Preserving Canada’s forests

November 1, 1996

Dear Friend:

These are bad times for Canada’s forests. We are slowly losing our forested areas across the country, as new growth fails to keep up with increased harvests. And we are plagued by bitter conflicts over how forests should be managed. In Northeastern Ontario’s Temagami region, disputes over logging have resulted in demonstrations, blockades, arrests, court challenges, and even an explosion. The Ontario government has opened up vast areas in the region to logging and mining. But native people claim the area’s lands as their own and demand the right to manage them. Meanwhile, environmentalists insist that the provincial government close access roads and set up a wildland reserve to preserve some of our last remaining old-growth white pines.

Similar conflicts are occurring in the Christmas Mountains, the nine remote hills in New Brunswick’s highlands that harbour some of the province’s last unlogged forests and the headwaters of three famous salmon rivers. For over a century, lovers of wilderness have called on the province to protect the unbroken expanse of Crown forest. Calls for its preservation have even come from the government’s own Department of Tourism and Heritage. But to no avail. The last decade has brought roads into the previously inaccessible hills. Logging has followed the roads: The multinational Repap has begun to clearcut the area for logs and pulp.

In such situations, whom can we trust with the future of our forests? We can’t trust the government: Premier Frank McKenna and 21 other MLAs have reneged on their 1995 promise to establish a protected wilderness area in the Christmas Mountains. And Alan Graham, the Minister of Natural Resources and Energy, has put the creation of road building and harvesting jobs ahead of the preservation of the forests that he complains have become “overmature.” Nor can we trust the logging company: Repap has no incentive to preserve the area, since its five-year lease doesn’t permit it to profit from conservation.

It would be far wiser to place our trust in the people of New Brunswick themselves: the native people who want to preserve ancient passage routes, village sites, and burial grounds in the Christmas Mountains and who want greater control over the area; the 20 percent of New Brunswick’s population who belong to organizations fighting for the Christmas Mountains’ protection; the 85 percent of the provincial population who favour protecting examples of New Brunswick’s forests, even at a cost to the timber harvest.

But governments often ignore their citizens’ concerns. With an eye to the next election, they are steered by short-term political needs. They want to promote visible economic activity; they want to put people to work; and they want to satisfy powerful industries. Such incentives make it inevitable that logging will continue to take its toll on our environment and on our economy.

Loggers’ incentives also work against the environment. Stumpage fees, although higher than they used to be, still don’t reflect the true value of our trees. Forestry licences don’t cover the time it takes trees to grow. Many licences don’t allow loggers to prevent others from harvesting in the same area. And the licences apply only to commercial timber harvesting, preventing licence-holders from benefitting from the increased recreational opportunities that would result from efforts to preserve forests, protect water quality, or promote wildlife. In short, timber companies have few financial incentives to invest in a forest, to regenerate it once logged, or to preserve it for other, more valuable uses. As a result, in one logging executive’s words, companies “work to rule” on provincial land, doing the bare minimum required by regulations.

Because of our confidence that the people themselves, rather than short-sighted politicians or single-minded industries, can best preserve our precious resources, we are calling for a new approach to forestry—an approach that would see the resolution of native peoples’ claims to land and resources, the setting aside of protected areas for future generations, and the decentralization of forestry management that would allow individuals and communities to control the forests they love and depend on.

In recent years, we have worked to promote this sustainable alternative to our current forestry regime. In studies and in a book, at conferences, and in the media, we have presented our approach to academics, forest industry representatives, bureaucrats, environmentalists, and most important, the general public. We have indeed made some progress. A better informed public has become more involved in the preservation of our forests. Stumpage fees, especially those in British Columbia, have increased to better reflect the value of our trees. And a number of wilderness areas have been set aside for future generations. But we are by no means out of the woods.

I hope that this season you will be able to support our ongoing work to preserve our precious resources. Your tax-creditable donation will advance our efforts to promote ecologically and economically sustainable resource management across the country. In anticipation of your assistance, I thank you.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth Brubaker
Executive Director

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