A caribou roams the tundra in the Nunavut on Wednesday, March 25, 2009. A new bar will soon be set on what counts as sustainable forestry, holding potential implications for the future of the woodland caribou and of the forestry industry itself.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Forest group readies ambitious new standards for sustainable industry

The push for new caribou standards come as calls to protect threatened herds grow louder

A new bar will soon be set on what counts as sustainable forestry, holding potential implications for the future of the woodland caribou and of the forestry industry itself.

After years of debate, the Canadian division of the Forest Stewardship Council hopes to have its updated forest management standards approved by its international body in the coming weeks to set an example for lawmakers and companies.

“This new national standard is ahead of any current forest industry laws in the country,” said Francois Dufresne, president of FSC Canada.

“It is innovation. We’re talking about solutions that never existed before, and we’re ahead of the curve.”

The proposed standard will set what forestry companies have to do to get a stamp of approval from the FSC, which customers like Rona Inc. and Lululemon Athletica then use to show environmental credentials. It’s one of several certification programs companies voluntarily choose to sign on to and be audited against as a way of verifying sustainability claims.

There are significant complications, however, in efforts to add more stringent standards. The forestry industry argues there are a wide range of factors that have contributed to caribou population declines with no easy answers, while also warning of job impacts if habitat protections are too restrictive.

If the FSC standards are too strict, companies may choose to get a stamp of approval from the two other programs in Canada.

Among the many updates, the new FSC standards have specific rules and criteria around preserving woodland caribou, which Dufresne believes to be the first time a species has been singled out for protection under FSC standards.

The caribou standards will aim to match federal species protection guidelines, but also have flexibility built in to allow industrial activities and respecting the rights of Indigenous people, he said.

About 50 million hectares of forests are FSC certified in Canada, mostly in Ontario and Quebec, while the Canadian Standards Association and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative make up the rest of the 170 million certified hectares in the country.

The SFI and CSA standards tend to match provincial standards of conservation, which don’t incorporate some of the more stringent protections such as factoring in cumulative disturbances on the land such as road building, said Justina Ray, president and senior scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society Canada.

Greenpeace Canada puts little faith in the competing standards, said Shane Moffatt, its head of the forest campaign.

“We’d see those other systems as a lot weaker and a lot more beholden to industry interests.”

He said the new FSC standards, which will also adopt requirements on free, prior and informed consent from Indigenous groups, provide an opportunity for industry players to stand out.

“There’s a real opportunity there for industry to get ahead of the curve, and to demonstrate in practice the responsibility of their operations on the ground by moving ahead with the tools this system provides.”

The push for new caribou standards come as calls to protect threatened herds grow louder as habitat fragmentation and other factors put pressure on populations.

Last month, a coalition of groups filed a lawsuit to try and force the federal government to act on protecting caribou herds in Alberta under the Species at Risk Act, after a federal finding that the province wasn’t doing enough. The latest assessment of woodland caribou suggests 81 per cent of Canada’s herds are in decline.

Ray said urgent action is needed.

“It should have happened yesterday.”

Ray co-authored a report in 2010 at FSC’s request on how it should update its caribou standards, and sees great potential for updates to finally move forward.

“I do believe it is a groundbreaking initiative.”

READ MORE: B.C. adds funding to re-grow forests damaged by 2017 wildfires

Some forestry companies have, however, already moved away from FSC standards amid debates on policies and requirements.

Resolute Forest Products committed in 2010 to having 80 per cent of its forests certified by FSC by 2015, but the number currently stands at about 35 per cent.

The company, which has had heated clashes with Greenpeace over forestry policies, maintains that its forests are 100 per cent certified by SFI, and still accounts for 15 per cent of FSC-certified forests in Canada.

Several forest industry members, including Resolute, declined to comment on the new FSC standards until the final wording is approved.

Dufresne said the FSC is quite sensitive to industry concerns and will use a gradual approach to roll in the new standards and indicator criteria.

“We’ve been consensus building for five years because of that reality…we’re trying to embed enough flexibility while maintaining the overarching objective of the indicator.”

He said that there is a risk that the FSC could lose clients, but said there’s also a necessity to go ahead with the higher standards.

“We’ve lost half of our biodiversity in the Canadian wildlife, especially in the forest in one generation, the forest is fragmented in many cases in the country, many landscapes, and therefore there’s an imperative in terms of indicators demanded by civil society. “

Ian Bickis, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Bastion Street bridge closed for construction work

Span connecting downtown to Old City Quarter closed to vehicle traffic for six weeks

Governor General’s Award-winning author launches her new book

Wendy Phillips’s ‘Baggage’ is told in experimental ‘free verse’ style

Nanaimo city councillors to hold e-town hall meeting on strategic priorities

Meeting will take place May 23 at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre

Nanaimo Heritage Festival helps highlight the long weekend

Parade and family activities took place downtown today, May 19

Crews putting out one of the first wildfires of the season in Nanaimo

Nanaimo Fire Rescue, B.C. Wildfire Service called to Doumont Road fire

‘Teams that win are tight’: B.C. Lions search for chemistry at training camp

The Lions added more than 50 new faces over the off-season, from coaching staff to key players

Nanaimo ferry stops to let bear swim past

Queen of Oak Bay brakes for wildlife

Two cats die in house fire in Nanaimo

Fire happened just after 2 p.m. Sunday on Fifth Street, one resident displaced

Wellington Secondary drama program stages adaptation of ‘Alice in Wonderland’

Production will feature two actresses in the role of Alice

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Say no to plastic straws

Straws make drinking frappuccinos easier, but they kill sea creatures, says letter writer

RDN looking into providing bus service 365 days a year

RDN transit committee to consider adding bus service on Christmas, New Year’s and Good Friday

Should B.C. already be implementing province-wide fire bans?

A petition is calling for B.C. Wildfire Service to issue a ban to reduce risk of human caused wildfires

Growing wildfire prompts evacuation of High Level, Alta.

Chuckegg Creek fire has been burning for several day, but grew substantially Sunday

Take-home drug testing kits latest pilot to help curb B.C.’s overdose crisis

Researchers look to see if fentanyl testing could be a useful tool for those who use drugs alone

Most Read