Greenpeace says boreal forest agreement no longer working

Greenpeace is pulling out of the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement, a landmark deal between environmental groups and forestry companies, over frustration with what it says are violations.

Logging company violated deal to protect boreal forest, Greenpeace says

Greenpeace has released photos showing what it says is proof of logging in areas prohibited by the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement, including this logging road it says is 20 kilometres beyond the boundary agreed to in the deal. (François Pesant/Greenpeace)

One of the founding environmental members of a landmark forest agreement has pulled out in frustration.

Greenpeace says it's no longer a member of the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement.

The environmental group says it has proof from GPS-tagged video and pictures that Resolute Forest Products is building logging roads in areas forbidden by the agreement. The pictures were taken in August of this year in Quebec's Montagnes Blanches region.

The agreement, signed in  2010, was a historic truce between 21 companies belonging to the Forest Products Association of Canada and nine environmental organizations.

It's considered the largest conservation agreement in history, covering more than 76 million hectares of public forest.  Essentially it's a peace agreement between the logging industry and environmental groups, which have been at war for decades.

The companies agreed to stop logging in certain areas, including valuable regions for caribou habitat, while the environmental groups agreed to back off in their anti-logging protests and campaigns. The groups agreed to work together on the details of how to set aside valuable habitat for conservation while still allowing forestry companies to harvest in other areas.

But Greenpeace spokeswoman Stephanie Goodwin says her group has proof that Resolute Forest Products, formerly known as AbitibiBowater, is not following  the agreement — a clear sign that the deal isn't working.

"This is a deal breaker for us," said Goodwin. "There is no agreement left to uphold."

Greenpeace says the decision to pull out is part of the group's growing frustration with how long it's taking to flesh out the details to protect valuable habitat which is a key part of the Boreal Forest Agreement.

"We are 2½ years into the three-year agreement and of the five conservation plans we have only one completed," Goodwin said. "With the boreal forest under threat, the only responsible decision for Greenpeace is to pursue other pathways to obtain results in the forest."

Company defends agreement

Resolute Forest Products released a statement Thursday saying it "strongly regrets" Greenpeace's decision and pointing to "concrete milestones" that have been reached for caribou protection and the implementation of best practices.

"In our view, the Canadian boreal forest has measurably benefited from having people with different perspectives working together. Over the past two years, much important progress has been made in protecting the environmental, social, cultural and economic values that make the boreal so important to the world and the forest products industry," the statement said.

Resolute did not directly address Greenpeace's allegations in its statement.

A spokesman for the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC), which represents the companies that are part of the deal, said Greenpeace is pulling out too soon.

Mark Hubert, FPAC's vice-president for environmental leadership, said there's a difference of opinion between Greenpeace and Resolute Forest Products over where the company should be doing its work.

"Resolute contends it's within the bounds of the agreement, Greenpeace says it's not," Hubert said in an interview with CBC News. "Greenpeace should come back to the table and work with the process."

Hubert said these kinds of disputes are all part of fleshing out an agreement that's never been tried before, and there are bound to be frustrations.

"It's a complex agreement, but there is now a facilitator in place to work with all the parties there and resolve the differences," Hubert said, although he agrees that Greenpeace does have a point about delays.

"We agree its taking longer than we thought it would," he said. "The deadlines were overly ambitious, but I think we have an agreement on how to move it along faster."

Hubert said the rest of environmental groups and industry members in the forest agreement are still firmly in place. 

As for Greenpeace, it has asked that its name be removed from the website that lists the original environmental and non-governmental members. They include the Canadian Boreal Initiative, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Canopy, David Suzuki Foundation, ForestEthics, The Nature Conservancy, Pew Environment Group, International Boreal Conservation Campaign and Ivey Foundation.