Paper Birch (detail) \ Lorraine Roy

IT WAS NEVER SUPPOSED TO BE EASY. But it was never supposed to take this long. Through the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (CBFA), forestry companies agree to leave parts of Canada’s boreal forest untouched and use the remainder sustainably, while environmental groups agree to cease marketplace campaigning against logging the areas covered by the CBFA. Signed in 2010, with the option to renew after three years, we are now deep into extra time. We are working for our very belief that agreement is better than war. 

In fact, signing the CBFA, we hoped to end the “war in the woods,” epitomized by 2001 New York Times ads featuring leather-lingerie-clad models wielding chainsaws and claiming that Victoria’s Secret used endangered Canadian forests to publish its catalogues. But while the CBFA might have ended a battle, it signalled the beginning of another long struggle toward collaboration. 

Six environmental organizations and more than 20 forestry companies continue to hash out the details of the CBFA. Sustainability and the future of more than 70 million hectares of boreal forest are at stake.

Currently, over a dozen CBFA forestry tenures are the subject of active discussions centred on caribou habitat and/ or protected areas. We have reached agreements for two other forest tenures: one in Northeast Ontario and the other in Northeast Alberta. Signatories are now working to set benchmarks for forestry practices that manage and achieve the natural range of variation in boreal vegetation over the long term, which is key for sustainable harvesting practices. 

The critics are right, though. Nothing has been fully implemented. Yet. 

Why has it taken so long? Because agreement requires listening and reconciling two very different worldviews – in CBFA parlance, the twin pillars. It requires a blood oath to get things right for the environment and for the bottom line. The challenge is to knit together diverse and often conflicting concerns for caribou, ecosystem benchmarks, protected areas, fibre flows and economic certainty. The task is fraught with tension, creative and exhausting in equal measure. 

Planning teams facilitated by the CBFA secretariat meet to go over multiple computer-model runs. We change inputs, change designs, get better data, examine it all over again from a different angle, then break open the model completely. We ask why this and not that, we challenge our thinking, we say no, say why, consider yes, rinse and repeat. But most of all, we listen. Listen hard, and seek to understand and be understood. There is no one way. There is only dialogue. Tiring and truing. We had no idea when signing the CBFA that collaboration would be this all-consuming, this demanding. 

Six environmental organizations and more than 20 forestry companies continue to hash out the details of the CBFA. Sustainability and the future of more than 70 million hectares of boreal forest are at stake. But recent skirmishes outside the CBFA, as well as legal challenges and market actions, remind us that the war in the woods has not been forgotten completely – which makes success in collaboration that much more critical. 

Read A\J's 2012 article "Half-Time Report" for more information and further opinions on the CBFA.

Janet Sumner is a CBFA veteran and executive director at CPAWS Wildlands League. 

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