formal engagement" with Resolute, but remains a member of the boreal forest agreement. Canopy executive director Nicole Rycroft said she is concerned about Resolute's behaviour, especially since the pact has been in effect for more than 30 months.
David Lindsay, president of the Forest Products Association of Canada, said he remains optimistic that companies and environmental groups will find a way to get along over the long term, despite some slow progress in ironing out details of logging-free zones.