Forests in Canada
Section 2 Forests and the forest sector in Canada

Forests cover approximately 30% of the earth's land area—the total area of the world's forests was 39.99 million km2 in 2015, down 3% from 41.28 million km2 in 1990.Note 1 However, most deforestation that has occurred in recent decades has occurred in tropical and sub-tropical forests. Canada's 3.47 million km2 of forest—located in the boreal and temperate zones—accounted for 9% of the world's forests in 2015.Note 2 These forests provide many benefits to Canadians and to people around the world.

Of Canada's total forest area, 2.06 million km2 are covered by a management plan that includes production, conservation or other uses.Note 3 The rest are located in more remote and northern areas and are often relatively undisturbed by human activity.Note 4 Logging is the largest direct human influence in the forest, but forest ecosystems are also affected by other activities including agriculture, mining, oil and gas extraction, as well as urban development.

Many other factors including fire, insect outbreaks and other natural disturbances, as well as climate change, play a role in shaping Canada's forest structure and composition. Humans are also affected by what is happening in Canada's forests—as can be seen from the recent wildfires that displaced thousands of people from their homes in Fort McMurray, Alberta in 2016 and the interior of British Columbia in 2017.

2.1 Forest resources

Canada's total area is 9,979,685 km2.Note 5 The country has a wide variety of landscapes that can be divided into 15 ecozones—areas defined broadly by their climate, topography, soils and vegetation. Most of the land is vegetated—covered by trees, shrubs, grass and crops. The remaining area includes built-up as well as barrenland, water, snow and ice.

Areas with more tree cover occur along the west coast and southern interior of British Columbia and through the boreal zone (Map 2.1). Land cover in the Prairies is mostly cropland and grassland, while the Arctic is largely shrubland and barrenland.Note 6 Soil conditions and climate, including precipitation, temperatures, frost free periods and wind speed, have a large influence on the distribution of vegetation types and species across different areas of the country.

The boreal zone is an area of forests, woodlands, wetlands and lakes covering over 5.5 million km2 of Canada from Newfoundland and Labrador to the Yukon,Note 7 as well as vast areas of Alaska, northern Europe and Asia. In Canada, the boreal zone covers all or substantial parts of ten ecozones. Tree cover extends across more than half of the zoneNote 8—this vegetation is shaped by cold climate conditions, regular fires, insect outbreaks and other natural disturbances.Note 9 As Canada's largest biome, it provides a host of benefits including food and renewable raw materials, wildlife habitat, climate regulation, carbon sequestration, nutrient cycling, air and water purification, erosion control and opportunities for recreational activities.Note 10

Temperate zone forests are located across six ecozones south of the boreal zone and vary quite widely based on climate, moisture, soils, topography and vegetation. These forests include coastal rainforests in the Pacific Maritime ecozone; inland rainforests, montane and sub-alpine forests in the Montane Cordillera ecozone and mixedwood and deciduous forests of the Mixedwood Plains ecozone and the Atlantic Maritime ecozone.

Forest area and structure

Canada's forests—including areas recently burned or harvested but that are expected to revert back to treed land—account for 35% of the country's total area (Chart 2.1).Note 11 More than three-quarters of Canada's forest is located in the boreal zone.Note 12 The Boreal Shield ecozone has the largest forest area with 1,312,747 km2, accounting for 80% of its total land area (Chart 2.2). Other boreal ecozones with significant areas of forest include the Taiga Shield with 462,929 km2, accounting for 42% of its land area, and the Boreal Plains, with 384,547 km2 of forest land, accounting for 57% of its land area.

The Atlantic Maritime ecozone has the highest proportion of forest area at 83%. Other ecozones with significant proportions of forest include the Taiga Plains (59%), Montane Cordillera (66%) and Pacific Maritime (53%). Forest area was lowest in the Prairies, the Mixedwood Plains, the Taiga Cordillera and Hudson Plains ecozones.

Forest type and species

Canadian forests can be divided broadly based on whether they are composed mostly of coniferous, broadleaf or a mix of coniferous and broadleaf tree species, termed mixedwood. Coniferous forests—including forests dominated by spruce, pine, fir, hemlock, Douglas-fir and cedar—account for 68% of forest area (Chart 2.3). Broadleaf forests dominated by trees such as poplar, birch, maple make up 11% proportion of Canada's forests. Mixedwood forests account for 16% of forest area.

Coniferous species are dominant across ecozones in western Canada and across much of the boreal zone (Map 2.2). The largest expanse of coniferous forest is found in the Boreal Shield with 788,790 km2, 60% of the ecozone's forest area (Chart 2.4). The Taiga Shield ranks second with 384,541 km2 (83%) and the Montane Cordillera ranks third with 276,268 km2 (89%).

Broadleaf and mixedwood forests are more common throughout the Prairies, Mixedwood Plains and the Atlantic Maritime, but also account for significant proportions of the Boreal Plains, Hudson Plains, and Boreal Shield ecozones. The largest areas of mixedwood and broadleaf forest are found in the Boreal Shield with 436,923 km2 and the Boreal Plains with 151,164 km2.

Spruce forests are the most common—they account for 53% of Canada's forest area.Note 13 Poplar is the second most common species group, representing 11% of Canada's forest, followed by pine at 10%.

Spruce trees are particularly characteristic of the boreal zone, with spruce–lichen forests providing important habitat for caribou and other species.Note 14 Spruce forests account for large proportions of forest area in the Taiga Cordillera (89%), Hudson Plains (89%), Taiga Shield (86%) and Taiga Plains (85%).Note 15 Poplar too are common in the boreal zone, particularly in the Boreal Plains and Boreal Shield ecozones, where they represent 32% and 12% respectively of forest area. The largest areas of pine forests occur in the Boreal Shield, Montane Cordillera and Boreal Plains ecozones.

Different species are seen to the south. In the Montane Cordillera ecozone, pines are the most common, accounting for 34% of the forest area, followed by spruce (21%), fir (19%) and Douglas-fir (12%). Hemlock forests account for 42% of the Pacific Maritime ecozone, followed by cedar (18%), fir (12%) and Douglas-fir (12%). Maple forests account for 19% of the forest in the Atlantic Maritime and 39% of the Mixedwood Plains ecozones.

Age class

Forests contain stands of trees of different ages. Stands are generally classified into different age classes based on the dominant age of trees. Forests in many areas of Canada have gotten younger over time because of harvesting,Note 16 while some have gotten older due to fire suppression.Note 17 Natural disturbance such as fires, insects, and windthrow create a mosaic of stands of different ages in forests. Major stand-replacing fires allow for the establishment of young forests and ecosystem-based forest management systems seek to emulate natural disturbances and the landscape patterns of young and old stands that they create.Note 18

As forests age, trees grow bigger and biomass increases, but forests also develop greater structural complexity and biodiversity.Note 19 For example, there may be more coarse woody debris, snags and fallen trees, while tree size, plant and animal species may be more diverse.Note 20 From the perspective of timber production, however, older forests are less productive than young forests since growth rates slow as trees age and timber volumes decline as trees decay.Note 21

The prevalence of older forests depends on the type of forest, since the biological life span of trees varies by species, but also on the area, climate and fire regime. Most forest area—42%—is classed from 81 to 120 years old, followed by 26% from 41 to 80 years and 12% under age 41 (Table 2.1). Forest areas that are classed older than 120 years make up 14% of Canada's forests. Broadleaf and mixedwood forests tend to be younger—and the oldest forests are almost entirely coniferous.Note 22

Most of Canada's oldest forests are located in wetter areas of the west where the climate limits the frequency and severity of fires. In the boreal zone, the prevalence of older forests depends on the climate and fire regime in different areas. Fir, hemlock, spruce and cedar forests in the Montane Cordillera, Pacific Maritime and Boreal Cordillera ecozones account for 95% of Canada's oldest forests.Note 23 In coastal rainforests, some hemlock, western red cedar and yellow-cedar trees can reach over 1,500  years old.Note 24

Timber volume

The amount or volume of wood present in a forest provides important information to inform decisions on forest management and harvesting.Note 25 The total standing timber volume in Canada is 47.3 billion m3, with one-third of this total occurring in the Boreal Shield, followed by 17% in the Montane Cordillera (Table 2.2).

Timber volume depends in large part on growth rates, which vary according to the tree species, age and health and on-site conditions including climate and access to light and nutrients.Note 26 The fastest growing trees, as well as some of the oldest trees, are found on the west coast. The Pacific Maritime ecozone has the highest timber volume per unit area in the country—432 m3/ha—more than three times the national average of 136 m3/ha (Chart 2.5).

Coniferous forests account for 72% of timber volume, followed by mixedwood forests at 16% and broadleaf forests at 12%.Note 27 Spruce, pine and fir—the main species used to produce softwood lumber, make up almost two-thirds of Canada's total timber volume (Table 2.2).

Forest change

Change is constant in forest ecosystems. These changes can include changes in forest area, age class, structure, species diversity and composition. Forests are affected by natural disturbances such as insect infestations, diseases, fires, flooding and wind, as well as by timber harvesting, forest management practices and land use decisions. In addition, climate change influences the frequency and severity of natural disturbances and over time is expected to result in changes in tree growth and species range (see Textbox 2.1 for more information).Note 28

Natural disturbance

Natural disturbance is a normal part of forest ecosystems shaping succession and regeneration of forests. The total area affected in a given year by natural disturbance, including insect outbreaks and fires, can be significant, although large annual fluctuations occur and the impacts of disturbance range from small reductions in growth to mortality of all trees. The area affected by natural disturbance normally greatly exceeds the area affected by logging and areas converted to other land uses (Map 2.3).


Insect outbreaks—including defoliator and bark beetle outbreaks—are a natural part of forest ecosystems. Major outbreaks occur periodically, increasing tree mortality and having significant economic impacts. Defoliating caterpillars eat tree needles, leaves and buds, resulting in reduced growth, tree deformity and in severe cases, tree mortality. Bark beetles bore through tree bark, laying eggs and spreading damaging fungi. Insect outbreaks may be short-lived or may last for many years depending on the species, natural predators, climate conditions, availability of host trees and other factors.

Insects damaged an estimated 176,318 km2 of forest in 2015, down 13% from 203,075 km2 in 2014, but up 100% from the recent low of 87,961 km2 in 2012 (Chart 2.6). Major pests that periodically cause damage across large areas include the eastern spruce budworm, forest tent caterpillar and mountain pine beetle, while other insects that have caused significant damage include the hemlock looper and large aspen tortrix, among others. Locally important outbreaks of many other species have been recorded.

In 2015, the largest proportions of insect damage were caused by the eastern spruce budworm (38%) and the forest tent caterpillar (29%). Eastern spruce budworm affected areas increased 90% from 35,336 km2 in 2014 to 67,260 km2 in 2015. In comparison, the last major outbreak of spruce budworm occurred in the 1970s, affected 518,674 km2 in 1975.Note 29 The current eastern spruce budworm outbreak is occurring mainly in Quebec. The infestation in this province has increased rapidly from 397 km2 in 2006 to 63,151 km2 in 2015.

Forest tent caterpillar caused moderate to severe damage to 51,991 km2 of forest in 2015, with 38% of the affected area occurring in Alberta. The Alberta outbreak is in decline—affected areas dropped to 19,615 km2 in 2015, from a peak of 64,730 km2 in 2013. However, affected areas grew or remained elevated in Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia.

After causing significant economic damage in British Columbia, mountain pine beetle affected areas dropped to 3,264 km2 in 2015 from a high of 100,519 km2 in 2007. According to the Province of British Columbia, an estimated 54% of the merchantable pine volume in the province was killed.Note 30 However, some insect-damaged areas were harvested to control the infestation and salvage dead trees.


Fires too have an important influence on the health, structure and diversity of forest ecosystems. Many tree species in Canada's forests are adapted to fire. For example, jack pine and lodgepole pine need fire or heat to release their seeds from cones; Douglas-fir, ponderosa pine and western larch have a thick bark to protect themselves from surface fires; and species such as aspen and birch need full sunlight to grow and are among the first species to colonize burned sites.Note 31 Fire has a particularly important influence on the boreal forest, but is less common in the coastal forests of British Columbia as a result of wetter conditions.

From 1970 to 2015, on average over 8,100 fires burned close to 22,000 km2 per year, though the number and size of fires varies greatly (Chart 2.7). The ignition and spread of fires depends on a number of factors including topography, weather (temperature, precipitation, humidity and wind speed) and fuel available for combustion.

In 2015, 7,140 wildfires burned a total of 38,616 km2 of forest land. Overall, 53% of these fires occurred in Alberta and British Columbia. However, these two provinces accounted for only 19% of the total area burned—45% of the burned area occurred in Saskatchewan, followed by 17% in the Northwest Territories. Over the longer term 1970 to 2015 period, the largest burned areas occurred in the Northwest Territories, with 29% of the total forest land burned.Note 32

In 2015, 49% of fires started as a result of lightning strikes, 48% had human sources of ignition and the remainder had an unknown ignition source.Note 33 Fires started by lightning were responsible for 79% of the burned areaNote 34—these fires are less likely to be suppressed, particularly if they occur in distant and uninhabited areas. Though they made up only 7% of the number of fires, fires greater than 10 km2 in size made up about 97% of the total area burned in 2015.Note 35

Because of the ecological benefits of fire and limits on the availability of resources to fight fires, not all fires are suppressed. At the same time, fires can be a threat to human safety, property, recreational areas, infrastructure, timber and wildlife. For example, the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016 displaced almost 72,000 residents, destroyed 8% of homes and insured losses are estimated to have cost $3.7 billion.Note 36


Human activities can also drive changes in Canada's forest area, though the effects of these activities vary spatially and temporally.Note 37 Forests can be converted to other land uses—for example, agricultural or built-up areas—but overall Canada's forest area is stable.

From 1990 to 2015, forest area in Canada decreased 0.3% from 3.483 million km2 to 3.471 million km2.Note 38 In comparison, global forest area decreased 3.1% from 41.283 million km2 to 39.991 million km2 over the same period.Note 39 This deforestation—or conversion of forest area to other land uses—does not include temporary loss of forest cover due to timber harvesting or natural disturbances since they are not considered land use changes.

The annual rate of deforestation in Canada declined from 1990 to 2015, although there were spikes in 1993 and 2006 to create reservoirs for hydro-electric production (Chart 2.8). Over this period, most forest converted to other land uses was used for agriculture (42%), mining, oil and gas (24%), built-up area (16%), hydro-electric infrastructure and reservoirs (13%) and forestry roads (6%) (Map 2.4).

The Boreal Plains ecozone experienced the largest conversion of forest area from 1990 to 2015 at 5,849 km2—46% of the total deforestation that occurred over this period. The main contributors to deforestation in the Boreal Plains were the agricultural (52%) and mining, oil and gas (37%) sectors.Note 40 Deforestation was second highest in the Boreal Shield ecozone at 2,307 km2—18% of the national total. Hydro-electric infrastructure and reservoirs were the largest contributor to the conversion of forest area, followed by agriculture, forestry roads and built-up.

In the Pacific Maritime ecozone on Canada's west coast, 346 km2 of forest were converted to other uses from 1990 to 2015. Overall, 59% of land was converted to built-up area, which includes areas used for transportation, recreation and residential, industrial, commercial and institutional development. The Montane Cordillera, which covers much of the interior of British Columbia and parts of Alberta, saw 871 km2 of forest area converted from 1990 to 2015, with most converted to cropland (29%), built-up areas (24%), forest roads (21%) and mining area (18%).

The agricultural sector was also an important driver of forest change in the Prairies, Mixedwood Plains and Atlantic Maritimes ecozones. Forest area decreased 799 km2 in the Prairies from 1990 to 2015, with 92% of this forest area lost to cropland. The Mixedwood Plains ecozone in Southern Ontario and Quebec saw an 838 km2 decrease in forest area over the same period due mainly to conversion to cropland (51%) and built-up area (39%). Forest area decreased by 912 km2 in the Atlantic Maritime ecozone due to conversion to cropland (37%) and built-up area (40%).

Start of text box

Textbox 2.1 Climate change and Canada's forests

Rising global temperatures and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations as well as changing precipitation patterns have implications for forests.Note 41 Canada's forests are adapted to climate conditions associated with their specific geographic area, and as the climate changes, forests will change in response. Climate-induced changes in forests can include shifting species composition and range, extent, age class distribution, forest structure, rate of growth, growing stock, regeneration success, health and soil quality.Note 42 In turn, forests have an impact on climate change—particularly in their capacity to absorb and release vast amounts of carbon dioxide. Forests in Canada and around the world play an important climate-moderating role, absorbing a significant proportion of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.Note 43

Climate change has already impacted Canada's forests in numerous ways.Note 44 For example, an increase in the length of the growing season has been observed across Canada since 1950.Note 45 Climate conditions that support forests are shifting to higher latitude and higher elevation areas.Note 46 Increased drought severity and frequency in western Canada can impact trees directly and increase their vulnerability to disease and insect infestations.Note 47 Insect outbreaks beyond certain thresholds can damage forest health and decrease forest value, and recent insect outbreaks, such as Mountain pine beetle, have occurred further north than previously observed.Note 48 Wildland fires, affected greatly by climate variability, have increased in some boreal forests and are expected to increase in frequency in the decades to come.Note 49

Human activity has the potential to reduce or increase the rate of forest carbon uptake and storage. Forest management practices can be used to increase carbon sequestration in the forests and in wood products, but deforestation can result in carbon emissions.Note 50

Long-term climate trends

From 1948 to 2016, the average annual temperature in Canada increased by 1.7 °C.Note 51 All 11 of Canada's climate regions experienced temperature increases over this time period (Map 2.5). Northern climate regions generally experienced greater warming and increases were largest during winter months.

The largest increase in mean annual temperature from 1948 to 2016 occurred in the Mackenzie District climate region at 2.7 °C (Table 2.3). This climate region contains an estimated 388,751 km2 of forest area and spans most of the mainland Northwest Territories. Most of the forest area is evergreen needleleaf, with patches of shrubland and barren land towards the neighbouring territories.

The Yukon and North British Columbia Mountains climate region—with 262,130 km2 of forest area—experienced an increase of 2.6 °C in mean annual temperature from 1948 to 2016, the second largest increase overall. This climate region has similar characteristics to the Mackenzie District, consisting of evergreen needleleaf forest, shrubland and barren land.

Temperature increases were observed in every climate region during every season over the 1948 to 2016 time period. In 10 of the 11 climate regions, the winter months experienced the greatest warming. Nationally, winter temperatures increased by 3.4 °C on average. The climate regions with the largest winter temperature increases were the Yukon and North British Columbia Mountains at 5.7 °C, the Mackenzie District at 5.0 °C and the Northwestern Forest at 4.3 °C. Collectively, these regions contain 1,389,828 km2 of forest land.

From 1948 to 2016, Canada's average annual precipitation increased steadily compared to the baseline average.Note 52 An increasing trend was observed in all four seasons.Note 53 The northern ecozones experienced a larger percentage change in annual precipitation than southern ecozones, though these regions receive much less precipitation than southern and coastal regions in general. Droughts have also become more frequent and severe in some regions.Note 54 Scientists expect that this trend will continue, which will have an impact on Canada's forest regions.

Effects of a changing climate on Canada's forests

Many of the effects of climate change on forests are interconnected and occur simultaneously. Climate change-induced droughts and warming temperatures increase vulnerability to disturbance such as forest fires, insects and disease.Note 55

Conifer species are better adapted to cooler conditions, which may prompt a decrease in photosynthetic productivity in warmer conditions.Note 56 As warming continues, some trees may be unable to adapt to the changes in their local climate in a timely manner.

Recent scientific evidence indicates that in some areas, boreal forests have experienced declines in productivity, which can be partially attributed to heat stress triggered by droughts.Note 57 Canada's boreal forests have experienced more frequent drought since the 1950s, and this trend is projected to continue.Note 58 Prairie regions that are already drought-prone are also expected to experience more severe and frequent droughts.

In regions where moisture is not a limiting factor, productivity may increase. With increased temperature and moist conditions, higher productivity has been observed at a higher latitude in the boreal forest, towards newly warmer tundra regions.

The climatic conditions that support Canadian tree species are not only shifting towards higher latitudes, but also towards higher altitudes. Scientists and professional foresters are developing strategies to help ensure forest adaptation, such as in mountainous alpine regions in British Columbia where assisted migration may help trees to adapt to warmer temperatures.Note 59

End of text box

2.2 Forest products and ecosystem services

Timber harvests are the main economic good originating from forests. In recent years, there has been growing interest in understanding and valuing the contributions of other goods and services provided by forest ecosystems. For example, non-timber forest products can include berries, mushrooms and ornamental plants, while ecosystem services provided by forests can include soil and water conservation, carbon sequestration, air filtration, habitat provision and recreational and tourism opportunities.


Canada's timber assets are a component of the country's natural resource wealth. The value of Canada's accessible timber stocks was estimated at $215.4 billion in 2016.Note 60 This value fluctuates, based on market conditions for timber and other factors (Chart 2.9). Timber assets provide the foundation for a sustained yield in forests managed for timber production.

Revenues from the sale of timber from Crown land were $1.346 billion in 2015.Note 61 British Columbia accounted for the largest share of revenues (60%), followed by Quebec (20%), Ontario (8%) and New Brunswick (7%). These revenues are based on stumpage charges, rents, reforestation levies, protection fees, permit and license fees, sales and rentals, and other charges including bonuses, penalties and interest. Farms—some of which operate woodlots—reported forest product sales of $70.5 million in 2015 including receipts for firewood, pulpwood, logs, fence posts and pilings.Note 62

Timber extracted from forests is generally referred to as roundwood. The total volume of roundwood harvested in Canada was 160.5 million m3 in 2015, up 35% from the most recent low in 2009, which followed the 2008 financial crisis and U.S. housing crash (Chart 2.10).

Most roundwood is categorized as logs and bolts, which are used as raw materials to produce lumber, plywood, shingles, shake and other wood products (Table 2.4). Pulpwood, which is generally smaller or lower quality wood, or the wrong species to be used for lumber, accounted for 11% of timber harvests in 2015, with smaller amounts used for other purposes including fuelwood or firewood. By volume, British Columbia accounted for the greatest proportion of roundwood harvested in 2015 at 42%, followed by Quebec (18%) and Alberta (17%) (Table 2.5).

Softwood species such as spruce, pine, fir, cedar and hemlock accounted for 81% (128.8 million m3) of the harvested volume (Chart 2.11). This proportion was highest in British Columbia (97%). Quebec produced the largest volume of hardwoods (7.7 million m3)—over a quarter of which was collected for fuelwood and firewood.Note 63

On average 86% of the total volume of wood harvested came from provincial Crown land, with the remainder, 14%, from private land. However, this proportion differed by province.Note 64

Non-timber forest products

Non-timber forest products can include a variety of goods such as maple syrup, mushrooms, berries, ornamentals, medicinal products, game and fur-bearing animals among many others. These may be obtained from wild or managed forests and from agro-forestry systems. Although some non-timber forest products can have significant monetary values, data are difficult to acquire as there is little widespread accounting.Note 65 Some of the most comprehensive statistics relate to the production of maple syrup.

There is a long history in eastern Canada and the Northeastern United States of collecting maple sap and boiling it down to produce maple syrup, taffy and sugar. Canada produced 12.2 million gallons of maple syrup in 2016, valued at $484.1 millionNote 66 and accounting for close to three-quarters of North American production.Note 67 The majority (92%) of maple syrup production in 2016 occurred in Quebec, with the remainder produced mainly in New Brunswick, Ontario and Nova Scotia. In recent years, farms in other areas have also begun tapping maple trees including bigleaf maple in British Columbia and Manitoba maple on the Prairies (Table 2.6). Birch trees are also occasionally tapped for syrup production.

Botanical products gathered from forests include wild mushrooms, berries and nuts, as well as floral products, greenery and Christmas trees. These products may be gathered for personal use, but commercial harvesting occurs for local, national and international markets.Note 68 Although little data is available to characterize these industries, some studies have found wild mushroom harvesting and floral and greenery harvesting in British Columbia to be valued in the millions of dollars, with some major crops including pine mushrooms, chanterelles and morels; salal foliage and cedar and pine boughs.Note 69

There is a long history of hunting and trapping activities in Canada, though a decline in participation has been documented in recent decades.Note 70 Waterfowl primarily use wetland and grassland habitat in coastal areas, on the Prairies and the boreal forest.Note 71 Environment and Climate Change Canada's Waterfowl Harvest Survey indicates that an estimated 1,153,000 ducks, 1,014,900 geese and 54,000 non-waterfowl birds were harvested in 2015.Note 72 In 2009, 730,900 pelts from muskrat, beaver, martens, ermines, foxes, bears and other fur-bearing animals were harvested, with a total reported value of $14.8 million.Note 73 Hunting licenses for big game, for example deer, moose, bear, elk and caribou among other animals, are issued by the provinces and territories.

Biodiversity and ecosystem services

Biodiversity plays an important role in supporting human well-being since it affects the productivity and resilience of ecosystems that provide us with ecosystem services. For example, trees provide carbon storage services, mitigating climate change; insects, birds, bats and rodents help disperse seeds, regenerating forests; birds and bats eat insects, controlling pest populations; plants help reduce water runoff and reduce soil erosion.Note 74 Sustainable management of forest ecosystems considers the benefits of these services in addition to those provided by the production of timber and other forest products.


Canada's forests are diverse ecosystems with differing vegetation due to site-specific differences in latitude, climate, elevation, moisture, nutrients and other ecological processes.Note 75 These areas include trees, shrubs, open spaces, rock outcrops, wetlands and lakes.

The spatial distribution of Canadian forest ecosystems varies greatly—approximately 1,000 forest and woodland vegetation communities will be identified and described as part of the ongoing Canadian Forest Ecosystem Classification project, a component of the Canadian National Vegetation Classification.Note 76

Natural forests generally have greater biodiversity than plantation forests and intensively managed semi-natural forests.Note 77 Canada's managed forests are mostly natural or semi-natural, comprised of native species and managed with long harvest rotations followed by natural regeneration or planting and seeding of native species. To maintain biodiversity, 240,410 km2 of forests, 7% of Canada's forest area, is protected in areas such as conservation areas, large national, provincial and territorial parks (see section 2.4 Protected Areas for more information).Note 78

Canada has some of the largest areas in the world of remote and inaccessible forest landscapes.Note 79 Most Canadians live, and most human activities occur, in the southern part of the country; however, many activities, roads and other infrastructure for forestry, mining, oil and gas, and hydrological reservoirs are located in the boreal zone.Note 80 Linear features from roads, rail lines, electrical transmission lines and cutlines fragment landscapes, affecting wildlife habitat (see Textbox 2.3 for more information).

Driven by the influence of roads, linear feature density is highest in more densely populated ecoregions such as the Lower Mainland in the Pacific Maritime ecozone and the Lake Erie Lowland and St-Laurence Lowlands of the Mixedwood Plains ecozone.Note 81 However, it is also elevated in other less densely populated areas of the Boreal Plains and Taiga Plains ecozones, largely due to the influence of cutlines or seismic lines for resource-based activities (Map 2.6).

Canada is home to about 80,000 known species.Note 82 Forests provide habitat for a wide array of species including microorganisms, fungi, mosses, lichens, plants and trees, insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Canada's forests contain an estimated 32 native conifer, 125 native hardwood and more than 55 exotic tree species.Note 83 The boreal zone provides habitat for 150 bird species, half of the bird species that occur in Canada.Note 84 Habitat needs—including forest type, size, age class and connectivity of stands will vary greatly for different species.Note 85

Forests provide habitat for some endangered, threatened and iconic species. For example, eight mammals that may use forests for some part of their habitat are listed as endangered under the Species at Risk Act (Table 2.7). Various populations of forest-dwelling woodland caribou—an iconic species—are also threatened and face pressures due to the loss and fragmentation of their habitat.Note 86 Other endangered forest-associated species include birds such as the Spotted Owl, White-headed Woodpecker, Williamson's Sapsucker, Acadian Flycatcher and Cerulean Warbler; amphibians such as the Oregon Spotted Frog; molluscs such as the Oregon Forestsnail and others.Note 87

Ecosystem services

Forests provide essential regulating services by filtering and cleaning air and water, cycling nutrients, regulating local climates, sequestering carbon and protecting against erosion and natural hazards such as flooding, among many others. They also provide opportunities for recreation, tourism and aesthetic appreciation (Textbox 2.2) and can have a great spiritual significance for Indigenous peoples and many others. Although there is increasing recognition of the multiple services provided by forests and other natural areas, data to measure the value and benefits of these services are limited.Note 88

Forests store carbon in vegetation and soil and emit it through respiration, decomposition and fires. Global estimates indicate that overall, forests are an important net carbon sink, while those affected by deforestation may contribute net emissions.Note 89 In most years, Canada's managed forests are a net carbon sink—they absorb more carbon than they release. However, natural disturbances such as forest fires and insect outbreaks can have large impacts on the carbon balance since burning or decaying trees release stored carbon back into the atmosphere. Excluding the impact of these natural disturbances, forest land removed 164 Mt of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions in 2015, while emissions associated with harvested wood productsNote 90 were 135 Mt, resulting in net removals of 29 Mt by the forest sector (Chart 2.12).Note 91

Canada's national parks and reserves protect over 328,198 km2 representing the diversity of Canada's landscapes and provide opportunities for appreciation and enjoyment of natural areas.Note 92 In 2015/16, 13.1 million visitors attended national parks and park reserves.Note 93 Over half of visitors attended parks in Alberta, followed by about 22% in British Columbia, 6% in Ontario and 4% in Prince Edward Island.

According to the 2012 Canadian Nature Survey, more than two-thirds of Canadians spent time outdoors in order to experience nature and almost half travelled to experience nature.Note 94 The most popular nature-based activity was picnicking or relaxing in nature, with 71% of adult Canadians participating in this activity. Other nature-based activities that were popular included gathering nuts, berries or firewood (36%), camping (21%), fishing (21%), birding (18%) and hunting (8%). Spending on nature-based recreationNote 95 (including non-forest related activities) totalled $14.5 billion in the previous year.

Start of text box

Textbox 2.2 Urban forest cover in Canadian metropolitan areas

Trees in urban areas provide a wide range of benefits. Trees can improve cities' aesthetics and increase property values. They can provide physical and mental health benefits to humans such as lower stress levels and may even lead to increases in longevity.Note 96 Urban forests can provide wildlife habitat, provide shade and cooling, filter and clean air and water and can provide areas for recreation and enjoyment of nature.

Trees are present in most cities in Canada, for example in yards, parks and lining streets. Several Canadian cities have urban forest management plans to protect these trees and maintain and increase tree cover in urban environments.Note 97 Some cities also have extensive areas of tree cover—areas that are predominantly composed of coniferous, broadleaf or mixedwood tree cover; however, the total area covered can vary significantly (Table 2.8).

Canada's largest cities had significant areas of tree cover within the boundaries of their metropolitan regions. The area of coniferous, broadleaf or mixedwood tree cover in census metropolitan areas (CMAs) ranged from a low of 29 km2 in Windsor to a high of 3,959 km2 in Halifax in 2011.Note 98 The proportion of treed area also varies, with Toronto having 16% tree cover, Montréal 20% and Vancouver 48%. The natural environment surrounding a city has an effect on the type of trees and the percentage of urban forest cover.Note 99

The average CMA tree cover was 1,342 m2 per person. In general, the most populated cities have less tree cover per person than average while the least populated cities have more forest cover per person than average. For example, Saint John, Moncton and Saguenay had among the highest amounts of tree cover per person.

End of text box

2.3 Forest sector

Forestry-related industries have played a large role in the social and economic development of Canada. In addition to the forestry and logging industry, which involves growing and harvesting timber, forests support a number of other activities related to forest conservation and management, and provide the raw materials required for wood product and paper manufacturing.Note 100 Other industries, such as construction, also rely heavily on goods produced by the forest sector.

The overall contribution of the forest sector to Canada's economy has declined in recent decades. However, the sector continues to have a significant role in many remote, smaller and Indigenous communities.

Contribution of forest sector to the economy

Canada's forest sector has faced several challenges since the mid-2000s—in particular, a decrease in demand for lumber in the U.S. following the collapse of the housing market, as well as a decrease in demand for paper and newsprint as a result of the rise of online media.

In 2014, gross domestic product (GDP) for the forest sector in Canada was $22.1 billion.Note 101 Wood product manufacturing was responsible for 39% of this total followed by paper manufacturing (36%), forestry and logging (17%) and support activities for forestry (8%). The forest sector's overall contribution to gross domestic product declined from 1.7% in 2007 to 1.2% in 2014 (Chart 2.13).

Forest sector activities in British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario contributed the largest proportion of the sector's national-level GDP in 2014—31%, 28% and 19% respectively.Note 102 However, the sector made the largest contributions to provincial GDP in New Brunswick, where it accounted for 3.5% of the provincial GDP, followed by British Columbia (3.1%).

Canada's forests provide the raw materials to produce wood and paper products for Canadian consumption, but also provide a significant contribution to world exports. Canada is one of the top producers and exporters of softwood lumber, newsprint and pulp in the world.Note 103

In 2016, sawmills produced 68.4 million m3 of lumber, up just over 50% since a low in 2009 following the U.S. housing crash (Chart 2.14). Production of structural panels, such as plywood and oriented strandboard, totaled 8.7 million m3. Other produced wood products include windows and doors, containers and pallets—many of which are used domestically by other industries. Wood chip production totaled 18.3 million tonnes.Note 104

In 2016, the forest sector produced 16.5 million tonnes of wood pulp, 3.4 million tonnes of newsprint and 3.0 million tonnes of printing and writing paper.Note 105 Wood waste is also frequently used for energy production—11.1 million tonnes of solid wood waste and 18.4 million tonnes of spent pulping liquor were used for energy production in 2016.Note 106

Exports of lumber and sawmill and millwork products totaled $15,658 million and $13,018 million for pulp and paper in 2016.Note 107 As a proportion of total Canadian exports, forest products including logs and pulpwood, lumber and pulp and paper, have declined from 12% in 1997 to 6% in 2016 (Chart 2.15).

Exports of forestry, lumber and pulp and paper products were particularly important in British Columbia, where they account for 23% of provincial exports, followed by New Brunswick (11%), Nova Scotia (9%) and Quebec (9%).Note 108

Contribution to employment, wages and communities

Despite the downturn in the forest sector in the last decade, the forest sector continues to be an important provider of jobs and income in communities across the country and has a particular importance in smaller and Indigenous communities.

In 2016, the forest sector provided Canadians with 205,660 jobs in the forestry and logging, support activities for forestry, wood product and paper manufacturing industries (Chart 2.16). The wood product manufacturing industry accounted for 47% of jobs in 2016, followed by 27% in the paper manufacturing industry, 16% in forestry and logging and 10% in support activities for forestry. Overall, 31% of these jobs were located in Quebec, 27% in British Columbia, 21% in Ontario, 8% in Alberta, 6% in New Brunswick, with smaller proportions elsewhere.Note 109

Since 1997, the total number of jobs in the sector has declined by 42%, with the largest number of jobs lost in manufacturing. Forest sector jobs accounted for 1.1% of jobs in Canada in 2016, down from 2.5% in 1997. However, the largest drops occurred in British Columbia, where sector employment fell from 5.8% in 1997 to 2.3% in 2016 and in New Brunswick from 5.6% to 3.5%.

Total compensation in the sector was valued at $16.0 billion in 2016, accounting for 1.5% of all compensation in Canada.Note 110 Hourly compensation was $39 in the forest sector, compared to the all-industry average of $35. Hourly compensation was highest in the paper manufacturing industry at $47 per hour, followed by $37 per hour in forestry and logging, $37 per hour in wood product manufacturing and $34 per hour in support activities for forestry.

Forest sector-based communities

In 2016, the forest sector was a major economic driver for at least 105 communities located across six provinces (Table 2.9). These communities derived at least 20% of income from the forest sector.Note 111 These communities are generally small, reliant on relatively few industries and may therefore be more vulnerable to changes in the economic strength of the forest sector.Note 112

In recent decades, there has been a significant decline in the number of forest sector-based communities. In 2001, 463 communities across 9 provinces, and with a total population close to 863,000, generated at least 20% of income from the forest sector.Note 113 Increasingly, communities that received a significant proportion of their income from the forest sector are smaller. The number of communities with a population of 5,000 or more dropped from 31 in 2001 to 4 in 2016 (Chart 2.17), while the share of population in these communities dropped from 34% to 7%.

The overall share of forest sector employment income generated by forest sector-based communities decreased from 30% in 2000 to 11% in 2015. Communities that had the highest ratios of forest income to market income in 2000 were the most likely to remain reliant on the sector for at least 20% of income in 2015.

Although aggregate forest sector employment income was down in 2015, the remaining jobs continue to pay better than average. Average employment income per person in forest sector-based communities increased from $36,620 in 2000 to $40,075 in 2015, while average forest sector employment income rose from $55,120 to $62,750.Note 114

In 2016, over half (53%) of the population of forest sector-based communities lived in British Columbia, with a further 28% in Quebec and 8% in New Brunswick (Map 2.7). Overall, the population of these 105 communities declined 10% from close to 177,460 in 2001 to 159,420 in 2016, compared to a 17% increase in population at the Canada-level.Note 115 At the same time, population increased 2% in smaller communities.Note 116

These communities, like other small census subdivisions, had proportionally more seniors than the Canadian average—in 2016, 19.6% of the population of these communities were seniors 65 years of age and older compared to 16.9% for the country as a whole.Note 117

In 2016, 13.8% of the residents of these communities were First Nations people, Métis or Inuit compared to 4.9% of the population of Canada.Note 118 This proportion was highest in Saskatchewan (19%), Ontario (18%) and British Columbia (18%).

Labour force participation in forest sector-based communities was 61%, slightly lower than the Canada-average of 65%, while the unemployment rate was 11.4% compared to a rate of 7.7% overall.Note 119 Service-producing industries accounted for 58% of the labour force in forest sector-based communities compared to 77% nationally. The proportion of the labour force working in goods-producing industries meanwhile, at 41%, was double the national average.Note 120 The average employment income in these communities was $40,090, 13% lower than the national average of $46,060.Note 121

The proportion of adults aged 25 to 65 with a college or university-level education was lower than the Canadian average—32% of those in forest sector-based communities compared to 54% overall, while the percentage of those with no certificate, diploma or degree was 21% compared to 11% nationally.Note 122 However, the level of apprenticeship or trades certificate or diploma was 19% compared to 11% nationally.

2.4 Forest management

Forest sector activities, like other natural resource activities, can have a range of impacts on the environment. For example, harvesting and the loss of mature tree cover alters wildlife habitat and can affect biodiversity, runoff and erosion if not well managed (see Textbox 2.3 for more information).

Canada's publicly-owned forests—which make up 94% of Canada's forest areaNote 123are managed according to the principles of sustainable forest management to ensure forests maintain their environmental, economic and social benefits over the long-term. Forest management planning has evolved—important considerations now include how forest practices can be designed to better mimic the natural disturbances that occur in forests and the best ways to protect biodiversity.Note 124

Harvesting and regeneration

In 2015, Canada harvested 7,796 km2 of forest, which accounted for 0.2% of Canada's 3.47 million km2 of forest area. In forests managed for timber production, harvesting and regeneration practices are timed to produce a steady and sustainable forest yield resulting in harvesting occurring in different areas as forests mature (Map 2.8).

Harvesting on publicly-owned land is monitored through regular audits of forest management plans that outline approved harvesting amounts. Acts and regulations stipulate the forest area eligible for harvest, reforestation requirements after harvesting, required buffers or reserves around waterways and riparian areas, and preservation of wildlife habitat.Note 125 In 2015, 90% of all harvesting—7,032 km2—took place on provincial Crown lands (Chart 2.18). Most of the remaining harvested area occurred on private lands, with a very small amount coming from federal and territorial land.

Trends in harvested area have changed over time (Chart 2.19). Canada's total harvested area dropped 42% from 10,568 km2 in 2005 to 6,132 km2 in 2009 and has not since completely recovered to previous levels (Table 2.10). Quebec had on average the highest harvested area from 1975 to 2015, accounting for 30% of Canada's harvested area, followed by Ontario at 22% and British Columbia at 21%. However, Quebec and Ontario experienced the largest declines in harvested area over the past decade. Harvested areas were 2,021 km2 and 1,317 km2 respectively in 2015. In British Columbia, the harvested area was 1,926 km2 in 2015, more consistent with levels over the long term.

Harvest methods

There are a number of different harvesting methods in use corresponding to different silviculture systems that cover aspects of harvesting, regenerating and tending forests.Note 126 Even-aged management systems including clearcutting, shelterwood and seed tree harvesting are the most widely used—they accounted for 94% of Canada's total harvested forest area in 2015 (Chart 2.20).

Clearcutting typically involves harvesting all trees in an area, although there are several variants in how it may be carried out and practices have evolved in recent decades to reduce environmental impacts and aesthetics concerns. For example cutblocks may be in strips, blocks, patches or may follow natural boundaries and reserves and uncut trees may be left in riparian areas and for wildlife habitat.Note 127

In 2015, clearcutting was used to harvest 6,608 km2 of forest—85% of the total harvested area in Canada. This practice is often the most economic and efficient and it can mimic the role of fire by providing open areas that promote regeneration.Note 128

Shelterwood harvesting is a partial cutting method that leaves an overstorey of trees to protect or shelter regrowth.Note 129 Of the total forest area harvested in 2015, shelterwood methods were used for 644 km2 (8%). Seed tree harvesting, which involves leaving a supply of trees as a source of seed for natural regeneration, was used to harvest 27 km2—less than 1% of harvested area—in 2015.

Selection harvesting involves harvesting single mature or small groups of trees resulting in uneven-aged stands. This type of harvesting can be suitable for species that can become established in shade.Note 130 In 2015, selection practices were used to harvest 221 km2, 3% of the total harvested area.

Commercial thinning is a stand tending practice that is used to provide growing space and reduce mortality that can be as high as 30% of total volume production.Note 131 However, due to high logging cost, low stumpage fees, and unsuitable tree stands and species, little commercial thinning is currently being done in Canada.Note 132 Commercial thinning occurred on 3% of harvested land in 2015. It was more commonly used on privately-owned land—where it accounted for 16% of harvested area compared to 1% of Crown land.Note 133

In 2015, British Columbia and Quebec accounted for half of the total area harvested by clearcutting. Quebec also accounted for nearly three-quarters (73%) of shelterwood harvesting, while selection harvesting was used most in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.

Regeneration methods

As part of sustainable forest management, regeneration objectives that correspond with harvesting operations are outlined and approved by provincial and territorial governments before licenses or supply agreements are granted.Note 134 Artificial regeneration methods are used where natural regeneration will not result in a healthy and abundant forest stock after harvesting, fire or insect attack.

In 2015, over 574 million seedlings were planted on 4,134 km2 of forest. British Columbia planted the highest number of seedlings—222 million on over 1,709 km2 of planted area, followed by Quebec with 125 million seedlings on 1,011 km2 and Alberta with 92 million seedlings on its 628 km2 of planted area (Chart 2.21).

Direct seeding—including ground and aerial re-seeding—was used to regenerate 131 km2.Note 135 Direct seeding is often less costly, but can result in variable stocking rates.Note 136 The use of direct seeding was highest in Ontario covering 67 km2, followed by British Columbia at 55 km2.

Start of text box

Textbox 2.3 Environmental impacts associated with the forest sector

Canada's forests experience a variety of impacts from forest operations including logging and other management practices. Harvesting, road construction for logging, prescribed burning and chemical use in plantation management can influence forest ecosystems. Wood product and pulp and paper manufacturing have other environmental impacts, including air pollutant and effluent emissions. As well, the use of wood and harvest residues for energy production can also have an effect on air quality and also on greenhouse gas emissions, although this latter effect may be positive where wood is substituted for fossil fuels.Note 137

In recent decades, provincial and federal acts, regulations and standards have been revised to ensure appropriate practices are used to minimize impacts from forest operations. For example, British Columbia's Forest and Range Practices Act requires forest stewardship plans that describe plans for cutblocks, roads and reforestation, with objectives and specific requirements set for soils, timber, wildlife and biodiversity, riparian areas, fisheries-sensitive watersheds, visual quality and cultural heritage under the Forest Planning and Practices Regulation.Note 138

In addition, the forest sector—logging, wood product and paper manufacturing industries—spent $659.2 million on environmental protection in 2014.Note 139 For example, spending covered waste management and sewerage, pollution abatement and control and pollution prevention processes. Operating expenditures were the largest portion of these expenditures 83% ($545.6 million) with capital expenditures accounting for 17% ($113.6 million). The paper manufacturing industry was responsible for 74% of forest sector expenditures on environmental protection.

Impacts associated with forest management and logging

Timber harvesting and the removal of forest vegetation can have a large influence on forest ecosystems. Removing forest vegetation can have a variety of environmental impacts such as reduced infiltration of water into soils and increased runoff resulting in changes in streamflow, water levels and water quality.Note 140 Increased soil erosion can result in sedimentation of streambeds, affecting fish habitat.Note 141

The creation of forestry access roads can have a number of effects including soil compaction, disturbance of streams and impeded fish passage.Note 142They can also have effects at the landscape level—roads fragment the landscape into smaller parcels, which can have effects on the size and quality of wildlife habitat.Note 143 Roads also create new access routes for recreational vehicles and may help the spread of predators and invasive species.Note 144 From 1990 to 2015, almost 750 km2 of forest land was permanently converted to forestry roads.Note 145 Unpaved roads were responsible for about one-third of total emissions of particulate matter in Canada in 2015.Note 146

Changes in landscape and forest composition that occur in response to forestry practices will have different effects for different species—positive for some and negative for others. For instance, certain species of trees grow better in the open conditions provided after harvesting. Some populations of animals, including snowshoe hare thrive in open conditions, whereas others like woodland caribou prefer continuous tracts of mature forest land.Note 147 Changes in the number and type of tree species may affect the biological diversity of forest ecosystems.Note 148

Other silviculture practices include treating harvested sites to improve the success of tree regeneration. These practices include mechanical treatment to scatter or break-up slash and prepare soil; prescribed burning to remove underbrush and dead wood; and chemical treatment to help regenerate forest areas. In 2015, mechanical treatment was used on 1,805 km2, prescribed burning—including burning for ecological restoration—was used on 112 km2,Note 149 herbicides were used on 90 km2, and mixed or other methods were used to prepare 74 km2 of forest area.Note 150

While these practices improve seedling growth and survival, they can have other impacts—for example, prescribed burning releases air pollutants,Note 151 although these emissions are a small fraction of those from wildfires. Use of pesticides and fertilizers can also have impacts on water quality and habitat, though some impacts are mitigated through the use of buffer zones around water bodies.Note 152

Other environmental impacts from the forest sector

Overall, the forest sector, including the forestry and logging, wood product and paper manufacturing industries, was responsible for 4% of total water use in 2013.Note 153 The paper manufacturing industry was responsible for the vast majority of the sector's water withdrawals. Water intake for paper manufacturing was 1,537 million m3 of which 1,481 million m3 were discharged back into water bodies after use.Note 154

The industry is regulated by the Pulp and Paper Effluent Regulations, which sets out requirements on the biochemical oxygen demand, total suspended solids and toxicity of effluent. In 2013, 82% of wastewater received secondary water treatment or higher and 3% received primary water treatment before being released.Note 155 Almost all effluent samples met regulatory requirements in 2014, a major improvement since the mid-1980s.Note 156

Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) associated with the forest sector totalled 39,931 kt in 2015, 5% of total industrial and household emissions.Note 157 Paper manufacturing industries were responsible for 74% of the sector's GHG emissions.

End of text box

Forest management certification

Certification programs assess forest practices against internationally recognized standards for sustainable forest management. The standards address timber harvesting practices, but also issues related to biodiversity, wildlife habitat and soil, water and air quality.Note 158

Under these programs, forest management practices are audited by an independent third-party. Systems are audited annually and findings are disclosed to the public.Note 159 Many world buyers only accept certified timber products and companies that meet certification requirements are able to use a product mark indicating that they have met the standards.Note 160 Canada has 37% of the world's certified forests—the largest area of any country.Note 161

In 2016, close to half of Canada's forests were certified through either the Canadian Standards Association, Forest Stewardship Council or Sustainable Forestry Initiative® Program (Table 2.11).

Certification has grown relatively quickly in Canada. In 1999, none of Canada's forest areas were part of a certified standard.Note 162 This rose to 860,000 km2 of certified forest in 2004 and then to 1.5 million km2 in 2010, reaching 1.68 million km2 in 2016.Note 163 British Columbia had the largest amount of certified forest in 2016 with 519,534 km2, followed by Quebec with 451,552 km2 and Ontario with 267,889 km2.

Although all three of Canada's certification programs promote principles that support sustainable forest management, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® Program was the most commonly used.

Protected areas

Establishing protected areas is an important part of nature conservation.Note 164 These areas are created to preserve exceptional natural settings, to provide recreation and tourism opportunities, to offer environments for study and education and to support wildlife habitat. The enjoyment they provide, both physical and visual, also result in indirect benefits for health and well-being.Note 165

To meet the 2020 Biodiversity Goals and Targets, Canada has set a target to conserve "at least 17% of terrestrial areas and inland water"Note 166 through the use of protected areas and proven conservation techniques.Note 167 At the end of 2015, 1.05 million km2 was protected area. This represented 10.6% of Canada's terrestrial land including inland water, an increase from 9.8% in 2011.Note 168

Canada's protected forests are an important part of Canada's overall protected areas. In 2006, 240,410 km2 or 7% of Canada's total forest area was protected. The Boreal Shield ecozone had the largest area of protected forests, accounting for 37% of Canada's total, followed by the Montane Cordillera (19%) and the Boreal Plains (15%) ecozones (Chart 2.22).

Most protected forests are publicly owned—provincial Crown forests accounted for 77% of the protected forest area in Canada, followed by federally-owned forests at 19%.Note 169 Federal lands had the highest percentage of forest land in protected areas at 84%, accounting for 45,208 km2.

Protected area classifications are established by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and define levels of restriction for conserving and protecting areas.Note 170 Forests in category 1a/1b have the highest degree of protection, while those in category VI have the highest level of permitted environmental modification.Note 171

In 2006, 60% of protected forest area was categorized as Category II (Chart 2.23). These areas mainly include conservation areas and large national, provincial and territorial parks, such as Parc National des Pingualuit in Quebec and Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta and the Northwest Territories.Note 172 Public access and recreational activities are generally permitted,Note 173 but commercial extractions—such as harvesting—are not allowed.Note 174

The next largest proportion of protected forest area—28%—was in Category Ib, which also includes provincial and territorial parks, as well as federal Migratory Bird Sanctuaries. These protected forests have little built infrastructure, although public access may be allowed—the focus is on maintaining the natural condition.Note 175

The proportion of protected area was highest for older forests—for stands aged 181 to 200 years, 27% of the forest area was protected, followed by 18% for stands aged 161 to 180 years and 16% for stands aged over 200 years. The oldest protected forests were located most frequently in the West. More than three-quarters (76%) of protected forests aged 181 to 200 and close to half (49%) of those aged 161 to 180 years were found in the Montane Cordillera ecozone. Protected forests aged over 201 years were found mostly in the Pacific Maritime ecozone (39%), Montane Cordillera (37%) and Boreal Cordillera (24%).Note 176

2.5 Conclusion

Canada's forest ecosystems are composed of a mosaic of treed land, shrubland, wetland and lakes and occupy close to two-thirds of Canada's total area.Note 177 Within this overall landscape, Canada's forests extend across 3.47 million km2, the third largest forest area in the world.Note 178

Forests provide us with timber and other forest products, as well as many ecosystem services such as water filtration, air purification, carbon sequestration, and recreational and spiritual services. They are shaped primarily through forest succession and regeneration and natural disturbance from fire and insect outbreaks, but are also affected by many human activities that occur both within and outside their boundaries.

Many resource-based activities including forestry, mining, oil and gas exploration and extraction and hydro-electric production can contribute to changes in forest landscapes. For example, forestry access roads, seismic lines, mines, well sites, dams and reservoirs, utility corridors and other temporary and permanent roads and infrastructure contribute to deforestation and habitat fragmentation when constructed through forest areas.Note 179

Some other activities occurring within or on the boundaries of forests include the conversion of land for agriculture and urban development and recreational land use. However, activities occurring outside forests can also affect forest land, for example, through the introduction and spread of exotic and invasive species like the emerald ash borerNote 180 and long-range pollution transport and acid deposition on forest soils.Note 181 Some climate-induced changes in forests have already occurred and climate change is expected to continue to affect Canada's forests in multiple and interconnected ways.Note 182

Timber harvesting—the largest direct human disturbance occurring in Canada's forests—only occurs on Crown lands after a forest management plan has been developed in consultation with the public and approved by government. These plans outline how social, economic and environmental sustainability will be achieved at the local and landscape scales. However, there is growing recognition of the need to assess not only the impacts of forestry activities in forests, but also the cumulative effects of all human activities, including their interactions with climate change. These various influences affect the condition of forest ecosystems, their biodiversity, and ultimately may have an impact on their ability to provide ecosystem goods and services.

2.6 Notes

Date modified: