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Montreal-based Resolute Forest Products expressed its frustration May 21 that no agreement on a workable conservation plan has been reached after three years of effort within the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (CBFA).

Chris Bolin/The Globe and Mail

Talks between Resolute Forest Products Inc. and environmental groups, part of the grand plan for logging companies and environmentalists to collaborate on protecting Canada's boreal forest, have collapsed.

When the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (CBFA) was signed on May 18, 2010, environmental groups and members of the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) had high hopes for forging a new era of co-operation for sustainable forestry.

For the past three years, environmental groups have tried to persuade forestry firms to set aside ecologically sensitive areas of Canada's boreal, or northern, forest. During 11th-hour negotiations, environmentalists say they zeroed in over the long weekend to no avail on Resolute, which has major land tenures in Quebec and northwestern Ontario.

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"We regret that environmental groups have suspended negotiations in northwest Ontario and Quebec, but we are pleased that they remain committed to continuing the hard work of the CBFA," FPAC said Tuesday.

The goal of reaching consensus on permanent areas of protection from logging remains elusive, with Montreal-based Resolute bearing the brunt of criticism. Environmental groups are upset at what they view as Resolute's lack of flexibility, saying they will no longer engage in talks with the company.

"Getting environmentalists and logging companies to come to an agreement is not easy," ForestEthics executive director Todd Paglia said during a conference call. "We feel like Resolute is the bad apple, and that the rest of the bushel is in very good shape."

Mr. Paglia made the comments Tuesday, after seven environmental groups issued a joint statement to say they have suspended their negotiations with Resolute. Critics argue that Resolute has been ignoring pleas to protect threatened caribou in the forests of Quebec and northwestern Ontario.

But Resolute counters that in order to produce a workable pact for setting aside conservation areas, all sides must keep in mind the importance of economic and social factors, not only environmental issues.

"What environmentalists insisted on would have led to the closure of sawmills, the cancellation of projects and it would have affected thousands of people's lives," said Seth Kursman, the pulp and paper maker's vice-president of communications, sustainability and government affairs. "For us to accept that, it would not only be inappropriate, it would be downright irresponsible."

Resolute said it has proposed setting aside an additional 204,000 hectares of forest for conservation in northwestern Ontario, providing extra protection of caribou and other species – on top of the two million hectares of Ontario forests that have been designated as protected spaces, parks and other areas in the past 15 years. The company also proposed areas for protection in Quebec.

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"It is unfortunate the CBFA signatories were ultimately unable to reach alignment," Resolute president Richard Garneau said in a statement.

David Lindsay, president of the Forest Products Association of Canada, said he hopes environmentalists will have a change of heart and return to talks with Resolute, after emotions cool off. "This should not be about blame, but about respecting our pledge to replace confrontation with co-operation," Mr. Lindsay said in a news release. "The forest company signatories to this historic agreement are committed to continuing to work in a spirit of co-operation across the boreal."

Janet Sumner, executive director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society's Wildlands League chapter, said several other companies have been willing to discuss solutions for conservation. Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland remain provinces where there could be breakthroughs for sustainable forestry plans, Ms. Sumner said.

Nine environmental groups originally signed the CBFA, but two have withdrawn. Last month, Vancouver-based Canopy exited the CBFA, saying little had been accomplished in talks. The move by Canopy, a not-for-profit organization that supports environmentally friendly paper, followed Greenpeace Canada's decision last December to pull out of the conservation pact.

Greenpeace, a fierce critic of Resolute, backed down in March from earlier allegations that the company had contravened the CBFA with logging violations.

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