Timber companies and environmentalists unveiled an agreement today that suspends logging and road building on about 70 million acres of Canada's boreal forest for the next three years.
The 21 companies have pledged to spend that time working with conservation groups, native organizations, government agencies and scientists on sustainable forest-management plans for almost 180 million acres -- an area larger than Texas.
In exchange, nine environmental groups have promised to end campaigns urging boycotts of boreal timber products and calling for investors to pull their cash out of companies that sell them.
The immediate target of the agreement is to protect the woodland caribou, an iconic animal whose population has dwindled. The pause in logging will allow for an exhaustive scientific study of the animal's habitat and migratory needs, said Richard Brooks, forest campaign coordinator for Greenpeace Canada.
For timber companies, the management plans will establish their industry as the world leader in sustainability, said Avrum Lazar, president of the Forest Products Association of Canada.
"Our future, our jobs in the future, rest in our being the most environmentally progressive forest industry in the world," said Lazar during a conference call announcing the agreement. "This is a business strategy for us. We're going to ensure that all this environmental progress translates into a market advantage."
The timber companies, which includes U.S. giant Weyerhaeuser Co., represent a majority of boreal logging, Lazar said.
The Canadian boreal forest, where long dry winters follow short, damp summers, spans the nation's north. Together with boreal zones in Alaska, Russia and Scandinavia, the forests form a ring around the northern globe that is the world's largest forest and largest carbon sink, sequestering 200 billion tons of carbon, Brooks said.
While lesser known, the boreal forest rivals the Amazon rain forest in its ecological significance, said Steve Kallick, director of the international boreal forest conservation campaign for the Pew Environment Group, which brokered the accord.
While details of the management plan will be negotiated over the next three years, both sides pledged cooperation moving forward on preserving the forest.
"This agreement is our best and last chance to put in place world-leading forest management here in Canada," Brooks said. "The work begins now."
All parties involved are set to "win the race to environmental progress," Lazar said. "If we want to have jobs tomorrow, we have to skate fast and hard to where the puck is going to be."