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  Canada Yew Association History

Inappropriate harvesting of woodland Taxus species around the world has been a chronic problem since the anti-cancer drug paclitaxel first entered the commercial marketplace in 1992 as the Bristol Meyers Squibb brand name product Taxol ®. The interest in Canada yew biomass as a new forest product and an alternative source of income for rural communities started to rise in the late 1990’s when several multinational pharmaceutical companies came to realize that eastern Canada contained a relatively abundant and untapped source of biomass with high taxane content. That recognition soon was accompanied by an increase in excessive and biologically unsustainable woodland clipping practices.

In an attempt to scientifically define how much could be clipped per plant, a joint study was done by the Canadian Forest Service-Atlantic Forestry Centre (CFS-AFC) and the PEI Department of Agriculture and Forestry (PEI-DAF) to define sustainable harvesting guidelines for woodland harvesting. To further respond to escalating problems in Atlantic Canada, CFS-AFC also organized a meeting with representatives from academia, industry and the non-governmental sector to discuss harvest verification and standards.

Representatives from several different interest groups attended an inaugural meeting in April 2002: Falls Brook Centre (an environmental NGO), the NB-Department of Natural Resources, the Quebec Ministry of Natural Resources, the PEI-Department of Agriculture and Forestry, the University of New Brunswick, and regional companies in the taxane business including Bioxel Pharma Ltd., Nipugt Ecotech, Wright Brothers Ltd., Eco-Forest Group, and Acta-Med Inc.

The group met at CFS-AFC to discuss concerns about woodland Taxus harvesting practices, sustainable harvesting and the formation of a user group. The outcome of the April meeting was the formation of the Eastern Canada Ground Hemlock Working Group (ECGHWG). The first official open meeting of the ECGHWG was held in December 2002. The group has continued to meet once or twice annually in the subsequent years and in 2005, the ECGHWG officially changed its name to the Canada Yew Association (CYA) / Association de l’IF du Canada (AIC).

The CYA now consists of 30+ members representing five provincial governments (NF, PEI, NB, QC and ON), the private sector (commercial harvesters and processors plus industrial processors from Canada and the USA), the University of New Brunswick, Falls Brook Centre, and the Canadian Wildlife Service (Canadian coordinators for the Convention on International Trade in Threatened and Endangered Species (CITES) plus CFS. Group members have agreed to cooperate with the common objectives of:

  • protecting the resource while promoting a sustainable industry that provides significant social and economic value to rural Canadians,
  • promoting the development of value-added biomass processing within Canada, and
  • Increasing and facilitating communication amongst those working in this sector.

As part of the ECGHWG-CYA mandate, the group has developed a set of Principles, Criteria and Indicators (P, C & I) to govern sustainable woodland harvesting and provide guidance for industrial members. The P, C & I have been formally accepted by CYA members and are available in both English and French. It is a condition of CYA membership that industrial members must harvest sustainably and/or only accept sustainably harvested biomass for further processing.

There are several issues currently under consideration, notably independent third-party auditing (e.g., Smartwood) of operational harvesting and product certification. The CYA structure, business plan and financing also are being actively discussed. Members are working to formally incorporate the CYA into an independent association.

Through the CYA, provincial policy on Canada yew harvesting on Crown land has been influenced to varying degrees in PEI, NB, QC and ON. The revised CFS/PEI guidelines are used on Crown land in two provinces (as legislation in PEI, currently as part of an NB pilot study, and accepted as an alternative method on private lands in QC, which also has its own guidelines). Harvesting practice guidelines have not yet been decided in ON and NF. The governmental, industrial and ENGO CYA members are all familiar with the P, C & I, having had input as a group plus debating the fine points of the text at all stages.

Nationally, other organizations, notably the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES Canada, administered through EC/CWS plus a CFS representative) are CYA members, with the result that T. canadensis is not currently being considered for placement on the species-at-risk list. This is in direct contrast to the CITES decisions on a number of other Taxus species worldwide, notably in China and India.

A sustainable harvest trial was set up by CFS-AFC on behalf of CYA members in 2002. Two papers are being reviewed for publication: one on the comparative economics of various harvesting methods, plus a companion paper on re-growth after several different types of harvesting. The results from this trial should provide strong scientific (quantitative) information in support of the sustainable harvesting guidelines.

Industrially, members within the CYA advocate for scientifically verifiable sustainable practices, both within Canada and internationally. The CYA functions as a common forum where all CYA members (and others) can exchange information about the industry. American CYA members in particular seem to find this service useful in keeping up to date on the Canadian industry. Members of this unique and diverse group are demonstrating a willingness and enthusiasm to work together for the development of a long-term sustainable taxane industry in eastern Canada. By presenting a unified and consistent stance, particularly on issues like sustainability, the position of this fledgling industry will be strengthened for the benefit of eastern Canadians.