Environmental action groups called a halt to decades of protests and have come to a truce with logging companies in a deal that will preserve an enormous swath of forest in Canada's northern wilderness. The groups say it is the largest forest protection agreement in history. The extraordinary agreement, announced in Toronto, will see nine environmental groups end their boycotts of 21 forestry companies in return for a commitment to suspend logging and road building immediately on nearly 29m hectares of forest that store billions of tonnes of carbon and are critical to the survival of the endangered woodland caribou. Over the next three years, campaigners and forestry industry giants such as AbitibiBowater and Weyerhaeuser Co will work together to develop logging bans or sustainable business practices for 72m hectares of forest. The designated zones, a band of spruce, larch and other hardwoods just below the tundra from British Columbia across to Newfoundland, account for about two-thirds of Canada's forests. In combined surface area, they are equivalent to twice the size of Germany. For environmentalists, the commitment from the forestry companies promises a much bigger win than achieved over years of boycott and divestment campaigns. "We have been battling it out for years, and absolutely there were some victories, but this is much bigger," said Richard Brooks, a Greenpeace Canada forestry campaigner. The immediate gains include an end to highly destructive logging in the last remaining expanses of intact forests, protection for the remaining woodland caribou, whose population has shrunk to 36,000, and preservation of an important resource in fighting climate change. Scientists believe that the soil and trees in Canada's coniferous forests store up to 20bn tonnes of carbon. Both sides described the deal as a first. "If you think about it, this is a frontier, one of the world's last great frontiers that is still wild and undeveloped," said Steve Kallick, director of the Boreal forest campaign for the Pew Environment Group. Kallick said it was the first time the forestry industry had agreed to limits on future logging. However an industry fighting off competition from Asia and South America and which was hit hard by the global recession may not have had much choice. "That has not been a lot of fun for us," said Avrim Lazar, president of the Forest Products Association of Canada, which represents the companies. "We know that tomorrow's markets are going to be judging forestry products on their environmental credentials. Having the environmentalist community on our side means that we are getting a huge branding advantage."


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