For the past 20 years Canada and the U.S. have been wrangling over the softwood lumber industry. U.S. lumber interests are irked that Canadian products are cheaper than the homegrown variety. They convinced the U.S. government to impose a 27.3 per cent duty on all Canadian imports to the U.S., but the dispute is far from over.

A few weeks ago, two prominent environmental attorneys for the National Resources Defense Council in the U.S. called on their president to end the softwood lumber dispute by “intervening aggressively.” The council released a detailed report that presented “sustainable options for regulating this never-ending dispute by phasing out environmentally and economically harmful subsidies and enhancing environmental protections.” In a nutshell, the report proceeded to place all the blame on Canada for the dispute. Not only is Canada providing unfair subsidies to the industry that make Canadian softwood products cheaper, apparently Canada is hampering U.S. environmental efforts at habitat and species preservation. The report also states that Native people in Canada are losing their land and don’t have a say regarding their land, but this seems more like an afterthought.

It is no secret that Canada does wreak havoc on the environment with a wanton disregard for it’s future sustainability, that it allows the rape and pillage of the land with clear cutting just beyond the visual boundaries of the tourist, that it does not have any measures in place to save threatened species, that it does ignore the Native people, and that the forest industry needs a major overhaul in all these areas and more.

However, what is noticeably lacking in the report is the acknowledgement of any like wrongdoing, or any wrongdoing what so ever, on the part of those south of the border. The authors bash everything about Canada’s role in the softwood lumber industry while praising themselves for having an Endangered Species Act, by not allowing clear cutting and giving the public a say in what goes on (no mention of the treatment of Native people though). The report states that Canada is allowed to set its own laws regarding these issues, however it suggests that Canada should comply with the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the National Environment Policy Act, calling on President Bush to make this a prerequisite to a new agreement if and when that comes.

The report states that at the heart of the softwood lumber dispute are the three types of subsidies that the Canadian government provides to the forestry industry, thereby enabling the cheaper prices. It cries foul over the stumpage fees that companies don’t end up paying to the government; it cries foul that there are cases of theft and fraud going on within the industry except they don’t say where or of what except that it is a subsidy; it cries double foul over the fact that Canadian companies are allowed to clear-cut to the edge of lakes and rivers, which is a sort of subsidy because they don’t have to comply with any environmental or endangered species laws, which costs more money. There is specific mention of the grizzly bear, an endangered species that the U.S. government spends millions of dollars a year to protect and preserve, that is being wiped out by the poor forest management practices of Canada. So the solution would be for Canada to remove these “subsides,” start caring about the environment and all would be fine. The tone of the report suggests that the U.S. is perfect and doesn’t do anything to harm the environment or the habitat of endangered species, and respects the Native people and their land.

However, the National Resources Defense Council website contains a report that was released some time ago subtitled “Bush’s Assault on the Environment.” Among other things, it mentions how President Bush issued new directives in 2001 to make it easier for the timber and mining industries to build new roads in National Forests, which are supposed to be untouchable. There is even mention of how the National Forest with the world’s largest concentration of grizzly bears will be the most affected by these new directives. Thirty-three huge timber sales are in the works throughout the Tongass National Park in Alaska that will affect the grizzly bear populations in the U.S. and Canada as well. This report also states that President Bush’s claims to protect the environment are “hollow.” He is the one who rejected the Kyoto accord even though the U.S. produces 25 per cent of global emissions and is known as the world’s worst polluter, because he said that it would “hurt the economy.” He wants to use the forests as “sinks” to absorb the emissions, while apparently at the same time allowing these forests to be cut down. As for the treatment of Native people and their land, the Sioux have referred to the latest act regarding The Sacred Black Hills in South Dakota as “The Cheat The Indians Out of Their Land Again Act,” land that was originally settled in a treaty back in 1851 until gold was found there.

Not that this makes the Canadian forestry industry any less guilty of the crimes being committed, but it does seem kind of silly to be calling on a president to hold another country accountable for like crimes that said president is allowing in his own country. Sort of like the pot calling the kettle black thing. Unfortunately for all, it won’t solve the softwood lumber dispute or the environmental damage that ensues. To put a positive spin on it all though, is that what started out as an American crusade to put an end to the stumpage fees and other subsidies, it could become a quest to save the environment, the animals, and to give a voice to the people, especially Native people.