Who cares about the forest? That’s the question author/artist Franke James explores in this creative personal story commissioned by the Forest Stewardship Council of Canada. Check out the visual essay below, or watch it as an animated video.

Who cares about the forest? Funny that snail mail is what woke me. Well that and my bookkeeper saying Do you really have to kill so many trees? I guess she's making fun of me -- a so-called environmentalist wanting a paper trail. And of course this extreme email: How can you call yourself an enviro-mental-ist if you print on dead trees? I thought to myself, that is ridiculous! But the truth is I was like a flopsy bunny lulled into a soporific state
Dreaming that so long as I obeyed the 3 R's all wood be well.But that soporific feeling ends as we drive into the boreal forest. And an 18 wheeler with 70 tons of fresh cut trees whizzes by. The boreal forest is being logged. 45 percent is allocated to logging companies. The boreal forest is massive. It stretches across Canada from the Yukon to Labrador. The boreal forest is over 50 percent of Canada's land mass! We arrive at the harvest area. I see tall black spruce lying on the forest floor. The fellerbuncher picks up the 50 foot tree, cuts it into logs, and discards the top. Why do they waste the tops? With asparagus the tops are the best part! But the bigger question is: is it right to cut trees? But who am I to point fingers. I live in a house made of wood. I walk on floors made of wood. I use paper made of wood. In fact I write books about my green conscience And the books are made from 100 percent post-consumer waste (which is really wood, when you go back to its origins. And you have to go back to the forest, because fiber can only be recycled a half dozen times. I can't imagine living without wood. But living without forests is unthinkable! Forests are the lungs of the planet. Forests breath in our CO2 and breathe out oxygen. And our tap water. Canada's boreal forest is the world's largest store of freshwater. And the world's biggest carbon bank. I drop by WWF to ask Monte Hummel why he cares about the forest. The forest is habitat. It's more than just a backdrop for postcards. This is home for literally millions of living things. I ask Monte a tough question: 'Is it right to cut down trees?' And he says, 'I don't think it's a sin to cut a tree, but it really depends on how it's done. Which brings us to the FSC -- that's the standard -- the best. If you're going to harvest trees, let's do it to the highest standard possible. I feel a bit sheepish. I have seen FSC many times but never appreciated that it means forest stewardship. And then Monte tells me: I buy fair trade coffee and food so I can imagine buying FSC paper and wood. Will I stop feeling bad whenever I use paper if I buy FSC? Is buying good wood the answer? Come into the forest and I'll tell you what I found. and how you can make a difference. For decades, loggers, environmentalists, and first nations have been at war in the woods. The watchdogs have been barking that destructive logging is 'wiping away ancient forests' and calling for consumer boycotts. Shopping as activism? Boycotts put pressure on the forest industry to change causing some to say, 'Tougher environmental rules will just drive costs higher!' 'Mills will close! Jobs will be lost! Local towns will suffer.' But there were some who saw opportunity. Could environmentalism through consumerism become a business advantage? A group of people as opposite as oil and water or as implausible as vegetarians and cattle ranchers, or as combative as loggers and treehuggers, agreed to join forces. Remarkably, environmentalists, first nations, local citizens, and industry leaders all got together. to find a peaceful and profitable solution that would benefit all, because the truth is, they all care about the forest. The four groups founded FSC in 1993. WWF and Greenpeace are founding members. The heart of FSC is social justice and love of the forests. Which passes the smell test when you know this. I found. The four groups share power equally. No one has more power than the other. How does that work? FSC is like a car with four wheels. If any wheel says 'no go!' it can't move! They have to agree on the destination and how to get there. Chief Harry St. Denis told me, 'You don't always get 100 percent. But for the most part, we are able to come to an understanding. Journal features Chief Harry. And because you have four very different groups, they want proof that everything is checked. The proof is in the mail and on the wood. Every FSC product has a tracking number. that verifies its path from the forest to the shop and every step in between and back again. So what did I see in the forest? I saw a harvesting plan for an FSC forest. I climbed into the fellerbuncher, and saw their GPS map. It shows the exact area to be logged, and sends a digital record to the forestry office. I saw how some trees are protected for wildlife with a W. Very low-tech but effective. And I realized how interrelated everything in the forest is. The narrow logging roads I found so treacherous, are designed 'skinny' on purpose! That way wildlife and trees will have minimal disruption. And I got the answer to my question, why do they waste the tops? Dr. Nicholas Lecomte explained that deadwood is very important because that's where a lot of species in the boreal forest live, and that's where they eat. boreal boots This whole boreal adventure shows me that lots of people are doing their part for the forests. I feel a bit sheepish again. What can city people do? I visit Greenpeace and ask, how can I make a difference? We want to see more consumers searching out the FSC logo. Asking their suppliers. That will have a ripple effect back to the forest. Shopping as activism? I can do that. Recycling is good but it's not enough. To protect our forests, we need to demand FSC. Aligning what I buy, with what I believe, feels right. We can make a difference together if you care about the forest. The least footprint that you leave is in everybody's best interests.

Here’s the video version:

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Photographs, illustrations and writing by Franke James, except as noted:

“The Boreal Forest Is Our Tap” illustration features a photo © D. Langhorst, Ducks Unlimited, from “A Forest of Blue,” Pew Environment Group

“The World’s Biggest Carbon Bank” illustration features a Boreal wetlands photo © Chad Delany, from “A Forest of Blue,” Pew Environment Group

Caribou photo © Valerie Courtois, from “A Forest of Blue,” Pew Environment Group

“Lungs of the Planet” illustration uses a source image © istockphotos; “Owl and Snail” illustrations use source photos © istockphotos.

Additional photos from FSC-Canada archive.