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COMPETING REALITIES: The Boreal Forest at Risk

Report of the Sub-Committee on Boreal Forest of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry

Chair of the Subcommittee : The Honourable Nicholas W. Taylor

Deputy Chair : The Honourable Mira Spivak

June 1999

During its study the Subcommittee acquired considerable data relating to the boreal forest in tabular and graphic format. This data includes detailed descriptions of current allocations of the boreal forest, trends in provincial expenditures and revenues, herbicide and pesticide use, harvesting levels, forest fires and stumpage rates.



36th Parliament, 1997-98 – First Session

The Honourable Nicholas W. Taylor, Chair
The Honourable Mira Spivak, Deputy Chair


The Honourable Senators:

*Graham (or Carstairs)
*Lynch-Staunton (or Kinsella)
Robichaud, F., P.C.

*Ex Officio Members

The following Senators also served on the Committee during its study: The Honourable Senators Adams, Atkins, Cohen, Deware, Gill, Mahovlich, Rossiter, Whelan.



35th Parliament, 1996-97 – Second Session

The Honourable Doris Anderson, Chair


The Honourable Senators:


The following Senator also served on the Committee during its study: The Honourable Senator Gustafson.


Extract from the Journals of the Senate, Tuesday, November 18, 1997:

The Honourable Senator Gustafson moved, seconded by the Honourable Senator Stratton:

That the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry be authorized to examine the present state and the future of forestry in Canada; and

That the Committee present its report no later than December 15, 1998.

The question being put on the motion, it was adopted.

Paul Bélisle
Clerk of the Senate



Extract from the Minutes of Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry of February 19, 1998:

That a subcommittee be created and that it be authorized to inquire into issues related to the harvest of the Boreal Forest and other matters relating to forestry which may be referred to it from time to time by the committee;

That the subcommittee be given powers extended to the Standing Committee on Agriculture by rules 89 and 90 of the Rules of the Senate of Canada with the exception of the power to report its findings to the Senate directly;

That the subcommittee be comprised of five (5) members, three of whom shall constitute a quorum;

That the initial membership of the Subcommittee on the Boreal Forest be as follows, The Honourable Senators Robichaud, Spivak, Stratton, Taylor and Whelan;

That substitution in membership be communicated to the clerk of the subcommittee.

Blair Armitage
Clerk of the Committee



Extract from the Journals of the Senate, Tuesday, November 24, 1998:

The Honourable Senator Taylor moved, seconded by the Honourable Senator Mahovlich:

That notwithstanding the Order of the Senate adopted on November 18, 1997, to examine matters relating to the present state and future of forestry in Canada, the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry be empowered to present its final report no later than June 30, 1999; and

That the Committee be permitted, notwithstanding usual practices, to deposit its report with the Clerk of the Senate, if the Senate is not then sitting; and that the report be deemed to have been tabled in the Chamber.

After debate,

The question being put on the motion, it was adopted.

Paul C. Bélisle
Clerk of the Senate



Extract from the Journals of the Senate, Thursday, April 29, 1999:

The Honourable Senator Taylor moved, seconded by the Honourable Senator Maloney:

That the papers and evidence received and taken on the subject of the harvest of the boreal forest during the Second Session of the Thirty-fifth Parliament be referred to the Subcommittee on the Boreal Forest of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry.

The question being put on the motion it was adopted.

Paul C. Bélisle
Clerk of the Senate








The Boreal Forest in Canada
Climate Change and the Boreal Forest

The World’s Boreal Forest Today: An Overview
The "Working Forest"
Table 1: Ownership, Allocation and Protected Area - Western Boreal Forest
Forestry Practices
Silvicultural Practices
Mills and pollution
Wood Supply and Cutting Rate
Cumulative Impacts of Developments
Table 2:
Fisheries Act Enforcement Personnel - 1998.
Recent Development in Sustainable Management of the Working Forest
The "Forgotten" Forest
The "Protected" Forest
Provincial Protected Areas
Will Protected Areas Protect What is Important?



Traditional Land Use Issues
Other Uses of the Forest: Business and Employment Opportunities
Jurisdictional Issues and Recent Developments


Table 6: Canadian Forest Industry Sales and Exports (1993-1997)
Table 7: Payments to Government by Forestry Sector






Appendix A - 35th Parliament – Fact Finding Visits
Appendix B - 35th Parliament – Witnesses
Appendix C - 36th Parliament – Witnesses & Field Trips
Appendix D - Hearing Summaries


The Subcommittee believes that we can and must develop strategies that can ensure the survival of our threatened boreal forest while still enhancing traditional forest use and preserving economic and industrial benefits.

Our report examines the state of the boreal forest, the very real threats to its survival and options we have to define and modify the footprint humans leave. In studying the boreal forest we have drawn upon the advice and experience of the aboriginal community, the forestry industry and scientific community, conservationists and environmentalists, and other users of the forest such as tourists and recreation interests. Finally, the Subcommittee drew on the experience of Sweden and Finland, countries which lost most of their original forests nearly 100 years ago. They have regained production through a form of intensive management of their largely privately owned forests. Numerous public hearings were held both in Ottawa and in other locations across the country at which we heard the views of a wide variety of people with an interest in the boreal forest. The Subcommittee also visited forest communities and industry sites across the country, as well as in Sweden and Finland.

We have not limited our recommendations to the purview of the Government of Canada alone. Much of what we observe and suggest affects action by the provinces, by industry, by boreal communities and municipalities and many other interests. This is intentional.

The Subcommittee must stress, in reporting our findings to Canadians, that though there are no quick fixes and many of the actions we must take may have a substantial transition period, the window of opportunity for preserving all of the values offered by the boreal forest is closing rapidly. We must put our words into action very soon indeed.


Nicholas W. Taylor


The world’s boreal forest, a resource of which Canada is the major trustee, is under siege. It faces threats such as climate change that may reduce it substantially, ozone depletion, and acid deposition. Portions of Canada’s remaining natural, undisturbed boreal forest and its areas of old growth are now at risk, from both climate change and over cutting. In addition, the demands and expectations placed on Canada’s boreal forest have escalated to the point where they cannot all be met under the current management regime. Highly mechanized timber harvesting is proceeding at a rapid pace, as is mineral and petroleum exploration and extraction. At the same time, the boreal forest is being asked to provide a home and way of life for aboriginal communities, habitat for wildlife, an attraction for tourism and a place where biodiversity and watersheds are protected. Consultations across the nation by the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers as well as by this Subcommittee have left no doubt that this wide range of functions is not only not being met, but is vitally important to the people of Canada to whom this forest belongs.

In the face of these demands, expectations and threats, Canadians must come up with new and better ways to manage our activity in the boreal forest to meet the competing realities of preserving the resource, maintaining the lifestyle and values of boreal communities, extracting economic wealth, and preserving ecological values.

The Subcommittee believes that we can and must develop strategies that can help to ensure the survival of our beleaguered forest while still enhancing traditional forest use and creating economic benefits. We further believe that it is important to move in this direction very soon, before certain opportunities are lost forever.

In order to accommodate all of the competing realities of the boreal forest without placing the survival of the forest at further risk, the Subcommittee recommends that serious consideration be given to apportioning the boreal forest into three distinct categories.

One category, comprising up to 20 per cent of the total boreal forest area, would be intensively managed, on the Scandinavian model, for purposes of timber and fibre production. Judging by the Scandinavian examples that the Subcommittee saw, intensive management could boost timber yields per hectare by eight or more times those presently obtained in Canada. This increased productivity would free up more of our forests for ecological preservation, aboriginal use, tourism, wildlife protection and other uses, and at the same time, preserve our industry. The supply of timber and fibre for mills from the intensively managed area could also be supplemented by sustainably grown timber from private lands, including reforested marginal farmland near the forest fringe. Our tax laws have to change from the last century’s incentives for converting forests to farms to laws that do the exact opposite. Alternative fibres could also be used more widely.

The second category would be managed at a less intensive level over a broader area, with long-term leases, audited regularly by community groups assisting forestry experts. This zone would retain a relatively natural mixture of tree species and ages, for the sake of preserving biodiversity. It would also accommodate the full range of forest users and communities, including aboriginal hunters and trappers, tourist outfitters, and recreational users.

The third category, which should constitute up to 20 per cent of the boreal forest, would be set aside as protected areas. It would include areas of old growth boreal forest, areas used traditionally for native trapping, representative ecological areas and areas of significant wildlife habitat.

The public is making increasing demands to be included in forest land-use decisions. The Subcommittee supports this desire and believes that the forest use designations outlined above should be made with the full participation of representatives of all forest stakeholders, at the local or regional level. The Subcommittee would foresee that forest management of the first two zones would be the responsibility of the forest companies under long-term tenure reform, based on stewardship and meaningful community involvement in audit and decision-making. The Subcommittee could not agree on an appropriate length for such tenure, with terms from 25 years to 99 years being suggested. Continuation of tenure on Crown Lands would be subject to regular, rigorous audits by independent, qualified experts assisted by local members of the public. Conservation laws should apply equally to privately owned and publicly owned forest land.

The Subcommittee realizes that the system of designation recommended here would not happen overnight. It will take some time and a great deal of co-operation between different jurisdictions, to fully implement such a system. However, we firmly believe that such a long-term goal is essential and that a start must be made towards it very soon. In pursuing this goal, the federal government must, at all times, live up to its responsibilities, particularly with regard to aboriginal peoples. The tax system should be used as a mechanism to promote sustainable forestry practices.

In reaching these conclusions, the Subcommittee is not advocating that we mimic the Scandinavian situation in its entirety. Unfortunately, there is very little untouched forest left in that part of the world. We do, however, believe that we can learn much from their expertise in intensive forest management and apply that experience to our intensively managed areas. If we do so, we will then be able to sustain a healthy forest industry and still preserve undisturbed, large tracts of boreal wilderness, which we are fortunate enough to still have. In effect, we can have our cake and eat it too if, and only if, we move quickly and decisively.


  • In order to accommodate all of the competing demands on the boreal forest, the Subcommittee recommends that serious consideration be given to a natural landscape-based forest use regime that apportions the boreal forest into three distinct categories. One category, comprising up to 20 per cent of the forest land base, would be managed intensively for timber production. A second category, which would comprise the majority of the boreal forest, would be managed less intensively for a variety of values, but with preservation of biodiversity as the primary objective. The third category, comprising up to 20 per cent of the forest land base, would be set aside as protected areas to preserve ecologically and culturally significant areas.
    • In order to conserve boreal forest wilderness, a valuable and vanishing resource in Canada, the network of protected areas, that was promised for completion by the year 2000, should be completed no later than 2002.
    • The federal government should accelerate the identification, interim protection and establishment of six new national parks within the boreal forest zone.
    • The federal government should not issue timber or other development permits in candidate park sites. Co-ordination between departments is required to ensure that everyone is aware of the location of such candidate sites. Provincial governments should be encouraged to do the same.
    • Once established, both national and provincial parks must be truly protected, with no industrial development being allowed.
    • The federal government should initiate discussions with the provinces to negotiate a formal agreement committing both levels of government to managing not just parks, but also adjacent lands, on an ecosystem basis.
    • Maximum road and trail density standards appropriate for the area should be established and enforced within the boreal forest.
    • Adequate logging buffers need to be established around parks in the boreal forest, to prevent adverse impacts on the park ecosystems.
    • In both protected areas and managed forests, governments must ensure the preservation of wildlife habitat, taking into account the size and connectivity requirements of wildlife habitat.


  • The federal government must use its existing Constitutional authority regarding aboriginal rights, fisheries, endangered species, migratory birds, navigable waters and environmental impact assessment to ensure a strong federal involvement in Canada’s boreal forests.
    • Canada needs a strong Endangered Species Act that also recognizes the importance of preserving the habitat on which endangered species depend for their survival, as has been the case in the United States since the 1960s.
    • In those parts of the boreal forest approaching the tree line, where adequate silvicultural methods have not been developed, logging should not be allowed.
    • In order to protect the boreal forest the federal government must ensure the rigorous enforcement of the Fisheries Act and the Migratory Birds Act, and should use its environmental assessment powers to address unsustainable logging and trans-boundary impacts of logging.
    • Because of the vital role they play in preserving biodiversity, cutting should be limited in old-growth sections of the boreal forest.


  • The tax system should be used to promote sustainable forestry management.

    • Tax incentives should be considered for landowners who forego cutting of woodlots to protect endangered species and/or their habitat.
    • Tax incentives should be established to encourage the reforestation of marginal agricultural land.
    • Small woodlot owners should not be taxed on the potential commercial value of standing trees, but only when they are cut and the income is realized.
    • Small woodlot owners should be allowed to hold money earned by harvesting their timber in interest-bearing trust accounts, and income tax would only be paid on that money when it is withdrawn and used for purposes other than the sustainable management of the woodlot.
    • The federal government should review the tax treatment of transferring a family owned woodlot from one generation to the next. At the present time, some woodlot owners find that the only way to pay the taxes arising from such a transaction is to harvest the trees, precluding preservation of the family forest.
    • The impact of woodlot ownership on eligibility for the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors should be reviewed as the current treatment can encourage, or necessitate, the "liquidation" of the forest asset.
    • The federal government should change the way in which forest management expenses of small woodlot owners are handled, since the benefits of such investment may not be realized for decades. Revenue Canada still uses the realization of regular income every several years as the test of "a reasonable expectation of profit" from these expenditures. In forestry, a longer time horizon is needed.
    • The Finance Minister should look at modifying the restricted farm loss rules to take into account the longer time frame needed in forestry to realize a profit.
    • Governments should consider investment incentives to encourage business to undertake value-added wood manufacturing in Canada using Canadian wood.


  • Other Recommendations:

    • The federal government should fund a comprehensive nation-wide forest inventory, including forest soils and soil organisms.
    • Data for the National Forestry Database should be collected and recorded on an ecosystem basis. The Subcommittee found it difficult to address certain issues because data are generally available on either a national or a provincial basis. Data for the boreal forest alone are not readily available.
    • All herbicide and chemical pesticide use in the boreal forest should be phased out as soon as possible.


  • Indian Affairs and Northern Development Canada, the Canadian Forestry Service, and other federal agencies must live up to the federal government’s responsibilities regarding Métis and First Nations in all of their programs dealing with aboriginal forestry issues.

    • Governments should not grant timber harvesting rights to forestry companies on traditional lands used by aboriginal peoples for centuries or in areas of disputed land claims without adhering to the most recent court decisions. The Subcommittee also supports the timely resolution of aboriginal land claims.
    • The Crown’s fiduciary duty to protect and honour aboriginal rights must be clearly acknowledged by the provinces as being a shared responsibility with respect to forestry matters. This includes the responsibility of governments to participate in negotiations between aboriginal people and forest industry representatives.
    • Forestry companies must include traditional aboriginal land uses in planning on any forested area that is a traditional aboriginal use area, or where forestry practices might infringe upon treaty rights.
    • Continued and expanded mechanisms for partnering between government, industry and aboriginal peoples with regard to forestry training, business development, access to a forest land base, and employment opportunities must be found.


  • Government and industry should work together to increase the amount of value-added wood manufacturing taking place in the boreal forest communities with a view to increasing employment in the forestry sector.

    • Retraining programs aimed at allowing displaced forestry workers to stay in their communities and involved in the forest industry be strengthened.


  • At the international level, Canada should promote the integration of the various forest certification systems. Having a plethora of systems would render them all less effective.



A vast evergreen forest lies like a mantle across the shoulders of the northernmost land areas on earth —Siberia, Alaska, Canada, and Scandinavia. Named for Boreas, the Greek god of the North Wind, the boreal forest accounts for almost one-third of the earth’s forested land and has been called the world’s largest ecosystem. It also encompasses the world’s largest expanses of wetlands and lakes. Like other forests around the world it is under increasing pressure from human use. As the World Commission on Forests and Sustainable Development expressed the situation:

"We are drawing on the world’s natural capital for more rapidly than it is regenerating. Rather than living on the "interest" of the "natural capital", we are borrowing from poorer communities and from future generations".(1)

Canada has a significant role to play in addressing this issue, being one of the major keepers of the boreal forest ecosystem. From the Yukon and northeastern B.C., this forest stretches across the northern parts of the Prairie Provinces and southern NWT, northern Ontario and Quebec, and the forested parts of Labrador and Newfoundland. A small portion also occurs in northwestern New Brunswick.

Unlike the forests of the United States, Scandinavia and most nations of the world, Canada’s forests are publically owned with only 6 per cent being privately held. On a national basis, provinces have jurisdiction over 71 per cent and the federal government over 23 per cent.(2) Within the boreal forest New Brunswick, with 50 per cent private ownership is the exception to the national picture.

While most of the forest is on Crown land managed by the provinces, the federal government is responsible for many forest-related matters. These includes a fiduciary responsibility to aboriginal peoples, responsibility for protection of endangered species, migratory birds, navigable waters, fisheries, environmental assessment, and forest research and technology development. Its role as a signatory to the Biodiversity Convention of 1992 and its commitment at Kyoto to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (such as carbon dioxide) are also closely related to the management of our forest resources.

These "north woods," home to moose and wolf, caribou and bear, are our wilderness, our frontier, and homeland to many of Canada’s aboriginal peoples. Its wildlife, trees, lakes and streams belong to all Canadians -- a public legacy of biodiversity found in few other countries.

Over the centuries, it is a legacy that has been the very foundation of the development of this country. Conversely, it has been increasingly affected by this very development. Before European settlers arrived in what is now Canada, First Nation’s people hunted, fished and trapped in the forests and cleared small areas for growing crops. They lived in harmony with the forests and did not have a large-scale impact on them. As European settlers arrived in the 1600s they began to clear the forests to establish farms. The forest was seen as a barrier to settlement as well as a convenient source of building material. In the 1700s trade in white pine logs began with Europe, especially Britain, which needed them as masts for its large naval fleet. At the same time, a saw-milling industry began in Canada to satisfy the ever-increasing supply of wood needed to construct the growing settlements in Canada and the north-eastern United States. Exports to Europe also continued to increase. Throughout this period the forest management approach was one of unregulated resource exploitation. Trees had economic value when cut, and they had to be cut in any event to make way for the growing settlements. Supply was not a concern, as the forests seemed endless., (3)(4)

In the early 1800s the lumber trade was joined by a growing pulp and paper trade and income from license fees, stumpage fees and other user charges imposed on the thriving forest industry was viewed by the provinces as essential to finance their economic development. The British North America Act of 1867, recognized this fact, giving the eastern provinces control over natural resources, including the forests, and permitting them to retain all revenues from Provincial Crown Lands. These rights to forest resources followed development west.

Provincial governments continue to this day to derive significant financial benefit both directly and indirectly from the forest industry. (See Table 7, p. 68) During the late 19th century people started to voice concerns about the rate at which the forests were being depleted. Perhaps they were not "limitless" after all. At that time, the first large forest reserves were established and other areas were set aside to be preserved in their natural, forested state. Forest management changed dramatically with scientific input becoming more important and organizations and government departments being established to manage the industry.

This "conservation era" was followed in the 1930s to 1980s by a forest management approach aimed at maintaining the "sustained yield" of timber. Sustained yield policies were designed to achieve a balance between net growth and harvest.(5)

There is ample evidence to show that "current" forest use and management practices are destroying our legacy, that we are cutting too many trees over too large an area and that our forest policies have been ill-advised. Yet, on paper at least Canada has an enlightened, sustainable forest policy. Can these conflicting visions both be correct? What is the status of sustainable forest management in Canada today? Are we on the right track and where do we go from here?

The Subcommittee on the Boreal Forest undertook this study to answer these questions. In particular, we focussed on forestry matters related to the environment, aboriginal peoples, and international issues.

We have been amazed at the breadth and complexity of the issues facing the boreal forest today – issues such as climate change, Treaty and aboriginal rights, world trade and biodiversity. We have found that people’s views of the "value" of the boreal forest are evolving, and forest management in this country is in the midst of a major re-evaluation.

Many Canadians would be surprised to see how much is going on in the boreal forest today. Activities include not only industrial forestry, but also energy development, agricultural clearing, road construction, and recreation and tourism in previously inaccessible areas. These developments have been proceeding on a large scale over the past few decades.

In recent years, activity in the forest has been paralleled by activity in boardrooms and meeting halls as people interested in the forest have sought to chart a course balancing development and preservation. Under the auspices of the Canadian Forest Service and the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers, two consecutive five year plans (National Forest Strategies) have been drawn up in consultation with the public. Consisting of a vision, principles, and action plans for Canadian forests, they represent a significant step towards achieving sustainable management of our forests. As defined by the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers, the goal of "sustainable forest management" is to:

"Maintain and enhance the long-term health of our forest ecosystems, for the benefit of all living things both nationally and globally, while providing environmental, economic, social and cultural opportunities for the benefit of present and future generations."(6)

In 1992, Canada became the first major nation to have a Forest Accord. Its 25 signatory organizations (the National Forest Strategy Coalition) are a broadly based coalition of federal, provincial and territorial governments, labour, industry, aboriginal peoples, environmental groups, academics and private woodlot owner organizations. They have overseen the implementation of two five-year National Forest Strategies and framed a second Canada Forest Accord, which was signed in 1998 by 39 organizations. In it the signatories confirm that:

"Our forests will be managed on an integrated basis, supporting a full range of uses and values including timber production, habitat for wildlife, and areas allocated for parks and wilderness."(7)

Canadian Forest Service scientists have developed a set of criteria and indicators by which to measure progress in sustainable forest management.

The provinces, as signatories to the Accord, have developed their own forest accords and strategies with a great deal of public involvement, and some provinces have codes of practice for forest operations. Industrial signatories have also been working on plans for sustainable forest management.

Thus, it appears that we have reached the point where potentially transforming concepts are widespread. Yet institutions, management planning, and forestry practices ‘on the ground’ have not, in most cases, seen significant change.

A "change of course" does not quickly become evident in the forest. Many of the decisions being made will affect the forest that our grandchildrens’ grandchildren inherit, not the reality that we see. However, it is the present reality that concerns many people. There is a sense of urgency, a sense that, at least in some parts of the boreal forest, time is running out for saving some of the vital functions that the forest provides such as wildlife habitat, watershed protection and carbon sinks. There is a sense that we are rapidly foreclosing on some of the many benefits and services which people want and expect from their forests.

The Subcommittee also heard a great deal of testimony about the continuing importance of forestry to the economic well-being of the country. Even though management systems may have changed over the years, the forest industry still holds a pre-eminent position in Canada’s economic life. Hundreds of thousands of Canadians are still employed in the forestry sector and the industry contributes over $30 billion annually in foreign exchange to the Canadian economy. This is the "economic reality" of increasing demand.

The task of reconciling the ecological and economic realities of the boreal forest is a huge challenge. However, in the course of this study, the Subcommittee identified additional "realities" that must be added to the equation and made to balance at the end of the day. The one about which the Subcommittee heard the most, and in which the federal government has a potentially large role to play is the "aboriginal reality". Many of Canada’s aboriginal peoples still live off the land. For many of them the boreal forest is their home, and its continued health is essential to their very survival. They must have a greater say in the management of their forests, and a greater share in the wealth that they generate. The federal government has a responsibility which many think has been overlooked or forgotten, to speak up on behalf of our aboriginal people when the provinces set out their development plans for our forests.

During the course of its study, the Subcommittee was also made acutely aware of the "international reality" of forest practices. As a major player in the international trade in forest products, Canada must respond to growing consumer demands for proof, probably via internationally recognized certification, that its forests are being managed in a sustainable way.

This report is the outcome of our investigations. We hope that it will increase awareness and understanding of the "competing realities" that are vying for use of the boreal forest. We further hope that it will illustrate the ways by which seemingly unrelated decisions affect the forest. We trust that it will stimulate public debate as to how best all of us can proceed in managing this great legacy. 

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