Forests in Canada
Canada’s forested, other wooded land and other land with tree cover extend over about half of the country’s total land surface—nearly 400 million hectares—from coast to coast.
To appreciate the importance of this natural resource, one need only look at the extraordinary range of roles that forests perform.
Canada’s forests purify water, stabilize soil and cycle nutrients. They moderate climate and store carbon. They create habitat for wildlife and they nurture environments rich in biological diversity. They sustain a nation-wide forest products industry that supports hundreds of thousands of jobs and contributes billions of dollars to the country’s economic wealth.
And, as if that weren’t enough, Canada’s forests provide landscapes and resources essential to a host of recreational, cultural, traditional and spiritual pursuits that Canadians hold in high value.
For all these reasons, taking care of the country’s forests and ensuring their ongoing health is a key priority of the federal government. To that end, the Canadian Forest Service of Natural Resources Canada works closely with the provinces and territories to see that the nation’s forest resources are managed sustainably and in a way that optimizes benefits for all.
A key measure of forest health is biodiversity. About two-thirds of Canada’s estimated 140 000 species of plants, animals and micro-organisms live in the forest, including about 180 species of trees. The result is a rich diversity of forest types and inventory, ranging from the towering coastal rainforests of British Columbia to the sparse and slow-growing forests at the Arctic tree line. Each of these regions has a unique distribution of animal and plant species.
The average age of Canada’s forests increases from east to west. This pattern reflects differences in the frequency of disturbances (including fire, insect and disease outbreaks, glaze ice, windfall and timber harvesting) and natural variations in species longevity. There is a general shift from hardwood to softwood dominance with increasing age of forest stands.
Behind the apparent stillness of a forest, several biological processes are continuously at work. All are closely interrelated. Within every ecosystem, energy, water and nutrients are in constant movement through three essential processes: photosynthesis, respiration and decomposition.
The tremendous biodiversity within Canada’s forests and other wooded lands combines to provide a vast array of forest ecosystem services and products. These range from commercial goods such as timber, wood fibre for pulp-making, and numerous non-timber products (maple syrup, for example) to ecological services such as water and air purification. Aboriginal people also rely on forests as a source of numerous cultural, traditional and spiritual resources, including wildlife, bark, herbs and medicinal plants.
The forest industry in Canada employs about 600 000 people, largely in harvesting, milling, processing and manufacturing jobs. Canada’s forest products range from raw logs, timber and pulp and paper to a growing suite of bioproducts and other emerging high-value, forest-derived goods and services in demand by both domestic and international markets.
For the approximately 200 Aboriginal and forest-based communities that exist in Canada, sustainable forest resources are particularly critical to local livelihoods and the long-term economic and social stability of many small towns and villages.
In recent decades, the economic value of non-timber forest products has also gained increasing recognition. Maple sap products are the biggest earners (for example, the industry accounted for $354 million in Canada in 2009). Other popular products include mushrooms, plant extracts, resins, florist supplies, and craft-making materials, which are harvested in Canada’s forests and sold in natural or processed form.
Most of Canada’s forests are publicly owned, 77% under provincial or territorial jurisdiction and 16% under federal jurisdiction (about 7% are privately owned). As a result, governments at three different levels have set legislation and regulations for the protection and management of forests. The National Forest Inventory provides information about Canada’s forests to help guide policy, make projections and meet regional, national and international reporting commitments.
Canada is committed to sustainable forest management (SFM), a process in which forest management practices evolve in response to scientific advances and public participation.
Underpinning SFM is the objective of meeting society’s need for forest products while at the same time protecting forest health and the environmental and social values derived from Canada’s forests.