Flushed away

Feature story - 19 September, 2003
Crowning the Earth and stretching across Russia and Canada, is a wide expanse of forest that comprises the largest ecosystem in the world - the Boreal forest. This northern treasure is a unique mixture of conifers and deciduous trees interspersed with lush wetlands, rushing rivers and calm, clear lakes. Unfortunately, it's disappearing into disposable consumer products.

Canadian boreal forest which is under threat from logging.

What is this pristine forest being turned into? Mainly paper products like tissues and toilet paper. Yes - one of the world's last great ecosystems is being flushed down the toilet.

The Boreal forest is home to wolves, bears, caribou and thousands of other plant and animal species that are rare or endangered species. As well as being home to countless precious species and indigenous peoples these forests are one of the most important ecosystems on the planet. Bigger than the Amazon, these forests store almost half the Earth's carbon. The forest also holds most of the world's unfrozen fresh water.

However these global treasures are under siege. Industrial logging companies and the Russian and Canadian governments see not fantastic ecosystems worth preserving for the health of the planet and future of our children but as billions of dollars of short-term profit. Much of the forest has already been clear-cut or is earmarked for clearance. And what are these magnificent forests being turned into? Half of the wood from Canadian forests is turned into disposable products like facial tissues and toilet paper. Next time you wipe your nose with a tissue or use some super soft toilet paper there is a good chance you are helping deprive a bear cub of a home. Your garden shed could be built with the former home of an endangered eagle.

Watch the animation about the destruction of the Boreal forest and send it as an ecard.

Combined, the Canadian and Russian Boreal forests hold 40 percent of the world's carbon stocks and are thus very important in the fight against global warming and climate change. Boreal forests influence the global climate by taking in carbon dioxide, the gas largely responsible for global warming, from the atmosphere. Deforestation can contribute to the release of carbon to the atmosphere and reduces the ability of forests to store carbon in the future by destroying them.

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz of the US group Natural Resources Defence Council puts the blame firmly at the door of the companies: "US and Canadian consumers care where their paper and wood comes from. Our over 1 million members and supporters do not want to see a global treasure like the Boreal lost so that companies can make toilet paper from old-growth trees."

In Russia the government is planning to relax laws on government ownership of national forests to allow private companies to buy a possible 843 million hectares. The forests cover 70 percent of Russia and spans 12 time zones. The Government sees the forest sale as a US$164 billion dollar cash bonanza and logging companies are poised to clearcut the forests. Such short-term profiteering risks a long term environmental catastrophe which costs us all far more in loss of species, pristine wilderness and devastating climate change.

Our campaigner in Russia has been following plans to change the forest ownership plans, "State ownership means the local government and population can negotiate over how to log some areas and protect others. Private ownership means businesses can suit their own agenda."

Most of the logging that takes place in the Boreal forest is clearcutting. Most if not all the trees are cut, de-limbed, and trucked to mills. It eliminates wildlife habitat, future seed sources and old-growth features. Clearcutting is often the most profitable way for large companies to cut a forest down in the short term because the process is highly mechanized. In Canada land use laws actually encourage this destructive practice.

Saving these forests is perhaps the greatest conservation opportunity in the world today. It is also one of our greatest environmental challenges. You can be part of preserving this legacy for the future. If you consume any wood or paper products you can do something to help preserve the boreal forest:

When you buy pulp and paper products like toilet paper, hand towels and writing paper, make sure they have a high recycled paper content - 100 percent recycled is best.

Look for the FSC® (Forest Stewardship Council™) logo on wood and paper products. FSC® is the only guarantee of sustainably managed forests. If you cannot find FSC® products, then ask your retailer to stock them.

Brands Ikea, Home Depot and Staples/Business Depot have all committed to forest-friendly procurement policies. Companies like Kimberly-Clark, Procter and Gamble, Scott Paper and Cascade continue to trash Boreal forests make facial tissue and toilet paper.



The campaign to save Canada's Boreal forest.

Read the full report Through the Trees, the Truth behind Logging in Canada.

*May 2010 saw the launch of a historic accord, the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement, which brings together 9 environmental groups, including Greenpeace and 21 of the largest logging companies in Canada.  The agreement is the first step towards conservation planning for 70 million hectares of Boreal wilderness. It marks the suspension of boycott campaigns directed at AbitibiBowater, Kruger and other members of the Forest Products Association of Canada.