Heeding the Call of Wilderness Protection
June 05, 2012
To our north is one of the Earth’s last wild places: the Canadian boreal forest. At 2.2 million square miles—nearly 60 percent the size of the United States—it’s one of the planet’s richest habitats. Its skies are filled with songbirds, ducks, and geese; its waterways team with trout and pike; and its rugged terrain is home to caribou, moose, wolves, and grizzly bears. Members of more than 600 First Nations communities make the area their home.
“It’s like the Amazon you can drive to,” says Steven Kallick, recently named director of international wilderness conservation for the Pew Environmental Group, part of the Pew Charitable Trusts. “Scientists have identified it as the largest intact forest and wetland ecosystem remaining on Earth. It captures and stores twice as much carbon as tropical forests. The equivalent of 25 years’ worth of industrial carbon emissions are locked up in the boreal forest.”
Stretching from British Columbia to Newfoundland, Canada’s boreal forest lies just south of the North Pole’s frozen tundra. Along with abundant unspoiled waterways, it’s filled with coniferous trees, a major source of softwood, pulp, and paper products.
“Recent threats from global warming, logging, mining, and gas and oil development are challenging this vital ecosystem,” says Kallick. “But we’ve had great success by approaching industries who are open to conservation planning—before public pressure forces their hands.”
Kallick and the Pew Environmental Group’s Canadian partners have already succeeded in protecting 185 million acres of the boreal as parks, refuges, and other nature reserves—about one-third of the land scientists deem necessary to sustain the ecosystem—and more protection is coming.
In May 2010, nine environmental groups and 21 forest products companies signed the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement. As a result, logging will be suspended in 72 million acres of the boreal forest for three years, and improved logging practices will be introduced in an additional 106 million acres.
“These companies voluntarily halted their legal right to log this land,” says Kallick. “The process was remarkably collaborative. In return, environmental groups agreed to acknowledge their genuine green logging practices, rather than berate them in the press and marketplace.”
With his new position comes new responsibilities. Though he won’t be abandoning the boreal, Kallick is now focusing on preserving the Australian Outback, a region with “unparalleled biological diversity that’s been evolving in isolation for 30 million years.”
“One of the things I love about my work is that our campaigns are deeply rooted in scientific analysis,” says Kallick. “Unlike most other environmental conservation groups, we’ve added a political filter to our focus on biological diversity. We launch campaigns in countries with stable governments and a tradition of promoting conservation.”
Prior to joining Pew, Kallick had 15 years of experience in natural resources law and policy. He served as director of the Alaska Rainforest Campaign, as committee staff counsel for the Alaska legislature, and as an environmental lawyer with Earthjustice and the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.
Kallick’s passion for wilderness flourished during summer family vacations spent trout fishing in the mountains of Montana. Later, at the urging of his grandfather, a Norwegian immigrant who traveled the world as a merchant sailor, Kallick journeyed to Alaska, where he immersed himself in the backcountry.
His decision to attend law school came later and grew out of his experience working as a local newspaper reporter in his home state of Illinois. Kallick wrote a scathing expose on egregious hazardous waste dumping in a popular swimming quarry. When his editor killed the story to run one on massage parlors because “sex sells,” Kallick knew he was in the wrong business to “bust polluters.”
He started looking at law schools and discovered Lewis & Clark’s. The law school’s stellar environmental law program beckoned, and its proximity to Alaska sealed the deal. To this day, he’s grateful to Michael Blumm, Jeffrey Bain Faculty Scholar and Professor of Law, who taught Kallick’s first environmental law class. Bluntly, Blumm told his students that successful environmental lawyers often spend 18-hour days under fluorescent lights negotiating deals—not traipsing through the woods.
“I’m so grateful to Mike for his honesty,” says Kallick. “Part of why Lewis & Clark law grads are so successful is because we’re trained with almost military discipline to do the hard work enthusiastically and without regret.”
While Kallick says he loved being a litigator, he compares conservation advocacy to a game of chess.
“Sometimes lawyers are like bishops, only able to move in one direction,” he says. “I needed more moves.”
—by Pattie Pace