March 7, 2005

Wildlands League analyzes alternatives to forest clearcutting

A new report from the Wildlands League, a chapter of CPAWS (the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society) calls on forest companies to adopt alternatives to clearcutting and presents evidence that some of these less environmentally harmful options could also yield immediate cost savings for the forest industry.

A Cut Above: Alternatives to Clearcutting in Canada's Boreal Forest, by University of Winnipeg forestry professor Andrew Park and others, represents the first systematic assessment of alternative approaches to clearcutting in Canada's boreal region which would maintain critical ecological elements of the forest, such as old trees and species diversity. The report also discusses the economics of alternative approaches.

"Clearcutting harms wildlife habitat, water quality and biodiversity. We produced this report to show companies and governments that viable alternatives exist. We are calling on companies to phase in these alternatives over the next five years. And we are calling on governments to mandate these alternatives," said Chris Henschel, manager of forest certification for the Wildlands League and co-author of the report.

Clearcutting is used for about 90% of all logging in Canada and even more frequently in the boreal region, where some of the world's largest intact forests remain and in which more than one-half of the country's forestry operations take place. As an ecological rationale, its proponents argue that clearcutting, particularly in boreal regions, contributes to creating young, even-aged forests, which are naturally abundant in the boreal.

However, it has become clear that a one-size-fits-all approach to forestry is not well suited to even large disturbance-driven ecosystems like the boreal. In fact, some jurisdictions, companies and researchers now acknowledge the limitations of clearcut logging and the differences between natural disturbances, such as fire, and the impacts of clearcutting.

The aim of the report is to promote greater variability in the harvesting and renewal of Canada's managed boreal forests. This variability is inherent in natural systems, but has been historically overlooked by the widespread application of clearcut harvesting.

The authors describe the effects of clearcut logging on boreal forests and their wildlife. In addition to destroying old-growth forests, they note that clearcutting removes most habitat features in a forest because no trees are left standing. The technique has negative impacts on species requiring old, diverse forests and leads to major shifts in forest species composition. As well, it may reduce long-term soil fertility.

The report summarizes recent changes in forest management philosophy, outlining the recent research on which these changes are based. The authors also explore ways in which alternatives to traditional clearcut harvesting can support wildlife conservation goals in boreal forests.

Among the alternatives to clearcutting recommended for Canada's boreal forests are:

* Retaining 10-50% of trees uncut;

* Protecting advanced regeneration by leaving most trees below a certain size (e.g. seedlings and young trees) uncut;

* Use of "selection logging" in which individual trees or groups of trees in a large area are harvested (a practice more common in Canada's southern forests);

* Removal of the canopy in stages, allowing retention of habitat and regeneration of the young forest stand (a practice known as "shelterwood logging") and

* Underplanting forests before they are cut to encourage greater habitat diversity and promote regeneration.

"The costs and savings will depend on the alternative being used. But even where there are increased short run costs, market response is likely to result in longer term gains, as consumer demand grows for more environmentally friendly wood and paper products, such as those certified by the Forest Stewardship Council," said Henschel.

Examples of benefits and costs include:

* Lower costs due to decreased need for planting and spraying of herbicides (benefit);

* Increased wood supply through shortened rotation ages due to advanced regeneration success (benefit);

* Decreased wood supply due to longer rotation ages in old growth and higher levels of tree retention (cost);

* Benefit for industry in the emerging green market for forest products (benefit).

"This report provides feasible alternatives to clearcutting and will serve as a useful resource," said Rick Groves, chief forester for Tembec.

More information is available from Chris Henschel, 416/971-9453, ext 30. The full report may be viewed on-line at www.wildlandsleague.org.

The report was released just before the inaugural conference of ForestLeadership, a non-profit organization established last year and dedicated to building networks with a diversity of parties involved in sustainable forestry. These include corporations, industry associations, governmental agencies, environmental and social nongovernmental organizations, landowners associations, First Nations and tribes, professional organizations and universities.

Last week's conference, from March 1-3 in Toronto, featured more than 40 prominent speakers who discussed sustainable forestry, certification and responsible procurement developments and the increasing role of multi-stakeholder forest partnerships in North America. The event drew more than 270 delegates to hear presentations by leading speakers including at the Ministerial and CEO level on topics relating to corporate sustainable forestry and social responsibility strategies, and the increasing role of multi-stakeholder forest partnerships in North America.

Presentations provided perspectives from major forestry companies such as Weyerhaeuser, Boise, Proctor & Gamble and Lowe's, and offered practical lessons from corporations such as MeadWestvaco, StoraEnso and Hancock Timber Resource Group, based on their partnership experiences.

A highlight of the conference was the presentation, on March 1, of the first ForestLeadership Awards, recognizing excellence in communication, leadership and partnership towards sustainable forestry.

Notable among the three winners was The Joint Solutions Project, a British Columbia-based co-operative initiative formed by nine environmental groups and forestry companies to collaborate on finding new solutions to longstanding environmental disagreements in coastal BC.

The Project received the 2005 ForestLeadership Partnership Award for commendable teamwork, involving diverse organizations, to further sustainable forestry. Project participants include forest companies-Canadian Forest Products, International Forest Products (Interfor), NorskeCanada, Western Forest Products and Weyerhaeuser-and environmental groups-ForestEthics, Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network and the Sierra Club of Canada, BC chapter.

Other award winners included: Tyler Elm, director of environmental affairs for Office Depot, who received the 2005 Communication Award for displaying exceptional ability in communicating matters of sustainable forestry; and David Refkin, director of sustainable development for Time, who received the 2005 Leadership Award for efforts and actions demonstrating leadership, innovation and initiative that further sustainable forestry and co-operation among stakeholders.

More information on ForestLeadership is available on the organization's Web site, www.ForestLeadership.com.

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