"Internation-alization" and the conservation of Canada's boreal ecosystems*.

AuthorWilson, Jeremy

Over the past decade, students of domestic public policy have increasingly turned their attention outwards, incorporating analysis of various facets of globalization and internationalization into their accounts of the factors shaping policy processes and outcomes. Scholarship at the junction between comparative public policy and international relations has expanded rapidly, with early generalizations about the importance of attending to extra-territorial influences now beginning to spawn debate over how, and under what conditions, these influences make a difference. This paper explores one important contribution of these debates. It uses Bernstein and Cashore's delineation of pathways of non-domestic influence as a framework for examining the forces influencing the policies and practices that are shaping the fate of Canada's vast boreal forest region.

Exploring what they call internationalization ("the increased activities and influence of actors, ideas and institutions from beyond state borders" (1)), Bernstein and Cashore seek to demonstrate the utility of distinguishing four pathways of external influence on domestic policy: "use of the global market; international rules and regulations; changes in international normative discourse; and infiltration of the domestic policy-making process." (2) We will use the boreal case to test the potential of the Bernstein and Cashore framework. Our reflections focus on two primary questions. First, are the framework's core distinctions clearcut and useful? Second, is the framework comprehensive enough to capture the range of ways in which non-domestic forces operate, or should additional pathways be delineated?

These reflections on the validity and comprehensiveness of the Bernstein and Cashore model will, we hope, contribute to refinement of theory on the impacts of international factors on domestic policy processes and outcomes. In addition, our examination of the fit between the framework and the case should enhance our understanding of the conditions under which transnational forces influence Canadian environmental policy processes. More specifically, this analysis will help us assess whether, in the years ahead, Canada's federal and provincial governments are likely to address threats to boreal ecosystems. Our account, we should emphasize, represents only a preliminary sketch of a story in its early stages. It will be some time before we will be in a position to gauge the impacts of the various forces shaping the fate of the boreal environment.


    Canada's boreal region covers about two million square miles, (3) accounting for over 50 per cent of Canada's land mass. The Canadian boreal represents about one-third of the global boreal zone, about one-half of which is in Russia with the remainder in Alaska and the Scandinavian nations. (4) Canada's portion of the boreal contains one-quarter of the world's remaining large intact forests, (5) with most of these "frontier" forests in the northern sections of the boreal. (6) Wetlands, including an estimated 1.5 million lakes and some of Canada's largest river systems, cover about one-third of the area. (7)

    The Canadian boreal is threatened by industrial development, agricultural expansion, and climate change. Organizations working to conserve boreal ecosystems frequently remind their audiences that significant knowledge gaps continue to hinder attempts to develop a complete picture of the scope and ecological impacts of these threats. Some "facts" concerning the boreal continue to be in dispute. A clear picture of stressed ecosystems does, nonetheless, emerge from the work of a diverse array of credible scientific authorities. Andrew Nikiforuk offers this assessment, citing the warnings of freshwater ecologist David Schindler, one of Canada's most honored scientists: "An industrial assault on the boreal, combined with a cascade of stressors from acid rain to climate change, is now degrading the forest so quickly that only a few northerly parts may survive intact as isolated parks." (8)

    Industrial exploitation of the boreal has been multi-pronged, with the forest, mining, oil and gas, and hydro-electric industries all playing significant roles. The forest industry has advanced steadily northward, aggressively promoted by provincial government policies aimed at attracting investment in pulp, paper, and oriented strandboard mills. In Alberta, the rate of logging increased over 500 per cent between 1970 and 1997. (9) It is estimated that 97 per cent of all merchantable timberlands in the boreal forest have been licensed for timber harvesting. (10) In some southern parts of the boreal, logging by the forest industry has been combined with clearing of forested areas for agriculture. Rates of deforestation on this agricultural frontier have been estimated to equal or exceed rates in Amazonia in the 1970s and 1980s. (11) All three prairie provinces continue to sell Crown forest land to farmers for conversion.

    Oil and gas exploration and production have resulted in considerable ecosystem fragmentation. For example, in 2001 ecological researchers Kevin Timoney and Peter Lee estimated that the web of seismic lines across Alberta exceeded 1.5 million km. in total length, and that the oil and gas industry had laid down at least another 440,000 km. of other linear developments such as pipeline corridors and access roads. (12) They enumerate a long list of oil and gas industry impacts on Alberta's ecosystems, including: "loss and disturbance of habitat; landscape fragmentation, dissection, and shrinkage; wetland and riparian degradation; disturbance of wildlife; increased poaching and hunting on access roads; oil spills; salt-water spills; aquifer depletion and pollution...." (13) Gary Stewart, Ducks Unlimited Canada's leading boreal researcher, notes that in some areas of Alberta, the energy sector harvests as much timber as the forest industry. Like Timoney and Lee, he laments the fact that the Alberta government neither controls nor analyzes cumulative impacts of the two industries. (14)

    As noted by the Pembina Institute's Energy Watch program, the effects of the first waves of energy developments are now beginning to be compounded by new stages of oil sands development using "insitu" technologies. (15) The Pembina Institute emphasizes that these new extraction technologies, "while not requiring the large open pits of surface-mined ores, still result in extensive disturbance to vegetation, wetlands, and wildlife due to the large network of seismic lines, roads and pipelines needed." (16) After nearly 30 years on the backburner, the Mackenzie Valley natural gas pipeline project is once again under active consideration, raising concerns about the fate of the Mackenzie Delta and the numerous world class wetlands in the watershed. (17) In the western boreal, major wetland complexes such as the Peace Athabasca Delta and the Saskatchewan River Delta have already been fundamentally altered by upstream hydro-electric developments. Parts of several other provinces have been similarly affected. A 2000 report by Environment Canada's Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Network said that there are 279 large hydro dams in Canada's boreal shield ecozone (a sub-zone of the boreal), and that 85 per cent of its drainage basins have been altered: "seventy-seven percent contain major dams, 25 percent have major reservoirs, and 33 percent have rivers whose flows have been altered by water transfers." (18) Dozens more northern hydro projects are on the drawing boards. Proposed projects on rivers in Northern Ontario threaten major wetlands along Hudson Bay, while the Lower Churchill project in Labrador could have a major impact on the eastern boreal.

    The effects of global warming are already evident, with climate models predicting that the boreal zone will continue to warm more quickly than areas to the south. (19) Climate change will cause an array of interacting impacts, including "drier average conditions, greater annual climatic variation, melting permafrost, altered surficial hydrology and higher rates of wildfires. Vegetation zones are expected to shift northward and up to 16 million hectares of boreal forest may become suitable for agriculture." (20) Each primary impact is likely to trigger cascades of other changes, many of which are difficult to predict. For example, complex changes will be set in motion as a result of the expected shifts in pest patterns and predator behavior. The impacts of changes in fire patterns will be crucial. Although fire is critical to regeneration of the boreal forest, the evidence to date raises real concerns about forest regeneration under warmer conditions. (21) Analysis of how these changes will affect different species is in its infancy, but there are concerns that many will not be able to adapt or shift ranges quickly enough to survive. (22)

    Perhaps better than anyone else, David Schindler has pulled together what is known about the interactive effects of various stressors. "Warming," he says, "is pushing the boreal system to the edge with burning forests and by amplifying the effects of acid rain and ozone holes and logging. We have to adapt our management schemes to give it enough slack to adapt.... The Canadian press carries all this crap on the tropical rain forest while we have ignored the destruction of the boreal ecosystem taking place under our very noses." (23)

    The sense of urgency underlying the work of boreal protection groups reflects not only worries about this tide of threatening developments but also a strong sense of the opportunities presented by the region. Stewart Elgie, an environmental lawyer at the center of efforts to build the boreal conservation movement, puts it this way:

    On a global scale, the conservation prospects in the boreal are so much better than any other forest ecosystem.... For those working on forest conservation, this is really an...

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