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In the Boreal Forest, A Developing Storm

Bruce continues, "Now they have nothing to go to. The companies wanted to give us an all-weather road. But if we have that road, the same thing will happen here."

He, like most aboriginal elders, professes: "The land, we don't own it. We look out for it. The elders have stated the creator has given us life. Without our land, our people will die. We get everything from this land. But we don't destroy it. If we let them build an all-weather road, they will destroy it. After they clear it out, what will we have? Why should we say, 'Okay, you can come around and cut pulp?' "

Pulp Reality

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, says that the boreal forest is "North America's greatest conservation opportunity."

Most of the world's original forests have been logged and developed. About 80 percent of the Canadian boreal forest is still uncut by roads. Most of its 1.3 billion acres is predominantly owned by the government and inhabited by tribes who call themselves First Nation. They live in and rely on the forests for their food, their livelihoods and their spiritual connection to the world.

Last month in Thailand, the World Conservation Congress, recognizing the international importance of the boreal forests, called upon Canada and Russia, the two countries with more than 80 percent of the world's undeveloped forests in the Northern Hemisphere, to protect them and involve indigenous communities in any development decisions.

Then the NRDC and Greenpeace Canada announced a campaign to target Kimberly-Clark, the world's largest producer of toilet paper. The groups accuse the company of relying on fiber from ancient forests to make its toilet paper, tissue and paper towels.

"North America, home to only 7 percent of the world's population, consumes nearly half of the world's tissue paper products," Casey-Lefkowitz says.

Each year, she says, North Americans use 50 pounds of tissue paper per person, and the United States uses about 7.4 million tons of tissue paper. The group is calling upon Kimberly-Clark to include more recycled materials "so that ancient boreal forests need not be cut to be flushed down the toilet."

Kimberly-Clark spokesman Dave Dickson says the company has strict policies that emphasize economic, environmental and social sustainability in its harvesting of wood. "Our policy prohibits the use of any wood from virgin rain forests or significant old-growth forests, including Canada's boreal forest. We offer products that use recycled fiber."

He acknowledges that some of the products Kimberly-Clark produces are made from pulp that comes from boreal trees. "Yes, we use virgin pulp from the boreal forest in Canada. We do from some areas, yes, but not from ecologically significant old-growth areas." He says pulp is made of leftover sawdust and woodchip waste from the milling process and is used to make products such as Kleenex tissue.

Kimberly-Clark has about 55 percent of the facial tissue market in the United States.

Tempting Offers

Sophia Rabliauskas, a member of the Poplar River First Nation, says elders remind the community that land is more important than money.

"Like other aboriginal communities, we struggle with poverty, we struggle with unemployment, we struggle with health issues we've never seen before," she says. "Sometimes, it's tempting. They [companies] will say there is money in it, economic development. But the elders say be careful. Living in poverty, living in high unemployment, it's tempting. But we've seen the damage and destruction to the land in communities just north of here.

"Developers rarely talk about the human destruction left behind -- all kinds of diseases, illness, diabetes, children with asthma and respiratory problems."

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