Rainforest Solutions Project

Promoting conservation and economic alternatives in British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest


Buying Power

October 2, 2002

B.C. coast takes spotlight at major North American forestry conference

In a bold move spearheaded by the World Wildlife Fund, the U.S. Certified Forest Products Council and an unprecedented coalition of forest companies, environ- mental groups and major North American buyers or retailers of forest products, the Atlanta conference brought together delegates from the U.S., Canada and Europe to talk about new approaches to forest certification and the conservation and management of globally rare forest ecosystems. The conference also marked a turning point for B.C.‘s coastal forest industry. It was the beginning of a shift in marketplace perceptions of the province’s coastal forest sector as a centre of controversy over forestry issues to a centre for leadership and innovation. Weyerhaeuser B.C.‘s Linda Coady looks at the world post-Atlanta -how the wood procurement policies of large buyers and suppliers might change and the prospects for maintaining momentum around a repositioning of coastal B.C. forest products on environmental issues in the international marketplace.

There were about 20 of us from B.C. in Atlanta last spring – a loosely knit coalition that included government, First Nations and a number of different interests. But needless to say, we were all present and accounted for in the large hall that housed the plenary sessions when a video on the B.C. coast was to be shown. The representative from the Dogwood Alliance, a U.S.-based environmental coalition dedicated to maintaining natural forests in the U.S. South, had just spoken. Her presentation demonstrated that notwithstanding collaboration between the likes of Home Depot, International Paper and Greenpeace on the conference agenda, confrontation, polarization and heated debate over forest conservation and management issues were still very much alive and well in North America. Take away the spokesperson’s southern accent and ~ turn back the clock 10 years and the same movie was playing on the B.C. coast. Needless to say, those of us from B.C. had seen it before. We’d been there; we’d done that. We were at the Forest Leadership Forum in Atlanta to tell a different story.

The hall darkened and finally it was our moment on the large screen at the front of the room. The format was a 15-minute video based on things that surely could only have meaning in British Columbia -the Interim Land-Use Plan, and Land and Resource Management Plan completion process for the central coast, plus the Protocol Agreement on land-use planning and interim measures between the B.C. government and eight coastal First Nations. Not big on plot or production values and occasionally reflecting the enduring tensions between the forest company and environmental group representatives that had written its script, the video told the simple and yet not-so-simple story of how groups on the B.C. coast, previously in conflict with each other over forest issues, were coming together to solve old problems in new ways.

When the lights came up a crowd of several hundred people roared their approval. The British Columbians in the audience quickly made eye contact with each other for a reality check. Judging from our respective facial expressions one thing was clear: our job here was done. We could go home now and resume the hard work of ensuring the compelling images and ideas that we had just presented did indeed become a reality. Looking back from the vantage point of six months later. I try to assess the impact of the Atlanta conference both in terms of the substance and the politics of forest products procurement policies in North America and the future of the B.C. coastal forest sector. That it was a watershed event on several different fronts is not in doubt, at least in my mind. Among other things, the Atlanta conference signalled the desire of one of the world’s largest and most credible environmental groups -the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) -to re-examine its policy on forest certification. One of the founders of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, WWF is attempting to come to grips with the fact that for a variety of reasons, the FSC has not worked in North America in the same way that it has worked elsewhere in the world.

At the same time, events in Atlanta last spring were equally a manifestation of the desire of U.S. forest companies to come to grips with the fact that in order to be credible, the home-grown certification program they had developed in the U.S. -the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) -had to tackle issues around illegal logging and support for conservation initiatives to deal with forests with high or exceptional conservation values. Finally, Atlanta was evidence of the desire of large North American buyers and retailers of forest products to constructively engage both industry and the environmental movement in the development of new policies to guide environmentally responsible consumption of forest products. For over 20 years now I have been a representative of the B.C. coastal forest industry in the marketplace on environmental issues. I cannot remember a time when we were not under attack or suspicion on the forestry and environmental front. Atlanta was the first time I have ever seen B.C. play offence instead of defence on these issues.

Finally, Atlanta was evidence of the desire of large North American buyers and retailers of forest products to constructively engage both industry and the environmental movement in the development of new policies to guide environmentally responsible consumption of forest products.

I have to admit it felt good. Granted, the complexities are enormous. The stakes are high and the issues around equity in the changes now sweeping the B.C. coast are profound. Still, looking back on my career in the B.C. coastal forest sector, it seems so clear to me now what a powerful story Canada is in a position to tell on forestry and environmental issues. How easily that story could blow through political barriers such as the soft- wood lumber dispute and how uniquely positioned B.C. is to influence the outcome of all the different issues that brought such a wide variety of people to Atlanta this past spring.