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Greenpeace pulls out of Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement

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Greenpeace pulls out of Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement

It's not just a rumour anymore. Greenpeace has, as of today, pulled out of the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement.

The Canadian Boreal Forest Agreeement (CBFA) was announced two and a half years ago with some pretty heavy rhetoric. Greenpeace's dramatic video, which you can still watch, used the following language:

Seven years of campaigning has led us to May 18, 2010. The biggest forest conservation agreement on earth. Ever.

Greenpeace, 8 other environmental organizations, and 12 of Canada's largest logging companies will make sure all THIS...

[images of moose, fawns, birds being fed by their mother in a nest]

... stays beautiful, stays vital, stays protected, stays forever

Leaving aside "forever" for the moment, the agreement never actually protected anything for more than two years, and did not at any point reduce the rate of logging in the Boreal forest. What it did do is temporarily move some logging (an area about the size of Toronto) outside of woodland caribou habitat, and establish "world-leading practices" for the existing logging. In return, the environmental groups agreed to remove all criticism of the logging company signatories from their web sites, and in a variety of cases help companies to market their products as environmentally friendly.

Media coverage at the time reflected the rhetoric, not the reality, repeating claims that "an area twice the size of Germany" was being protected, or that the boreal forest had been "saved".

No one knew better, because the actual details of the agreement were secret. That changed when the Vancouver Media Co-op leaked a copy, along with audio recordings of internal debates within Greenpeace. Dawn Paley analyzed the contents in what remains the single best reference article on the subject. Subsequent reactions and attempts to bring First Nations onboard after the fact reflected decidedly mixed reviews despite the PR onslaught. 

None of these are the reason that Greenpeace pulled out of the agreement.

They pulled out because above and beyond the fact that the agreement didn't actually change the rate of cutting, companies like Resolute Forest Products were not willing to operate within the parameters of the agreement.

The undemocratic two-stage model of environmental campaigning, which Greenpeace's CBFA video is actually a very effective illustration of, is very much in tact. The first stage is a campaign conducted by volunteers who get arrested in direct actions, employees who make banners and raise money, and by allied groups who share an enemy in the logging companies.

The second stage cashes in the political capital raised by those folks, and directs it into a secret agreement like the CBFA or the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement.

Typically, the second phase happens without the consultation or consent of any of the people who are affected, or who actually did the work. Those who were mobilized are demobilized, as the organization makes an about-face. As one might expect, only deeply hierarchical organizations like Greenpeace can effect these kinds of 180-degree turns. An organization where members had control wouldn't put up with it unless they were convinced that the decision was for the best, which would necessitate access to the text of the agreement. Greenpeace has now effected a second about-face, and are campaigning against Resolute, remobilizing the volunteers they had demobilized. 

The positive aspect of this development is that First Nations and environmental organizations that want to actually stop destructive logging in the boreal forest no longer have Greenpeace as an opponent, at least not formally, for now.

Barriere Lake, for example, has been fighting Resolute over illegal logging for months, but have not received any support from Greenpeace. Grassy Narrows had been supported by Greenpeace before the CBFA was signed. When Grassy Narrows leaders called for a boycott of CBFA signatory Weyerhauser, after the signing, Greenpeace avoided any mention of Weyerhauser in its tepid support for the community, and placed a pop-up on sections of its web site that criticized Weyerhauser, declaring that the CBFA had changed things.

Hopefully Greenpeace will make its considerable resources and publicity accumen available to those who have been struggling against logging companies for decades. Until Greenpeace's top-down structure and penchant for secret deals is replaced with democracy and transparency, these allies will do well to maintain caution when working with the world-famous NGO.

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dru (Dru Oja Jay)
Member since January 2008


Writer, organizer, Media Co-op co-founder. Co-author of Paved with Good Intentions and Offsetting Resistance.

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Pulling out of a dead agreement?

Chiming in a little late here, but I was just looking over the CBFA this afternoon and noticed this (all citations from p. 28): 


FPAC Members will publicly state that between April 1 2009 and March 31, 2012 there will be no harvesting or road building in approximately 28,651,492 ha of Boreal Caribou range in their tenures (or over 97.6% of the Boreal Caribou habitat in managed forest) 
Between April 1 2009 and March 31, 2012, FPAC Members will not undertake harvesting or road building activities in any Boreal Caribou range in their tenures other than the 684,461 ha identified in Schedule “E” unless it is required for forest health exigencies (e.g., fire, insects and disease), or there is an adverse  change in economic conditions forces that requires a modification of a harvesting plan (e.g. moving harvest closer to a mill) and, subject to paragraph (j), such modification can be undertaken in a manner that is consistent with a principle of no net change to the amount or quality of Boreal Caribou habitat harvested within the range of herds identified as priority herds on the basis of the prioritization described in Section 8(a); 
For modifications within any tenure that are less than 10 ha on a cumulative basis within that tenure over the term of the deferral (i.e., until March 31, 2012), and based on the nderstanding that given the current number of FPAC tenures, this would equal less than 500 ha in aggregate:



Then, there's the longest sentance in the world (below), which makes clear that already as of September 30, 2011, they can reevaluate the agreement on a herd-by-herd (piecemeal) basis.
So, what exactly did Greenpeace "pull out" of? An agreement that was already dead? Sigh.
On or before September 30, 2011 the parties will meet to determine the status of caribou recovery planning at that time (i.e. the extent to which government approved caribou action plans have been completed in each jurisdiction) and where Government Caribou Action Plans have not been completed, decide appropriate courses of action on a herd-by herd 
basis based on new information available at that time, guidance from the ISAT, and the status of caribou action planning in relation to the herd in question – this will include a consideration of continued deferrals of planned road building or harvesting in Boreal Caribou range to areas outside Boreal Caribou range and a consideration of an agreement to no new planning of  road building or harvesting in Woodland Caribou range until such time as action plans are complete - the intent is that this be undertaken in a manner that, taking into consideration the results of caribou action planning completed at that time, as well as the results of protected areas planning completed at that time, maintains within FPAC tenures taken as a whole an area ecologically equivalent to the 28,651,492 ha referred to in paragraph (f) in which there will be no harvesting or road building.  (p. 28)