The UN has noted that forests have a “decisive role to play” in our collective fight against climate change; be it in the “sequestration and storage of carbon in the soil and trees or in providing goods, resources and materials with a smaller carbon footprint”, our forests are among the most powerful tools in our climate action toolbox.
Here Canada has a natural advantage; with 40% of our country’s total area blanketed by forests, the sustainable management of this renewable resource stands as a powerful nature-based solution to climate change. And when combined with the carbon-storing wood products our forests provide, will be key to supporting Canada’s move to a net-zero carbon economy by 2050.
Through sustainable forest management, Canada’s forest sector is well-placed to support our country's transition to a low-carbon economy while meeting conservation targets and creating the green, family-supporting jobs of tomorrow. That means healthier forests, reduced emissions, stable jobs across the country and a cleaner, greener economy. All this from a sector that is deeply rooted in Canada with world-leading scientific expertise.
What exactly is “sustainable" forestry?
Sustainable forestry is more than just harvesting at sustainable rates. The term was defined in the 1993 Helsinki Resolution as “the stewardship and use of forests and forest lands in a way, and at a rate, that maintains their biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality, and their potential to fulfil now and in the future, relevant ecological, economic and social functions at local, national and global levels and that does not cause damage to other ecosystems.”
Put plainly: It’s ensuring we have a long-term plan to keep our forests healthy while recognizing and realizing the economic and environmental value of the world’s most renewable resource. And Canada is a global leader in doing both.
Not only has Canada retained over 90% of its original forest cover, but we harvest less than 1% of harvestable forests per year and replant between 400 and 600 million seedlings annually, all while promoting the wildlife habitats, biodiversity and water protection that will help keep our forests as forests forever. These practices not only help our forests retain their carbon-capture potential but, in providing environmentally-friendlier alternatives to the products and resources Canadians use every day, sustainably-sourced wood products have the potential to be transformative in addressing one of the most significant social and economic challenges of our time: climate change.
How does Canada’s forest sector compare to other countries in terms of sustainable practices?
Canada is globally recognized as a world leader in sustainable forest management. Not only do we have some of the most robust and well-enforced federal and provincial regulations in the world, but Canada leads in third-party forest certification, managing 36% of the world’s certified forests, more than twice the area certified in any other country. These voluntary and internationally recognized standards include commitments to reforestation, promoting wildlife habitats, biodiversity and water protection, and add a layer of independent verification so Canadians can be assured that we’re doing our part to keep our forests as forests forever.
How does sustainable forest management help fight climate change?
As a forest grows, trees absorb and store carbon. But as trees age, the forest becomes more susceptible to disturbances such as fire, pest outbreaks, droughts, and storms. Though these natural disturbances are normal, they are becoming more frequent and severe as a result of climate change, not only putting our communities and forests at risk, but releasing tremendous amounts of CO2 and other GHGs back into the atmosphere, turning our forests from climate change assets into liabilities.
Through sustainable forest management, we can minimize these disturbances and reduce large emissions from the loss of old trees, while rapidly removing carbon from the atmosphere through young forest growth. This ensures the carbon storage and sequestration benefits of our forests is renewed.
How do wood products have the “potential to be transformative” in our fight against climate change?
As carbon captured over a tree’s lifetime stays locked inside the wood, sustainably-harvested wood products continue to represent a carbon store long after they leave the forest and can provide more environmentally-friendly alternatives to materials and products with a heavier carbon footprint. So, when you buy Canadian wood, you’re doing your part to support a low-carbon future by giving a second life to trees.
Innovation in our sector also has the potential to be transformative; as climate change and global warming become more urgent, Canada’s forest sector is exploring new ways to solve the challenge of delivering secure, affordable, and sustainable energy by converting wood chips, sawdust, and bark – materials that might otherwise be considered “waste” – into the biofuels that will help reduce our country’s reliance on fossil fuels.
That sounds like a “zero-waste” approach. Is Canadian forestry a zero-waste industry?
We aim to be, and as an $80 billion annual industry, representing 12% of our country’s GDP, and one of Canada’s largest employers, that’s no small feat. Today, 60% of our sector runs on bioenergy (and that number is growing), and since the early 1990s we’ve reduced our GHG emissions by close to 70%. Moreover, emerging green industries using wood co-products like wood-fibre and lignin to create more eco-friendly products not only ensures that every part of a tree we harvest is being put to use, but that our sector is poised to support the quality, green jobs the next generation of Canadians need.
So you support the development of a “green economy”?
Yes. But part of growing a green economy is growing an inclusive economy, one that values sustainability alongside diversity and opportunity.
With nearly one third of the forest sector’s workforce retiring within 10 years, our industry is investing in the next generation of Canadians who will help shape a greener future. Through programs like #TakeYourPlace, Women in Wood, the Greenest Workforce, Free To Grow in Forestry, Outland Youth Education Program and Project Learning Tree, we are committed to building an inclusive sector, one that supports the growth of women, Indigenous Peoples, new Canadians, and youth as innovators in a sector that contributes to all 17 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — including providing clean water, affordable and clean energy, decent work and economic growth, responsible consumption and production, and climate action.
What role does Canada’s forest sector play in our economic recovery post-COVID-19?
Forestry was a designated essential industry and stepped up immediately, in a safe and meaningful way, to ensure that Canadians could get the sustainably-sourced, forest-based products they depended on during the pandemic – from toilet paper to paper towels, sanitary wipes to medicals masks, our sector has delivered on our promise to Canadians by keeping our supply chains moving and our people safe.
Our commitment to innovation, our resiliency, and our long-term view of forest management and growth also uniquely positions the forest products sector to drive Canada’s post-pandemic economic recovery, while providing solutions to build an even more sustainable and lower-carbon economy. Our sector has helped identify over 140 shovel-ready capital projects worth more than $1.5 billion. Many of these projects will simultaneously spur economic activity while sustaining and growing the quality green jobs Canadians need.
Let’s go back to sustainable harvesting and regeneration. What is Canada’s forest sector doing to “keep our forests as forests forever”?
Understanding the future impacts of climate on our forests and planting the right trees in the right places to reflect co-benefits of climate mitigation and increased resiliency is incredibly important. Canada’s Two Billion Trees initiative is an example of continuous improvement in the selection of areas that would benefit the most from an incremental tree planting program. We are committed to partnering with federal and provincial/territorial governments, Indigenous Peoples, forestry companies, and established silvicultural companies to help determine the most effective ways to deliver this program.
And where can I learn more about these third party forest certifications?
There are three major, credible certification programs that indicate sustainable forest management practices and track sustainably produced forest products in Canada. These include the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Sustainable Forestry Initiative* Program (SFI). When buying sustainably sourced and high-quality Canadian wood products, consumer can look for ‘made in Canada’ forest products with any labels corresponding to these standards. To learn more about forest certification in Canada visit: https://certificationcanada.org/en/home/
You mentioned sustainable forestry provides “nature-based solutions” to climate change. What does that mean?
Nature-based solutions are actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems to provide both human well-being and biodiversity benefits. Building tall with wood is a perfect example. As a natural, renewable building material that not only stores carbon but reduces pollution during construction and requires less energy to heat and cool long-term, using wood — as opposed to materials with a heavier carbon footprint — to build multi-family homes, schools, seniors’ residences, and office buildings, allows us to move the carbon capture potential of our forests into cities to build more sustainable communities.
With wildfires becoming for frequent and severe, what role does sustainable forest management play in mitigating the risk to our communities and or forests?
Forestry is an important part of the solution to keep communities safer from fire. Warming temperatures have made forests drier and mild winters in Western Canada allowed the Mountain Pine Beetle to turn whole forests into highly flammable stands of dead trees. Climate change has also helped drive a spike in the severity of thunderstorms, with B.C. this summer being hit by 10 times as many lightning strikes as usual.
Greenhouse gas emissions from wildfires in British Columbia (BC) in each of 2017 and 2018 were significantly larger than all other emissions from within the province, motivating wildfire risk management as a high priority in future forest management approaches.
Across Canada by the end of July 2021, wild land fires have burned over 2.7M hectares of forest land, nearly 5 times the area of Prince Edward Island or 3.7 times the area that is sustainably harvested each year. (https://ciffc.net/en/ciffc/ext/public/sitrep/)
Using the latest science, researchers at the Pacific Institute for Climate Change Solutions (PICCS) are finding ways to minimize the impacts of these wildfires and maximize the amount of CO2 absorbed by the province’s forests, such as different approaches to harvesting, managing forest health and planting trees that will be resilient in the face of warming temperatures. Increasing the sustainable use of forest fibre also helps reduce forest fire risks to forested communities and support the transition to biofuels.
Many communities have harvested local material around their communities using FireSmart techniques which reduces fire risk. To learn more about these innovations visit: https://www.firesmartcanada.ca/ The foresty industry can be a key ally in applying these practices within broader landscapes surrounding communities.
How is the Canadian forestry sector working in partnership with Indigenous individuals and communities?
It is widely recognized that Indigenous peoples have an integral role in furthering the objectives of sustainable forest management through the application of Indigenous knowledge and an intrinsic awareness of community values on the land base. Over 70% of Indigenous people in Canada live in or in close proximity to forests. Not surprisingly, Canada’s forests have played a central role in meeting the cultural, spiritual and material needs of this community.
The last 40 years have seen a steadily expanding role for Indigenous peoples in the management of Canada’s forests through a wide variety of approaches. Notably, in recent years, Canada has seen an increase in the forest land and resources under Indigenous management, both in terms of fibre volume allocations and area-based tenures. Currently, Indigenous fibre allocations account for over 19 million m3, or 9.1% of the total available wood fibre from Canada’s managed forests. This represents an increase of over 11 million m3, or 135%, since 2003. On an area basis, the portion of the managed forest under Indigenous management totals more than 17 million hectares, or approximately 7.5% of the total managed forest area.
We are committed to facilitating greater Indigenous participation in a thriving Canadian forest sector as it brings significant opportunities to existing and emerging Indigenous-owned businesses and initiatives. Today, there are over 1,400 Indigenous-owned businesses that typically employ between 10 and 30 people, many generating revenues of more than $1M a year. And with more than 11,600 Indigenous Peoples working in the sector, we are one of the largest employers of Indigenous Peoples in the country, supporting jobs in more than 400 Indigenous communities.
The growing need for diversity of skills in the forest sector requires creation and delivery of training and education opportunities like the Outland Youth Education Program that will enable Indigenous people – particularly youth – to consider and pursue forestry-related careers.
How is the Canadian forestry sector providing opportunities for youth?
We are proud of the role we play in encouraging young people to choose a career in forestry. Young Canadians are critical to sustaining a vibrant and globally competitive industry of tomorrow, and with almost a third of the forest sector workforce retiring within 10 years, our industry is investing in the next generation of forestry leaders.
Our sector’s Greenest Workforce website is an initiative that matches employers and workers interested in forestry-related jobs. As part of this initiative, we also implemented the Green Dream Internship Program which is designed to raise awareness among young college and university students and tell them about job opportunities in the forest sector and encourage them to creatively submit job applications.
Working in forestry provides development opportunities for young Canadians, but it also gives them a first-hand look at our commitment to sustainable forest management, advancing Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples and communities, and the growing demand for our sector’s green products. We believe in education and skills development programs that provide meaningful opportunities for youth through a diversity of forest sector partnerships with real-world application, including the Outland Youth Education Program and its partnership with Project Learning Tree Canada.
How is the Canadian forestry sector providing opportunities for women?
According to the federal government, over the past 10 years, more women are graduating from agriculture, natural resources, and conservation programs than ever before. We are seeing this increased interest taking shape through a range of programs, including through the #TakeYourPlace initiative and a growing network for women working in forestry called Women in Wood (WIW). The WIW network started in Canada, has some 1,800 active members and has the objectives of building a community of women who work with, in, and for the woods, to encourage women to pursue careers in the forest, wood, and related sectors, and to help women in forestry succeed in their career goals by collaborating for success, sharing information, improving skills, and navigating the workplace.
To further support women in forestry, many voices representing the Canadian forest sector are part of the leadership group guiding Canada’s first public-private funded national gender equity project to create a diverse and inclusive workforce. In collaboration with the Canadian Institute of Forestry and the Centre for Social Intelligence, a Steering Committee made up of gender equity champions from government, industry, academia, Indigenous, and non-profit organizations is advancing efforts to help support women’s careers in the sector. This three-year project is building a Gender Equity in Canada’s Forest Sector National Action Plan promoting gender equity in forestry. This pioneering public-private partnership is dedicated to ensuring that efforts encouraging women to choose a career in forestry continues to grow.