Taiga Rescue Network Conference Report


From Taiga News no 11, October 1994

TAIGA RESCUE NETWORK and indigenous representatives join forces to stop destruction of boreal forests. This was the main message of a press conference during the 2nd International Taiga Rescue Network conference in Edmonton, Canada, this August. More than 200 individuals from 12 countries attended the conference. At the press conference, the Lubicon Cree Nation announced their membership in TRN in order to expand international support for their struggle in Northern Alberta. The message could also serve as an overall summary of the outcome of the conference itself.

Indigenous peoples all over the boreal region have suffered from forest destruction long before the international environmental movement even recognized the problem. They have fought aginst oil and gas exploaration and destructive logging for decades. The reasons for joining forces are obvious.

The Edmonton Conference took several important steps to develop that kind of cooperation. It increased mutual understanding among NGO and indigenous representatives on our different cultures and approaches to the problems. It outlined strategies to bring the experiences and demands of people and communities in the northern forests - indigenous and non-indigenous - to the parts of the world where the root-causes for forest destruction are to be found: to the markets in the USA, Western Europe and Japan. The basic idea behind strategies focused on trade and consumption is, that since transational companies seems unable to take responsibility for the future of the boreal forest and their inhabitants, the consumers will have to do it - once they have learned about the true prize of paper, oil and other products from the boreal.


The first two days of the conference were devoted to learning about the experience of the indigenous forest residents. Conference co- chair Lorraine Sinclair and her colleague Kelly White of Nanaimo, British Columbia assembled a wide variety of speakers. They told us first hand and from the heart about a century of exploitation. They told us of promises made and often broken. They told us of the way their lives are changing.

Chief Johnsen Seewepegaham of Canada's Little Red River Cree gave a learned account of how forest developments compromise the exercise of treaty rights. He said "we see the environment degraded and our rights and lifestyles as First Nation Peoples increasingly in jeopardy of being entirely lost. This is despite the fact that our rights and lifestyles are guaranteed under the treaty."

The conference heard from Chief Bernard Ominiyak and endorsed a comprehensive support platform for the Lubicon Cree. The Lubicon Cree announced at the conference that hey have joined the Taiga Rescue Network and will participate fully. Other First Nations followed suit.

The Algonquin experience with co-management regimes for forest lands was reviewed in some depth. A new evaluation report was presented to the conference. The importance of co- management to the survival of indigenous people was a theme developed by Russell Diabo, a member of the TRN International Reference Group.


The conference heard from two Swedish scientists -- Per Angelstam and Lars Vstlund -- regarding the "managed forests" of Scandinavia. By examining the effects of the harvesting and reforestation cycle on biodiversity, nutrient cycling and other measures, Angelstam and Vstlund exploded some of the bottom myths of modern forest management. Their research stands in sharp contrast to the "forestry folklore" which is currently offered by the industry as it invades unexploited territory in Canada, Alaska and Siberia.

"I hope our research will in some way help those of you who work with forest and nature conservation elsewhere to protect forests before commercial exploitation has removed many of the ecological values and changed fundamental structures of the forest landscape, as have occurred in Scandinavia", Dr Vstlund said. He noted there is a very rapid loss of ecological values and biodiversity underway currently in northern Sweden under so called "sustained yield management".


Presentations by prominent boreal scientists highlighted the role that the taiga plays in climate regulation. Delegates were generally surprised to learn of the devastating effect of even minor changes in mean annual temperatures to the boreal forest. The difference between a grassland and a forest, noted Dr. Elaine Wheaton, is only 2 degrees C annual average. Using widely accepted estimates put forward by Environment Canada, Wheaton predicted 1 degree of warming by 2025 and 3 degrees by the end of the next century.

This scale of warming spells mass destruction for the boreal forest. Wheaton and Dr. William Pruitt of the Taiga Research Station, both presented maps forecasting the extent of forest loss. Pruitt said as much as 85% could be eliminated in Canada.


The TRN Conference received major reports on the trade and consumption of boreal forest products. Forest industry expects global paper consumption to continue to grow rapidly, which of course will increase the pressure on the forests of the world.

"If for example the forecast of the world leading forestry consultant, Jaakko Pvyry of Finland, comes through, consumption of primary fibres will increase by 3 million tonnes annually over the next 10 years. This would mean 5-6 new giant pulpmills - the size of the AlPac mill in Alberta - somewhere in the world every year", said Taiga News editor Roger Olsson, presenting a TRN report on the trade and consumption of boreal forest products to the conference.

An overall conclusion of this scenario is that world consumption of primary fibres cannot continue to grow. Increasing recycling is part of the solution, but will not be enough to halt forest destruction caused by wasteful paper consumption. The paper consumption rates in the affluent parts of the world must be reduced.


In line with the focus on trade and consumption, the conference recommended that TRN take up the ongoing consumer campaign against Daishowa-Marubeni International, who have forest management rights over Lubicon lands. Mitsubishi in general and the partly Mitsubishi-owned AlPac mill in Alberta was also pointed out as targets, as the conference encouraged TRN participants to join the ongoing Mitsubishi boycott. Other transnational forest companies will also be in the focus of TRN activities over the next two years. The TRN report on trade and consumption includes case- studies of a number of TNC4s operating in the boreal region. The release of the report later this fall will step up trade and consumption campaigns, on the national and regional as well as on international level.

Addressing major customers of the paper producers, urging them to demand environmentally friendly produced paper, was identified as a primary strategy. Publishers were pointed out as a target of specific interest in this context.

Another important task for the network will be to facilitate the NGO influence on International Forest Politics and Economics, including among other things the Biodiversity Convention, the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, the Climate Change agreement and trade agreements such as GATT-WTO, NAFTA and ITTO. The World Bank was specifically pointed out as an important target. A primary task is to monitor the activities of the Word Bank in the forestry and oil and gas sectors in Russia.


The concluding day of the Edmonton Conference was dedicated to discussions and decisions on the future development of TRN.

The most important task of the annual meeting was to outline the future structure of the network. The meeting agreed upon a model involving three co-ordinating nodes, one in North America, one in Western Europe and one in Russia. In practice this means keeping operations running in Europe and Russia and starting something up in North America. The conference took a decision to establish a North American Co-ordination node of TRN early in 1995.

Also in the future there will be a coordinator with the overall responsibility for international coordination, working at one of the nodes. Until the end of June 1995 the international coordination center will remain in Jokkmokk, Sweden.

The future location of the European node will be discussed and decided by the European TRN participants.

The meeting was convinced that a North American Node will prove to be as efficient a tool in fighting forest destruction, ruthless TNC4s and wateful paper consumption as the European coordination node in Jokkmok has developed to be in very short time. A working group including Russell Diabo, Sarah Winterton and Anthony Withworth was formed to raise funds and develop a detailed proposal concerning the North American node. Over the next six months the working group and the reference group will be working hard to turn the good ideas into reality.

The Taiga Rescue Network expresses its most sincere thanks to conference Chair John McInnis, local hosting organisation Western Canada Wilderness Committee and all other committed, hard-working groups and individuals that made the Edmonton Conference a success and an inspiring experience for all the participants!