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Abitibi counters Greenpeace attacks

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“The quality of our forest management system is second-to-none.”

In response to a Greenpeace report issued last month criticizing forest companies and their customers for making and purchasing products using fibre harvested from the Canadian boreal forest, Abitibi-Consolidated regional manager Doug Murray set the record straight to town council Monday night.

The Greenpeace report, entitled “Consuming Canada’s Boreal Forest: The chain of destruction from logging companies to consumers,” specifically mentions Abitibi and the Fort Frances Division, as well as some of its customers, Murray told council.

He noted the Greenpeace report is well-written and well-produced, but contains “a lot of misinformation” and only tells one side of the story.

While Abitibi had invited Greenpeace to visit its operations and meet with Abitibi CEO John Weaver, the group refused.

“Greenpeace has aimed some concerns at our customers to stop the purchasing of pulp, paper, and lumber from companies listed in the report.

That is to say, ‘If you’re dealing with Fort Frances, you should stop doing that,’” said Murray.

“This is serious for us,” he warned. “It has serious implications for the town and for all of us in Northern Ontario. It’s something that everybody should be aware of.

“If we lose our customer base because people are very proactive that this works, then there won’t be a need for a lot of other things, like investment in operations.

“It has a real effect on our business going forward,” Murray noted later in his presentation.

The demands Greenpeace has aimed at customers include reducing consumption of paper, pulp, and lumber, and introducing procurement policies that are friendly to ancient forests, maximize recycled fibre, and demand companies like Abitibi be Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified.

They also want customers to lobby governments for permanent solutions, such as ending logging in intact forest areas, establishing new protected areas, and enacting legislation that requires “genuine sustainable forestry.”

Greenpeace wants forest companies to cease all logging in all intact forest areas and caribou habitat; map endangered forests immediately; work with governments, NGOs, and First Nations to protect these areas; shift to FSC certification; not pursue logging in the unallocated boreal forest (which would be north of Red Lake); and refrain from logging without prior and informed consent of First Nations.

“You know how we have annual cuts and kind of rotate around? This mill’s been in operation for over 90 years. There’s still some areas we haven’t cut before and are part of our plan,” Murray remarked.

“Cease logging in intact forest areas would mean if you haven’t cut it before, you shouldn’t cut it now. That goes against how we’re going to try and run our business,” he explained.

Murray noted the boreal forest is the world’s largest land-based biological community left—circling the upper part of the northern hemisphere. It represents one-third of the world’s forests.

Fifty percent of it lies in Russia and 30 percent in Canada. Seventy percent is not accessible for forestry.

The primarily coniferous forest is subject to frequent natural disturbances like fire and insects.

With respect to Abitibi-Consolidated, 49 percent of the fibre used at its paper operations, and 96 percent at its sawmills, comes from the boreal forest.

Thirteen of its sawmills rely on the boreal forest. A total of 8,000 jobs depend directly on the boreal forest, representing 80 percent of Abitibi’s Canadian workforce.

“The boreal forest is important to us. If we hadn’t been taking care of it for 90 years, we’d be out of business,” Murray said.

While Greenpeace is demanding mills shift to FSC certification, Murray explained Abitibi, and many other forest companies, already abide by a process whereby an independent party verifies forest management practices against a recognized Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) standard.

Murray clarified that Canada has 134.1 million hectares of certified forest—90 percent of its total forests available for forestry activities—while the next highest country (the United States) has only 41.7 million hectares.

“But Greenpeace and the NGOs have chosen Canada to pick on, and us and the boreal forest, even though we far outstrip everybody else on having forests certified and audited by third parties,” he remarked.

Most certifications are done by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) or Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI)—with FSC only counting for 15 percent of the certified lands.

Murray explained Abitibi started the certification process in 2002 and completed it by the end of 2005. The Fort Frances Crossroute Forest was the first forest to be certified in Ontario.

The province had mandated companies to be certified by 2008.

“Our forest had already been certified with CSA because the FSC system was not in place,” said Murray, adding Abitibi was involved in the development of the FSC standard, which was tested in 2005.

“Since we were ahead of the curve, we took what was available at the time. And there’s nothing wrong with CSA,” he added.

CSA is founded on solid legal framework, has the strongest public participation process, and is based on performance evaluation (versus commitments) and thus must be kept up-to-date, reasoned Murray.

He also said that an independent third-party auditor also is used to keep track of the source of all wood fibre Abitibi uses—to ensure they use certified wood and where it comes from.

“We’ve been harvesting trees in Fort Frances [for nearly 100 years], and the forest is healthy and productive as it ever was,” stressed Murray. “And we’re planning to be here for another 100 years or else we wouldn’t have invested the money we have in the town.”

“That was a very informative 15 minutes. You covered a lot of ground,” Mayor Roy Avis told Murray afterwards. “It makes us all realize that we have to stand up and work with Abitibi in this situation.”

Council later passed a resolution Monday night recognizing and supporting “the exemplary practices adopted by Abitibi-Consolidated toward sustainable forest management.”

It also invited “environmental non-government organizations, local groups, and governments to follows Abitibi-Consolidated’s example and adopt a more collaborative approach in order to make a real contribution to the protection of forests.”

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