By Scilla Alecci for the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists
Just past mile 73 on the highway that connects Canada to Alaska, north of the small city of Fort St. John in British Columbia, a dense line of spruce and pine abruptly ends. It is replaced by a vast expanse of brush and stumps scarring the clear-cut forestland.
Sherry Dominic and her family once fished, hunted moose and picked berries here, following traditions of the native Blueberry River First Nations that stretch back hundreds of years in Canada’s westernmost province.
The land was once covered in boreal forest and laced with clear streams.
Then the loggers came.
In 2015, after more than a decade of intensive logging, Dominic and the Blueberry River First Nations sued the provincial government alleging that it had approved a “sustainable forest management” plan that failed to protect the forest. Instead, the project allowed companies including forestry giant Canfor Corp., to overharvest timber, damage native people’s territory and threaten their way of life.
First Nations members sent letters to the logging companies and the government, but their concerns “always fell on deaf ears,” said Dominic, a council member from the Blueberry River community. “They just kept going and going.”
In 2021, a provincial court suspended the approval of new logging permits, finding that the provincial government had promoted “intensive use” by forestry companies and other industries that left the Blueberry River First Nations’ territory and wildlife “drastically altered.”
Project audit reports point to another, less examined, point of failure that may have contributed to what the court calls “irreparable harm.”
KPMG, the global accounting firm, has served as both environmental auditor for the project and financial auditor for Canfor, a forestry conglomerate with $6 billion in annual revenue. Even as Canfor and other giant logging concerns cleared acres of forestland in the project area, KPMG was issuing reports that downplayed evidence that loggers were not complying with the project’s regulations, a review of the documents by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has found.
The examination of KPMG’s environmental auditing practices is part of Deforestation Inc., an investigation led by ICIJ in collaboration with 39 media partners. The cross-border investigation exposes the flaws of the environmental auditing and certification industries designed to combat deforestation, illegal logging and other abuses.
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