04/17/2013 01:28 EDT | Updated 06/17/2013 05:12 EDT

Boreal forest agreement loses key player because of lack of results

OTTAWA - A key environmental group has pulled out of a national alliance with the forest industry that was meant to protect the boreal forest while restoring the sector's international reputation for conservation.

Canopy, a conservation group instrumental in putting together the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement in 2010, says it is quitting the alliance because there has been nothing to show for three years of work.

Canopy executive director Nicole Rycroft says her group will instead pressure publishers and other key buyers of Canadian forest products to buy only from companies that commit to protecting large swaths of the boreal forest.

Canopy's decision is the latest in a string of challenges for the alliance, with Greenpeace pulling out late last year citing lack of progress and poor company behaviour.

But remaining members on the environmental and industry sides say they will persevere in the hope of producing concrete results in the next few weeks.

"Basically, from Day 1, the challenge has been moving words into action," Rycroft said in an interview.

"What we're seeing is, we're three years in, there are literally no results on the ground, and it's time to go."

The agreement was supposed to bring about a truce between environmentalists and Canadian logging companies. The industry had been taking a beating in international markets because of bad publicity, and companies agreed to work together with conservation groups to find mutual solutions.

While there has been lots of talk and much preliminary agreement, there has been no actual signed deal with governments yet that would bring about legislated protection of more of the boreal forest.

The next few weeks are crucial for the future of the pact, said some of the remaining members.

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society will stick with the group for now, but it wants to see companies sign on to major arrangements in Quebec, Alberta and Ontario in the next few weeks, said Janet Sumner, executive director of the CPAWS Wildlands League chapter.

"Those will be a make or break," Sumner said in an interview.

Similarly, the Forest Products Association of Canada recognizes the need to make the agreement work — and soon — especially after three years of work.

"We will make it work," said Mark Hubert, vice-president of environmental leadership for the industry association.

All sides agree that some of the hold-up in concrete results is because the subjects they are dealing with are very complex and involve historical enemies working together. They have also involved First Nations and government players in the talks.

But Canopy says the delays have gone beyond just complexity, and now involve companies reluctant to sign on to agreements that would be stiff enough to actually protect the Boreal ecosystems.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version had an incorrect spelling for Mark Hubert's last name.

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