Based in Montreal, Quebec, AbitibiBowater Inc. is the third largest pulp and paper company in Canada and the eighth largest publicly traded pulp and paper manufacturer in the world. It manages the largest area of publicly-owned forest land in Canada, a total of some 19.5 million hectares.
Through its 21 pulp and paper mills and 24 wood products facilities in the Canada, the US and South Korea it produces a range of newsprint, commercial printing and packaging papers, pulp and wood products. It is one of most important recyclers of old newspapers and magazines in the world.
The company is committed to ensuring sustainability – ecological, economic and social – in all its operations. In particular it is keen to protect the wildlife, fish, plants, soils and water resources on the land under its management. It also makes efforts to conserve biological diversity and to protect the area under its management for other land uses including recreational purposes and cultural heritage.
As part of this, AbitibiBowater works with a wide range of stakeholders such as customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders, communities – indigenous groups like First Nation and Native American groups – governments and NGOs in all areas of its activities including the cooperative management of sustainable forest licenses, engineering, production, forestation, road access, harvesting, silviculture and transportation.
The company is a firm believer in the value of Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) principles and certification and supports mandatory certification on public land. Adherence to SFM standards provides assurances that wood and fibre products are sourced from responsibly-managed forests. Of the 10% of global forests that have been certified, 40% are in Canada.
AbitibiBowater recognizes several certification standards. These include the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), the Sustainable Forests Initiative (SFI), and the American Tree Farm Systems (ATFS), all fully endorsed by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes (PEFC). In addition, it recognises the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). As of end 2008, all the woodland under the company's management had been certified to independent, third-party audited standards, mainly CSA and SFI which are fully endorsed by PEFC. In addition, 12 of the company's pulp and paper mills have achieved Chain-of-Custody (CoC) to internationally-recognized CoC standards including PEFC. Plans are afoot to obtain CoC certification for more of its plants.
As part of its commitment to stakeholder engagement for SFM, in 2003 the company created the Lac St. Jean CSA Public Advisory Group, a voluntary initiative comprised of 27 local stakeholders drawn from companies, clubs and associations, workers' groups, environmental groups, fauna and flora reserve protection associations, indigenous peoples' organizations, and representatives of municipal authorities. This group of stakeholders was formed originally as part of efforts to secure CSA certification for 4.3 million hectares of forest land in two parts of the Lac St. Jean area, namely Lac St. Jean and Peribonka. Both areas include sites of exceptional biodiversity, cultural and spiritual value; the protection of all three values has been identified as a key indicator of SFM. In 2008, the area was modified to include new tenures covering 3.2 million hectares in the Lac St-Jean area.
Since its creation, the Lac St. Jean CSA Public Advisory Group has made significant and sustained contributions to identifying improvements in SFM practices resulting in a number of measurable successes.
One of these successful outcomes has been the inclusion of the White Mountain Valley area in the network of protected areas in the province. In June 2006, Nature Québec lodged a request with the Public Advisory Group to consider special conservation measures for the White Mountains Valley area, a region of particular scenic beauty popular for recreation activities. In particular, Nature Québec was keen to see this area included in the network of protected areas of the province so as to ensure that wood exploitation would not negatively impact on the area in any way. The Advisory Group requested that the Quebec Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment & Parks include the site in its proposals for extending the province's network of protected areas.
The successful outcome of this initiative resulted in a request being submitted by the Regional Government to the Advisory Group for the conservation of three other special sites. These sites included La Chute Blanche (or White Falls), a place with a unique scenic value; the River Micosas' streamsides, tributaries rich in Landlocked Salmon (a species of freshwater salmon); and the area home to the largest Yellow Birch in Québec. The Advisory Group took on board the requests, examined the sites and their natural features, and analysed the impacts of commercial forestry activities at all three sites. Following on from this, special conservation measures have now been integrated into the 5-year forest management plan (2008-2013).
In the coming years, the Québec Ministry of Natural Resources and Wildlife plans to propose new sites for special consideration. And thanks to the Lac St. Jean Advisory Group's conservation successes, the Ministry has requested the Group's cooperation for analyses of new proposals as well as their possible integration in forest management planning.
Another very important aspect of SFM is minimising contamination of water sources around forestry operations. In this vein, the Lac St. Jean Advisory Group has also been solicited to consider ways to minimise sedimentation in water courses on the land managed by AbitibiBowater. The Group's work in this area began in February 2005 with the adoption of an indicator as part of efforts to reduce sedimentation from the road network on the land under AbitibiBowater's management.
As a first step in these efforts, the Group began by conducting an assessment of the magnitude of the problem represented by run-off and sedimentation of the water courses running through the region, particularly in those areas where culverts had been installed to direct the flow of water through the water courses. It then drew up an action plan with a series of measures aiming at reducing the occurrence of sediments in the water courses and in a 20-metre buffer zone along the stream one year after the installation of culverts.
Following this, a series of recommendations was made and a sampling assessment method developed and implemented. This allowed major sources of sedimentation to be identified. Subsequently, recommendations were made to improve water flow and reduce sedimentation from the surrounding areas.
These recommendations were implemented on the ground by forestry operators. They have yielded considerable positive results. In the first place, assessments carried out in 2007, two years after this initiative was first implemented, showed that the number of streams without any sediment within the 20m buffer on both sides of the culvert, increased from 58% to 91% (see graph, below). There is every reason to believe that improvements in sedimentation will continue to be seen year-on-year. Remarking on the success of this forest-management initiative, one commentator noted "Maintaining water quality is an important element of sustainable forest management. This new approach has clearly allowed achieving significant improvements while involving on the ground operators."
Clearly, in the years since its creation, the Lac St. Jean CSA Public Advisory Group has played an important role in identifying improvements in SFM practices in the Lac St. Jean forests and contributed to the health of the forest areas under the management of AbitibiBowater. For Abitibibowater too, the creation of the multi-stakeholder Public Advisory Group has yielded several benefits. It has helped the company to better define some of its operational practices, contributed to the protection of the sites under its management, improved the social acceptability of the company, facilitated sales of its products, and improved exchanges of information and dialogue among all stakeholders. Overall, the creation of the Public Advisory Group and the successful outcomes of its initiatives have resulted in a win-win situation for all concerned stakeholders as well as for the forests.