Canadian forests are a renewable natural resource that is continuously replenished through sustainable forest management and natural regeneration.
Paper is one of the few products on earth that already has an environmentally sustainable, circular life cycle. It is made from an infinitely renewable natural resource – trees that are purpose-grown, harvested and regrown in sustainably managed forests. It is manufactured using mostly renewable, carbon neutral bioenergy in a process that uses a lot of water, but consumes very little of it. And paper products are recycled more than any other material.
Sustainable forest management is a dynamic and evolving concept which aims to maintain and enhance the economic, social and environmental values of all types of forests for the benefit of present and future generations. Sustainable forestry practices integrate management of the entire forest ecosystem, including trees and other plants, wildlife and habitat, soil and water. Sustainable forestry also helps protect forests from wildfire, pests and diseases, and preserves forests that are unique or special.
According to laws, regulations and policies in place across Canada, all areas harvested on public land must be reforested, either by replanting or through natural regeneration, so virtually all harvested lands will continue to be regenerated. About 90% of Canada’s forests are on public land.
Canada is home to 9% of the world’s forests, making it the third most forested country in the world after Russia and Brazil. Canada’s total forest area was quite stable between 1990 and 2020 at around 362 million hectares (895 million acres). The estimate of Canada’s forest area was revised upward in 2021 to reflect improvements and updates to data sources and forest inventory techniques over the last 10 years. Forests dominate many Canadian landscapes but cover only 40% of Canada’s land base.
Seventy-five percent of Canada’s forests and woodlands are in the boreal zone. The boreal forest is not “ancient” wilderness. Canada’s boreal forest is often portrayed as one vast tract of ancient, pristine wilderness but this isn’t the case. Although the boreal region itself is ancient, the boreal forest: is made up mostly of trees that are relatively young compared with many that grow in more temperate climates; is regularly affected by forest fire, insects and other natural disturbances; and continually renews itself through these natural disturbances.
Canada’s renewable forests play an essential role – they absorb tremendous amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2), and by doing so help regulate the world’s climate systems for the benefit of the entire planet. This critical role of storing carbon continues in the increasing array of products made from wood fiber and is further prolonged through the recovery and recycling of forest products, including paper.
In 2020, Canada’s managed forests and the wood products harvested from them removed about 5.3 Mt CO2e from the atmosphere.
In 2020, only 0.01% of Canada’s forestland was deforested. This compares to 4.91% that was affected by insects and 1.2% that was affected by fire. Agricultural expansion continues to be the main driver of deforestation in Canada. While Canada has 9% of the world’s forests, it accounts for only 0.37% of the total global deforestation that has occurred since 1990.
Between 2009 and 2019, insects and wildfires affected nearly 18 million hectares of forests in Canada annually. By killing trees, natural disturbances increase light penetration and disturb the soil to varying degrees, depending on the type of disturbance and its severity. These changes, in turn, allow new trees to sprout, grow and start a new forest succession – how whole forests grow back.
The area of forest harvested each year is only 0.2% of Canada’s total forestland. By law, all forests harvested on public lands must be regenerated. Successful regeneration, either through natural or artificial means, contributes to maintaining or restoring ecosystem services.
In 2020, 600 million seedlings were planted on 417,000 hectares of provincial forest lands in Canada.3
The best available scientific research and information are used to plan and implement sustainable forest management practices in Canada. The Montréal Process set out indicators for measuring sustainability of forest management practices. Criterion 1 of the Montréal Process is to conserve biological diversity. To meet this criterion, sustainable forest management must consider forest diversity at the genetic, species, and landscape scales. Numerous laws and regulations across Canada also require forest managers to conserve biodiversity, including species at risk.
Deforestation is the permanent conversion of forest to other land uses, including urban development, agriculture, pastures, water reservoirs and mining. The term deforestation specifically excludes areas where the trees have been harvested or logged, and where the forest will regenerate naturally or with the aid of sustainable forestry measures.
Areas of the world with the least wood consumption have the greatest levels of deforestation.
Third-party forest management certification complements Canada’s comprehensive and rigorous forest management laws and regulations. It provides added assurance that a forest products company is operating legally, sustainably and in compliance with world-recognized standards for sustainable forest management.
The three independent certification programs used in Canada – Canadian Standards Association (CSA), the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®) all set high thresholds above and beyond Canada’s tough regulatory requirements.
Canada leads the world in third-party sustainable forest certification. As of 2021 end of year, 178 million hectares were certified to the three sustainable forest management certification programs in use in Canada.
Just 11% of the world’s forests are independently certified, and 35% of these certified lands are in Canada. Canada’s certified lands would cover an area the size of Germany, Spain and Sweden combined.
About 70% of Canada’s certified lands are in the boreal region – it has two times more boreal forest certified than any other country.
The entire world is grappling with the urgent need to address climate change and cut carbon emissions. As Canada faces the challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, healthy Canadian forests and forest products obtained from them will have a vital role to play in the transition to a greener low carbon economy.
Over the past four decades, forests have moderated climate change by absorbing about one-quarter of the carbon emitted by human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and the changing of land uses. Carbon uptake by forests reduces the rate at which carbon accumulates in the atmosphere and thus reduces the rate at which climate change occurs.
For the past century, Canada’s managed forests have been a significant carbon sink, steadily adding carbon to that already stored. In recent decades, however, the situation has reversed in some years. Several factors have contributed to this shift. The annual total area burned by wildland fires has increased substantially. Unprecedented insect outbreaks have occurred. And annual harvest rates have shifted dramatically in response to economic demand, increasing in the 1990s and decreasing sharply with the global economic recession. The combination of these events and activities has resulted in Canada’s managed forest acting as a net carbon source in years when large areas are burned.