California Boreal & Tropical Forest Bill Secures a Major Win

California’s policymakers have sent a strong signal that the loss of intact boreal forests and threats to Indigenous rights are no longer an acceptable cost of doing business with the state. Yesterday, the California Deforestation-Free Procurement Act, Assembly Bill 416, a measure to protect both tropical and boreal forests in government supply chains and support Indigenous communities’ rights, cleared California’s Accountability and Administrative Review (A&AR) Committee, surmounting a key hurdle to its passage into law. This vote marks a sea change in global forest supply chain scrutiny, heralding a burgeoning recognition that a sustainable future requires not just stemming forest loss in the tropics, but safeguarding boreal forests, our stalwart climate allies in the north.

Boreal forest in Quebec

California has been at the forefront of many climate policy fights, whether it’s tackling emissions from smokestacks or tailpipes. Now, with AB 416, which was introduced by Assemblymember Ash Kalra and co-sponsored by NRDC, Friends of the Earth, Social Compassion in Legislation, and Peace 4 Animals, California is poised to become a leader on the other key pillar of climate action: preserving the forests that are buying us vital time to transition to a decarbonized future. 

This groundbreaking legislation requires that state contractors have policies to prevent boreal and tropical deforestation and intact forests loss and guarantee Indigenous Peoples the right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) for any operations on their traditional territories. The bill marks one of the first times that U.S. policymakers have acknowledged the loss of boreal forests alongside tropical deforestation and taken a stand to ensure that wealthier Northern countries are held to the same standards on forest loss.   

The loss of the boreal forest has never made the headlines the tropics have, due, in large part, to a global regime that turns a blind eye to Northern countries’ practices. Yet the first- and third-highest intact forest loss in the world is happening in Russia and Canada, respectively—both predominantly boreal regions, while the highest tree loss per capita is in Sweden, Norway, Canada, and Russia. These intact forests have irreplaceable value for the global climate, at-risk species, and the Indigenous Peoples who have lived on the land for millennia. Their loss may be hidden behind Northern countries’ green veneer, but the impacts of unsustainable industrial logging in intact boreal are felt globally. 

The situation is particularly dire in Canada, where only 15 of 51 boreal caribou herds still have enough intact forest habitat left to survive long-term, and, logging is driving significant carbon emissions–emissions the Canadian government doesn’t regulate. Despite Canada’s commitments to Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, it doesn’t require logging companies to commit to FPIC, undermining Indigenous Peoples’ rights to dictate the futures of their own territories. 

The bill, along with its sister bill in New York, received a groundswell of support from both the U.S. and Canada in the leadup to the vote. Seventy-four U.S. organizations and businesses shared their support for the bill in a letter, writing that the bill’s focus on both tropical and boreal forest procurement would “help drive urgently needed action at the state, local, and federal levels.” 

Leading environmental organizations in Canada also praised Assemblymember Kalra’s leadership in both a joint letter and individual correspondence, highlighting the shared climate fate of Californians and Canadians and the imperative of protecting intact boreal forests and ensuring Indigenous rights. As the Canadian groups wrote, “Fortunately, preserving remaining intact forest areas, in alignment with principles of FPIC, and promoting a thriving forest industry are both possible…In fact, as the marketplace increasingly demands more forest products’ supply chain transparency and rigor, measures to protect intact forests will be increasingly essential to industry health.”  

Yet, rather than embracing the role this bill can play in increasing supply chain transparency and aligning industry with climate-safe practices and globally recognized Indigenous rights standards, the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC), Canada’s largest industry trade group, launched misleading, contradictory attacks on the bill. Relying on familiar catch-phrases and talking points, FPAC vaunted its “world-class” forestry practices, even though it doesn’t require its own members to guarantee FPIC or avoid sourcing from the dwindling intact forest habitat of threatened boreal caribou. The Canadian government, in a dizzying reversal from the leadership on natural climate solutions it projected during last week’s climate summit, also followed FPAC’s lead in opposing the bill. In doing so, it placed itself at odds with a measure that would establish the most fundamental protections for forests and Indigenous rights and propel the exact sustainability values that Canada itself claims to hold.

California’s leadership on this bill shows that, in fact, a healthy, thriving forest industry and a just, sustainable marketplace are not just compatible, but that industries that fail to embrace these baseline standards will be increasingly left behind. As NRDC testified during the A&AR Committee hearing, AB 416 is not about stopping an industry. It’s about creating a better and more sustainable marketplace that aligns with the kinds of actions on forest protection that purchasers, other policymakers, and leading investors are already calling for. 

California is intimately connected to the boreal in so many ways–in the air its citizens breathe; in the boreal birds that, each year, seek out milder winters in backyards across California; and in their shared climate future. With AB 416, California’s legislature has taken a bold, transformative step toward a new paradigm of forest protection–one that also recognizes the irreplaceable loss of Northern forests–and the preserves the boreal for future generations of Californians, the Indigenous communities who call it home, and people around the world.