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Canada's forest council may be flexible on sustainability requirements

Logging trucks hauling logs roll through Fort Frances, Ont. en route to a sob (oriented strand board) mill in nearby Barwick, Ont.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

As it prepares to usher in new requirements, the group that audits the ecofriendliness of forestry companies is signalling that there is flexibility in the way the controversial motion behind those new standards will be implemented.

"We'll never go back to the old standards … but there is a flexibility in how it will be applied," François Dufresne, president of the Canadian chapter of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), told The Globe and Mail Thursday.

He made his remarks the day after he and the council's international director-general, Kim Carstensen, met with Quebec Forestry Minister Laurent Lessard and some industry representatives, including Richard Garneau, chief executive of Montreal-based Resolute Forest Products Inc.

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Seth Kursman, a spokesman for Resolute, said the comments by Mr. Dufresne and Mr. Carstensen did little to address the industry's concerns.

The FSC manages the most recognized international certification system to determine whether a company's practices are environmentally sustainable.

The council is setting new standards after members adopted a motion in 2014. Motion 65 has caused some trepidation in the forestry industry because it seeks to protect "the vast majorities" of remaining undisturbed forest. It also requires that harvesting be done with "free prior and informed consent of indigenous people."

One sticking point: The motion stipulates that, should no standards be in place by the end of 2016, 80 per cent of a company's managed forestry zone could be automatically designated as fully protected landscape.

Mr. Carstensen said Thursday that the 80-per-cent clause would not kick in if companies have "a process that is in good faith" to implement new standards.

Mr. Kursman noted, however, that in Ontario and Quebec, 85 per cent of intact forest land is already protected; if even more land is made off-limits by the new standards, "there would be very few if any company that would be able to hold on to the FSC certification."

Motion 65 was proposed by a Greenpeace member, and Resolute has alleged in a lawsuit that the environmental group has engaged in a libellous campaign against the Montreal company.

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