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Op-ed Dr. Patrick Moore

Op-ed dr. patrick moore

Dr. Patrick Moore
Edmonton Journal
August 15 2007

Anti-forestry activists are busying themselves with a new and scientifically groundless campaign against forestry in Canada’s boreal forest.

The current campaign has all the hallmarks of previous anti-forestry activism on the BC Coast, particularly the attempt to cloak unreasonable campaign objectives in language that appears reasonable on the surface.

Such activists would like the Canadian public to believe that they are not broadly opposed to the harvesting and replanting of trees, but are instead aiming to protect only particular wilderness areas and tightly defined wildlife habitat by targeting specific forestry operations.

A closer analysis, however, demonstrates that’s just not the case.

Like the BC Coast campaigns of the 1990s, anti-forestry activists today are well known for their moving goal posts.  Once activists’ demands are met in one area, history shows the campaign often moves on to the next region, the next demand.

I continue to believe the real aim of these activists is to eliminate all forestry operations, in perpetuity, from Canada’s entire boreal forest, stretching from the Yukon and the BC Interior to Newfoundland.

The simple activist strategy was honed to perfection in the campaigns of the 1990s that targeted the BC Coast.  Instead of protesting in British Columbia, where the public is generally aware of the province’s strong record of sustainable forest management, activists soon learned to target the boardrooms of BC forest product customers in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and elsewhere.

In short, the further the campaigners venture from an informed BC public that is supportive of the well-established changes in forest practices, the less aware US customers and the media are of BC’s sustainability commitment.  In this information vacuum, the activists thrive.  They present a picture of ecological doom that drastically differs from reality; while an ill-informed public is unable to discern truth from fiction.

Often, anti-forestry activists, with multi-million-dollar funding from billion dollar US foundations, will focus on an emotive symbol with which to brand their preservation agenda. We’ve seen the kermode – or Spirit – bear in the 1990s, and then the majestic salmon of the west coast “salmon forest”. Today, it’s the caribou.  In each case, campaigners will falsely claim these important symbols are under threat because of forestry. They are not.

To date, the activist strategy has convinced some international customers to stop buying Canadian forest products, while the vast majority of customers remain at worst unconvinced.  Nonetheless, if ever the strategy gained additional ground, it would have devastating consequences for one of Canada’s leading industries and for the 320 communities and 340,000 Canadians and their families that work in the sector from coast to coast.

It would also be devastating for Canada’s environment for two reasons.

First, just because people stop using wood for fuel (in developing countries) or building houses (in developed ones) doesn’t mean they will not need warmth or shelter.

The fact that 6 billion humans wake up every morning with real needs for energy, food and materials must be taken into account. All the likely substitutes for wood: steel, concrete, plastic and fossil fuels, have far higher emissions of CO2 associated with their production and use.

Using less wood will automatically result in the use of more of these non-renewable resources, and an inevitable increase in CO2 emissions – a considerable irony given these same activists’ concern about global warming.

Second, much of the land that is used to grow trees could just as well be cleared and used for grazing, farming, and housing. If there is less demand for wood there will be less economic incentive to grow trees and to retain forests by regrowing them.

It is unrealistic to expect people to retain vast areas of the landscape in forests if they cannot use them. The best way to encourage people to retain and expand forests is to make the resources they provide, including wood, more valuable.

Let’s remember that forests are a renewable resource and Canada is a leader in sustainable forest management.  Canada retains 92 percent of its original forest and has more protected area and third-party certified forest than any country in the world.

Only one-quarter of Canada’s forests are managed for commercial use, and only one-half of one percent are harvested annually, including the boreal.

Yet anti-forestry activists appear to ignore these facts in favour of an extremist agenda that emphasizes preservation at any cost: economic, social and environmental.

These activists like to portray the boreal as a pristine wilderness untouched by humans that is only now coming under threat.

But Canada’s boreal has always been “disturbed.”  These forests have an ecology characterized by natural disturbances of fire, insects and disease.  They remain some of Canada’s youngest forests precisely because they are so often disturbed.

Sustainable forestry in the boreal mimics these natural disturbances, enhancing biological diversity and wildlife habitat in many regions.  In fact, the area of the boreal impacted by fire and other natural disturbances is five times greater than the disturbance from timber harvesting.

Canadians must be wary of the new activist campaigns that focus rightly on caribou stewardship in the boreal, but only as a proxy for a political preservation agenda that’s not in Canada’s interests.

A boreal forest off limits to sustainable forestry would have enormously grave economic, social and environmental implications for the entire country.

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