If a tree falls in the forest, she knows

Special to The Globe and Mail

VANCOUVER -- November finds Tzeporah Berman spending a few quiet weeks with her family at their home on Cortes Island, near the haunting Desolation Sound on British Columbia's Sunshine Coast. She is pleased about the haphazard cellphone reception and reflects on a busy, successful year for ForestEthics, the non-profit forest protection group she co-founded in 2000.

First, there was her appearance in the lauded Leonardo DiCaprio-narrated environment documentary The 11th Hour, which opened in August. In it, she describes the perilous state of the world's forest system, 80 per cent of which has already disappeared.

Then there was October's announcement by B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell about the province's plan to protect 2.2 million hectares of old-growth forests to help the dwindling numbers of mountain caribou rally from an all-time population low of about 1,900 animals. Saving this globally unique inland temperate rainforest had been a ForestEthics cornerstone project for the past five years.

ForestEthics sprang from the Clayoquot Sound anti-logging protests on Vancouver Island in the 1990s, which she took part in. With staff in Canada, the United States and Chile, the organization aims to protect endangered forests by determining which are endangered and approaching companies that buy the products made from logged trees in those forests. ForestEthics asks the companies to stop purchasing those products; if the firms refuse, they are met with protests on websites and in advertisements.

"The caribou story is a perfect example of what we do," said the 38-year-old mother of two boys. "The victory in protecting caribou habitat in British Columbia is, in part, a direct result of the growing green marketplace. There is a willingness on behalf of major [companies] to engage in these issues."

She refers to Lowe's Companies Inc., the U.S. home improvement retailer, as an example of businesses stepping up to the ecological plate. "Lowe's buys close to a billion dollars worth of forestry products from British Columbia every year," she said, adding that it changed its policy of buying lumber from unsustainable northern forests in 2005.

"That is a perfect example of what we've created at ForestEthics: an environmental watchdog that does the science and research necessary to identify which forests need to be protected, and that is connected to a sophisticated financial and marketplace strategy."