The goal of journalism is supposedly to search for the truth, and journalists are meant to both research and present as many sides of a story as possible. This sometimes does not happen. A case in point is the article I commented on back in March[i] When does “investigative” journalism become a smear campaign?).
This four-part series of articles by Stefan Labbé of Glacier Media tried to link allegations of illegal logging, deforestation, and human rights abuses by a sprawling Indonesian business empire with Canada’s largest forest company, Paper Excellence. Its attempt to tag Paper Excellence with the nasty-sounding “deforestation” word tanked completely, however, when the article failed to provide a single example of it. Nor did it offer any evidence of Canadian convictions for illegal logging or human rights abuses. In short, all we got were false and misleading claims about deforestation, and lots of innuendo.
I contacted Glacier Media’s vice president, editorial, Kirk LaPointe, on the matter. And to be fair, Mr. LaPointe did make some significant changes in an updated version of the series. Glacier Media acknowledged that it had used the term “deforestation” wrongly, and made and promised some other editorial modifications. When I checked recently, however, at least one of these promised changes had not yet been made, and some misleading text remains.
Here are three examples:
- The implication that logging (forestry) is the only, or main cause, of forest cover loss.
Not true. Forest cover loss is an umbrella term that includes all causes of forest loss whether from fire, insect infestations, logged areas, natural tree death, and the clearing of forest for agriculture, oil and gas exploration, hydro development, residential subdivisions, and so on. On one occasion, the Glacier Media article implies that a pulp mill was the only or main cause of forest cover loss. This is incorrect. On another occasion, it lists several causes but neglects to mention the loss of forest land to agriculture, mining, oil and gas development, or residential subdivisions. Context is important.
The authors of a World Resources Institute study[ii] made very clear that fire was the major cause of forest cover loss in the boreal (91% of the cause in North America) and that “large-scale tree mortality due to pine bark beetle infestation, most evident in British Columbia”[iii] played a key role in Canada’s forest cover loss between 2000 and 2013. A later Global Watch Canada study[iv] acknowledged that “most forest fires and burned areas in Canada result from natural causes, and (that) most of Canada’s (intact forest landscapes) are in remote areas far from human activity” (that is, far from logging). Glacier Media was alerted to both these sources of information.
Forest cover loss (and gain) are part of a natural cycle that has been going on for thousands of years. Trees grow and they die. Forests that are burned, defoliated by insects, or harvested by humans, are naturally or artificially regenerated in Canada. The loss is temporary.
This, and the remoteness of much of Canada’s forests, helps explain why the country’s forest cover has remained remarkably stable since 1990, recording a net loss of less than half of one percent, according to Natural Resources Canada. The loss is attributed mainly to the clearing of forest land for agriculture, roads, and hydroelectric development.[v]
Climate change through man’s use of fossil fuels is having a far more profound effect on trees than logging: making them more susceptible to insect and beetle infestations and forest fires. Especially today. Insects and beetles and forest fires damaged, infected, killed or burned more than 22 million hectares of Canada’s forest lands in 2020. That’s an area 31 times larger than was logged for lumber and pulp and paper and regenerated afterwards.[vi]
Logging critics seem to focus only on forest cover loss, and to ignore the other side of the equation: forest gain. This is when forests expand through natural succession, and when they are established through planting and/or seeding on land that was until then under a different land use.
- Smearing Paper Excellence with the demise of the South Selkirk caribou herd.
While it is true that logging played a major role in the decline of this particular mountain caribou herd, it is unfair to imply, as Glacier Media does, that much of the blame lies with Paper Excellence, which only purchased the Skookumchuck mill in 2013. In fact, the South Selkirk herd was in big trouble long before that.
The steepest fall in herd numbers was recorded between 2009 and 2013 when the herds dropped from 46 to only 12, a timeframe that largely coincided with the reintroduction of wolves to the area. Subsequent wolf culls failed, and their prey (elk, deer, and moose) moved to higher ground to evade them. The wolves duly followed, entering the higher alpine slopes that until then had been the preserve of the mountain caribou.
Logging, mining, and the introduction of power and gas lines continued to change the caribou’s habitat, reducing its food supply of arboreal lichen. Snowmobilers lobbied furiously to shrink the areas from which they would be banned. And climate change in the form of snows hitting later and spring arriving sooner, didn’t help.[vii]
It’s a sad story but it needs to be told in context. And contrary to what the article says, at least one member of the herd may have survived. A January 18, 2019 report [viii] says the sole surviving member of the South Selkirk herd was relocated to Revelstoke, B.C. for eventual release back into the wild.
- “Destruction” of forests is an emotionally loaded term.
In a new Editor’s Note at the bottom of the article, Glacier Media acknowledges that it used the term “deforestation” incorrectly. Great! But then it simply replaced it with “forest degradation,” defining this as including the “destruction of primary forests from logging, industrial development, and wildfires.”
“Destruction?” Does this include the “destruction” by nature (volcanoes, avalanches, floods, droughts, wind blow-downs, wildfires, insect and beetle infestations) or by humans: climate change (the use of fossil fuels), human-caused forest fires, harvesting, the conversion of forest land to roads, agriculture, hydro reservoirs, and subdivisions? Where does it begin and end? And how do you measure it? Does this mean that forest land that is regenerated (naturally or artificially) now gets labelled “destruction”?
Mr. Lapointe promised to reword this Editor’s Note after I pointed out how emotionally loaded the word “destruction” is. He has not done so yet.
[i] John Mullinder, “When does ‘investigative’ journalism become a smear campaign?” JM blog March 2023,
[ii] Potapov et al, “The last frontiers of wilderness: Tracking loss of intact forest landscapes from 2000 to 2013,” Science Advances, January 13, 2017, http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/1/e1600821.full
[iv] Wynet Smith, Ryan Cheng, Peter Potapov and Susan Minnemeyer, “Partner Post: A Fresh Look at Canada’s Virgin Forests,” August 16, 2016, blog.globalforestwatch.org/gfw-community/partner-posts/partner-post-a-fresh-look-at-canadas-virgin-forests.html
[v] Natural Resources Canada, The State of Canada’s Forests, Annual Reports, 2016, 2022.
[vii] Dave Barrett, “The downfall of the rare South Selkirk Mountain Caribou,” May 19, 2018 https://www.gohunt.com/content/the-life/the-downfall-of-the-rare-south-selkirk-mountain-caribou
[viii] Eli Francovich, “Sole surviving member of the South Selkirk caribou herd captured, Gray Ghosts are no more in Lower 48,” The Spokesman-Review, January 18, 2019, www.spokesman.com/stories/2019/jan/18/sole-surviving-member-of-the-south-selkirk-caribou/