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The Globe and Mail

Environmental groups decry slow pace of boreal forest protection

Nicole Rycroft, Founder and Executive Director of Canopy, is seen in this Oct. 7, 2011 file photo. Ms. Rycroft says logging companies are not moving quickly enough on their pledge to protect Canadian boreal forests.

Brett Beadle/The Globe and Mail

A public rift has opened up between participants in a bold conservation effort aimed at protecting wide swaths of Canadian forest and caribou grounds.

Two years after the signing of the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement – a historic accord between nine environmental groups and 21 forest products firms – three of the environmental groups, Canopy, ForestEthics and Greenpeace, say there has been too little progress.

The three groups say 58 of the 75 milestones set out in deal haven't been met and only 10 were delivered on time. Meanwhile, no areas have been protected by legislation so far.

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"The results are sobering and disappointing," said Nicole Rycroft, executive director of Canopy, a non-profit environmental group that works with large forest products customers, including The Globe and Mail. "We can't afford to continue working at this pace."

However, other signatories to the agreement – the world's largest conservation and sustainable forest management initiative – said the concerns are misplaced. They point to major advances in talks in recent months, and say the collective is just weeks away from making significant announcements that include the creation of a logging-free zone in northeastern Ontario that is larger than Algonquin Park.

"That's not our assessment of where things are right now," Janet Sumner, executive director of conservation group Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Wildlands League, and a member of the CBFA steering committee, said of the environmental groups' report. "We're at the penultimate moment in planning in several regions of the country."

Ms. Sumner said talks aimed at protecting forests and caribou lands in Quebec's Lac St-Jean region and northwestern Ontario are within weeks of yielding agreements that would then be put before first nations groups and governments for their input.

A plan to establish an 835,000-hectare logging-free zone in the Abitibi River area of northeastern Ontario is even more advanced. The CBFA presented a joint conservation plan to Ontario's Natural Resources Ministry in February, and the kinks are now being worked out, with input from the province and affected communities. "That plan has been largely accepted," Ms. Sumner said. "I think we can get that done in the next couple of weeks, and then we should be ready to go."

Mark Hubert, vice-president of environmental leadership with industry group Forest Products Association of Canada, said "we anticipate being able to move forward with announcements in May. Industry is keeping its commitments made under CBFA ... and intends to continue to do so."

Canopy's Ms. Rycroft agreed that the CBFA had made significant progress recently, despite missing two deadlines to reach the deals now being negotiated. "I wouldn't be surprised if there are some concrete gains in the priority areas of Ontario and Quebec in the coming weeks or months," she said. "But I think sometimes it takes a sober look at results to create the momentum for change. We don't mistake process for progress or progress for results." In addition, she said the three deals will only affect 15 per cent of the 72 million hectares covered in the agreement. "We have to get moving on delivering conservation efforts on the other 85 per cent," she said.

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William Amos, director of the Ecojustice Clinic at the University of Ottawa, said the three environmental groups are assessing the trade-offs they made to join with their former foes on the agreement. "They are the ones who agreed to suspend their do-not-buy campaigns ... as a condition of joining the CBFA," he said. "So when they don't see sufficient progress that represents adequate value for that sacrifice, it's only natural they will voice their concern ... There's significant risk to them in doing this that they lose some of the good faith they've built up" at the CBFA table.

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