Canada: Boreal Forest and all our packaging

This is the greatest wilderness on the continent, a 1.3-billion-acre
forest stretching from Newfoundland all the way to the Yukon. The
Canadian boreal holds a quarter of the world’s forests and most of its
unfrozen freshwater, and sequesters 1.3 trillion metric tons of
carbon. Caribou, grizzly bears, wolves, and wolverines thrive in these
dark woods. More than 300 species of birds breed here, and as many as
five billion individual birds—including 40 percent of North America’s
waterfowl—fly south from the boreal each autumn.

What are we doing to
the birds’ breeding grounds and summer home? We’re logging it. For
catalogs, reading materials, and disposable paper products. In fact,
odds are that you blow your nose on virgin timber cut from Canada’s
boreal, or flush it down the toilet. Nearly a third of Canada’s boreal
forest has been allocated for logging, mining, and other development,
and at the current rate of 1.9 million acres of trees cut per year,
those forests are falling fast. “On average, 65 percent of the logging
goes to pulp and paper,” reports Richard Brooks, forests campaign
coordinator for Greenpeace Canada. That percentage includes boreal
fiber used in magazines, books, and newspapers. (Audubon uses no fiber
from the North American boreal.

Later this year we will begin printing
the magazine on 90 percent post-consumer recycled paper.) Consider the
output of mega-retailer Sears. The venerable brand produces an
estimated 425 million catalogs a year, 270 million of them for Lands’
End, a subsidiary, according to the nonprofit group ForestEthics.
“These catalogs contain almost no post-consumer recycled content,”
reports Ginger Cassady, paper campaign coordinator for ForestEthics.
“We estimate one-third to half of the paper comes from boreal forests,
enough to wrap the Sears Tower six times a day, seven days a week.”
It’s not just catalog producers. In one year Kimberly-Clark, maker of
Kleenex, turned more than 500,000 tons of virgin pulp from the
Canadian boreal into toilet paper, napkins, paper towels, and facial
tissue, according to the company’s 2005 sustainability report. To
trace the source, I decided to follow the birds north myself.

I would
visit boreal timber cuts and timber towns, speak with loggers,
environmentalists, and locals about the future of what has been called
“North America’s Amazon.” Then I’d team up with a leading boreal
ornithologist; load a Twin Otter floatplane with a week’s worth of
fishing gear, camping equipment, canoes, and cargo; and paddle into
northern Canada’s ancient forests—starting 215 miles north-northwest
of Thunder Bay. Standing atop a towering 20-foot-high wall of
carefully stacked logs in the interior of Ontario’s Kenogami Forest,
north of Lake Superior, Gillian McEachern tells me she feels sick at
the sight before us. This log stack extends for hundreds of yards, and
miles of other stacks checkerboard a vast hole in the boreal. The
farthest away look like tiny bundles of thistle seed. A black smudge
marks the distant edge of upright spruce and pine. The clearcut easily
stretches for several square miles.

“Nothing about logging is pretty,”
says McEachern, who for the past eight years has crisscrossed Ontario
as an activist. For the last two, she has campaigned as part of her
job with the nonprofit group ForestEthics. “But here’s your bird and
caribou habitat, just before it’s turned into catalogs and toilet
paper.” From Thunder Bay we drive miles of rain-slicked logging roads
through clearcuts and young, regenerating forest. In many of the cuts,
the ground is so deeply scored by log skidders that I stumble through
the ruts. In others, soaring piles of treetops and branches have been
bulldozed into house-sized slash heaps. I wonder what happened to the
birds that once nested in these newly shorn trees. Pushed into
surrounding forests, they likely had to compete with existing birds
for both food and nesting sites, an exhausting process at a time when
raising chicks is demanding

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Comments (2)

Scott EnderleJanuary 22nd, 2010 at 10:20 pm

No one has commented in a long time. I am looking at getting a grant to further the public’s awareness about Boreal issues. I live In Washington State. I would like to visit Northern Canada to begin my own preliminary research and develop a presentation discussing the problems that face the entire Boreal ecosystem.

John GilmourMarch 9th, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Wearing a shirt like kleercut is just silly. I understand people are enviornmentalists care but when is caring for something… just too much?

When I see the shirt- it tells me basically…
You want the world to basically go around sneezing and carrying H1N1, SARS, and various other germs with them? That is the message you are sending.

I won’t claim that I know about the history of this forest or all the details about how much wood there is to log in Canada. But from this little snippet this place sounds like something of significance.

At the same time: people do need to understand – there has to be a balance:

Paper is a necessity. There’s nothing wrong with replanting and harvesting forest. The same way we have trout farms and cow farms and chicken farms.

In the US we have forest preserve sections that are usually cared for quite well. But at the same time – areas of WI are getting logged because the trees have died of droughts especially the Nicolet section.

If the Boreal system is that essential and historic then yes- Canada should do something to preserve it. But at the same time.

Some ecologists can’t be ecological nazis- there is give and take. The idea would be to develop a product that replaces the need for paper or develop some other compromise and yes I believe paper recycling is important.

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