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This map shows the new boreal forest agreement areas, with remaining intact boreal forest. ((The Nature Conservancy))

A major agreement between Canada's forestry companies and environmental groups will see logging in 29 million hectares of boreal forest suspended so a plan to preserve the woodland caribou can be developed.

The move, which comes after years of negotiation, was announced Tuesday in Toronto by the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) and nine environmental groups.

At the same time that logging will halt, environmental groups have agreed to stop their "Do Not Buy" campaigns while the agreement is being implemented. The campaigns lobbied some retailers to avoid buying Canadian-produced paper.

The agreement is also meant to guarantee an adequate wood supply for uninterrupted mill operations.

Who's involved:

Forest companies: AbitibiBowater, Alberta Pacific Forest Industries, AV Group Canfor, Cariboo Pulp & Paper Company, Cascades Inc., DMI F.F. Soucy, Inc., Howe Sound Pulp and Paper, Kruger Inc., LP Canada, Mercer International, Mill & Timber Products Ltd., NewPage Port Hawkesbury Ltd, Papier Masson Ltée, SFK Pulp, Tembec Inc., Tolko Industries, West Fraser Timber Co. Ltd, and Weyerhaeuser Company Limited.

Environmental groups: Canadian Boreal Initiative, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Canopy (formerly Markets Initiative), the David Suzuki Foundation, ForestEthics, Greenpeace, Ivey Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, and the Pew Environment Group's International Boreal Conservation Campaign.

'Best and last chance' for protection

Avram Lazar, the president and CEO of FPAC, said the agreement sets a new global standard.

He said the move amounts to a business strategy for the forest industry, adding that old notions of environmental protection conflicting with economic growth are outdated.

"That kind of distinction doesn't hold any more," said Lazar.

"We know that tomorrow’s jobs are going to go to those who can see that the future depends on environmental progressiveness, and that's the race that we plan to win."

Richard Brooks, Greenpeace Canada's forest campaign co-ordinator, called the agreement the "best and last chance" to protect the woodland caribou.

"It really is a truce after many years of fighting each other, and it's also a road map to get things done," he said.

The agreement, which will be implemented over the next three years, will help create a healthier forest industry, he said.

Canada's boreal forest covers an estimated 300 million hectares, stretching from the Yukon to Newfoundland.

Some green groups critical of deal

The agreement announced Tuesday applies to a total 72 million hectares of public forests licensed to FPAC members. Aside from the halting of logging on 29 million hectares of forest within that region, the signatories have also committed to implementing ecosystem-based forest management practices and protecting species at risk in that area.

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Major forest companies have reached an agreement with nine environmental groups to protect woodland caribou. ((CBC))

Brooks said the participants will use independent auditors to measure progress and report publicly.

"We don't want to be embarrassed" by failing to meet goals, he said.

Not all environmental groups welcomed the deal, however.

"Despite announcements made today, the devastation of Ontario's forests continues largely unabated," Toronto-based Earthroots said in a news release Tuesday. "Giant clear-cuts, which level forested areas as large as pre-megacity Toronto [about 10,000 hectares], still make up 94 per cent of the area logged each year in Ontario.

"Our forests are still being decimated by the same cut-and-run logging industry giants who leave a trail of laid-off workers, violated indigenous land rights and ecologically barren clear-cuts before moving on to new jurisdictions with weaker environmental and human rights standards."

Federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice said he hasn't had time to study the details of the agreement, but hailed it as a "positive step forward" that the companies and environment groups were able to bridge some of their differences.

"I assume in those discussions the forest industry participants have been assured that we struck the right balance between the economy and the environment," the minister said. 

"Prosperity is important. It always drives environmental progress."

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said the "historic" agreement shows Canada can successfully protect its natural resources while also protecting jobs and ensuring the country is a world leader in the future green economy.

But Ignatieff also hit out at the Conservative government's "do-nothing" approach on sustainable forestry practices.

"It sends a loud and clear message to Stephen Harper that great things can be accomplished for our economy and our environment, if we just work together," Ignatieff said in a statement.