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Subcommittee on Boreal Forest



COMPETING REALITIES: The Boreal Forest at Risk


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?


Today, only about one-fifth of the world’s forests remain "intact" or undisturbed. Half of these are the boreal forests of Alaska, Russia and Canada(8). Within Canada, these virgin forests are mainly in the northern parts of the boreal region. In 1999 they were estimated at less than 35 per cent of Canada’s boreal forest.(9)

In the boreal forests of Scandinavia, where industrial forestry harvesting began over 100 years ago, very little of the original forest remains (in Sweden, for example, 5 per cent of the original forests remain)(10). Intensive silviculture is practiced in Scandinavia. While this has restored fibre production, it has led to many problems involving exotic species and instability of the ecosystem(11). Approximately 1500 forest species are listed as threatened in Sweden. Scandinavian governments are attempting, at great expense, to restore the natural forest and its wildlife(12).

In Russia the boreal forest occurs mainly in Siberia. Massive harvesting and high-grading of mature conifers has taken place, resulting in a decline in this type of forest today. Forest management is presently non-existant and at-risk species are not being protected.(13) 


The Boreal Forest in Canada

Canada is steward of one-quarter of the world’s boreal forests.(14) Within Canada, the boreal is our most northerly forest and, by far, our largest forest type. The boreal forest constitutes over three-quarters of Canada’s total forested area and occurs in all provinces and territories except Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.

Across the country the boreal forest shows variations, but its distinguishing feature remains the predominance of conifers (softwoods) such as spruce, pine, tamarack (larch) and fir. Deciduous (hardwood) tree species, if present, consist primarily of poplar and birch. Many deciduous shrub species such as willow may also be present. Differences in soil, climate, and other factors are reflected in differences in species composition from east to west and north to south. To the south, the forest contains the most deciduous trees; southern portions within the clay belt of the prairie provinces, northeastern British Columbia and Quebec are termed the "boreal mixedwood forest" because both poplar and spruce dominate(15). To the east, the boreal forest merges with other forest types, while to the north, it becomes an open-canopy lichen woodland containing coniferous trees, the size of which gradually diminishes as the northern limit of tree growth is approached.

No one has counted all the lakes in the boreal forest, but their number is estimated at about 1.5 million(16). Some of Canada’s largest river systems and wetlands, such as the Churchill-Nelson River system and the Peace-Athabasca Delta, are present in boreal regions.

Viewed from above, the boreal forest is a complex pattern of different species. In some places single species grow in pure stands, while in other places, they intermingle. Some stands are even-aged (all of similar age) and others are uneven-aged (of mixed ages). Many types of shrubs, herbs, grasses, moss and lichens may form one or more understory layers under the tree canopy. Standing and fallen dead trees are often present in various stages of decay.

Site conditions and natural disturbances such as forest fires, insect outbreaks and disease have shaped these patterns. Boreal forest vegetation has adapted to these disturbances, growing back from roots and seeds after disturbance.(17) Usually shade-intolerant hardwoods grow back first, followed by the slower-growing, shade-tolerant coniferous species.(18) In the western boreal, due to the relatively high return frequencies of forest fires, coniferous stands that have reached "old age" are in the minority.(19)

This variety of forest vegetation provides habitat for a variety of wildlife. Some wildlife species inhabit only certain types and ages of forest stands, while more generalist species utilize a wider variety. Old stands containing large trees, standing dead trees, and fallen, decaying trees, along with abundant shrubs and herbs, are important habitat for numerous species such as marten(20), lynx, northern flying squirrel(21), certain bird species(22), and bats(23). In the mixedwood boreal forest it has been found that old-growth stands support the most bird, mammal, and non-vascular plant species.(24)

Some wildlife species, such as the wolverine (a species considered "vulnerable" in the West and "endangered" in the East), and grizzly bear, require large undisturbed areas of boreal forest. The eastern cougar is another endangered species inhabiting the boreal forest.

The woodland caribou, a "vulnerable" species in many provinces, requires large areas of lichen-covered woodlands; in west-central Alberta when snow is deep, it depends on forest stands over 150 years of age.(25) The pine marten, an "endangered" species in Newfoundland, also inhabits old-growth forests.(26) The habitat needs of these and other forest-dwelling "sensitive" species are the subject of current research. The large wetlands of the western boreal forest are the breeding grounds for approximately 40 per cent of the ducks found on prairie potholes in the spring.(27)

Much that goes on in boreal forests occurs below ground, such as nutrient recycling by the many kinds of living organisms present in the soil. We have little knowledge about these organisms and their functions. The Canadian Forest Service estimates that Canada’s forests contain about 140,000 kinds of living organisms, about half of which are not yet classified.(28) Plants and vertebrate animals comprise only about 5 per cent of boreal forest species, while invertebrates, fungi and microbial organisms comprise over 90 per cent(29). Much less is known about the pharmaceutical properties of the organisms than is known about the tropical forests. Processes such as water recharge and flow through soils and interrelationships between plants are only beginning to be studied.


Climate Change and the Boreal Forest

Because of the importance of carbon dioxide in climate warming, and because boreal regions contain huge pools of the world’s carbon, research into the carbon balance in Canada’s forests and forest soils is currently being conducted by the Canadian Forest Service. During photosynthesis, trees produce oxygen and convert carbon dioxide (a "greenhouse gas") into woody tissue and leaves, thus locking carbon away for decades or centuries until the trees burn, decompose, or are used in other processes. Some of the carbon from leaves and woody debris is stored in the forest soil(30). Peatlands in the boreal forest are also carbon sinks(31). Recent studies show that the world’s boreal forests are highly significant carbon sinks, removing carbon at a rate of 0.2 gigatonnes per year(32). Witnesses told the Subcommittee that maintaining ecological complexity and ecosystem resilience of the forest are the most important factors in decreasing the impact of climate change.

Not only do forests influence climate, but they are also influenced by it. The boreal forest has been predicted to be – and is to date – the forest most impacted by climate change. The Subcommittee was informed by Environment Canada, Atmospheric Environment Services, that Canada is currently experiencing climate change, particularly in the MacKenzie River area, the Northwest Territories and Yukon(33). The western boreal region as a whole has experienced an increase in temperature of 1.4 degrees C. over the previous century and an increase of 1.7 degrees C. has occured in the Mackenzie River District(34). Much of this increase has occurred since the 1970s. The Subcommittee heard that there is some indication that global warming may be causing more forest fires(35). The number of fires and amount of area burned in the boreal forest have increased substantially since 1960.(36)

The large number and extent of forest fires and other natural disturbances between 1970 and 1989 may have changed boreal forests of Canada from a carbon sink to a carbon source(37). However, they will probably revert back again to being a sink, over time. The length of time it takes will depend on future distrubance rates and a number of other factors.(38)

The Director of the Environmental Adaptation Research Group of Atmospheric Environmental Services told the Subcommittee that climate change over the next 100-200 years will be greater than that which occurred over the previous 10,000 yrs. The climate will shift more rapidly than will the trees, leaving a forest ecosystem that is not in balance with the climate and placing the trees under great stress. A doubling of CO2 would result in a 900 km shift.

"We will see a shrinking of the boreal forest due mainly to the fact that it cannot move northward without running out of soil or running into water."(39)

Although precipitation is expected to increase, evaporation will increase even more due to warmer temperatures.

"A great concern that the change in disturbance regime [fire, pests and diseases] may be great enough to alter or destroy forest ecosystems."(40)

This witness went on to say that maintaining the ecological complexity and ecosystem resilience [of the forest] are the most important factors in decreasing the impacts of climate change.(41)

Climate warming is also expected to lower the water table in boreal forest lakes and change the distribution of surface and ground water(42). Many boreal lakes in the east have become acidified due to emissions of sulphur and nitrogen oxides and their fish and invertebrate fauna have been affected. During its trip to Sweden the Subcommittee heard about that country’s serious problem of acidification resulting from emissions of sulphur dioxide in other European countries causing acid rain. Climate warming together with acidification is delaying the recovery of acidified lakes in boreal eastern Canada(43). Forest fires, clearcutting, acidification and stratospheric ozone depletion all have the effect of removing organic carbon from watersheds. This results in a decrease of food for aquatic organisms and also a decrease in the coloration of the water. This colouration protects aquatic organisms from UV penetration, which is increasing over boreal regions.(44)


The World’s Boreal Forest Today: An Overview

The "Working Forest"


The Subcommittee heard repeatedly regarding the amount and extent of industrial and other activity being conducted in the boreal forest. In many provinces, nearly all commercially available timber has been allocated to the forest industry. In Ontario, for example, all of the boreal forest areas outside of parks have been allocated.(45)

While the eastern boreal forest has long been under tenure to timber companies, in the western boreal forest allocations of large areas to the forest industry are a recent development. For example, in Alberta, the forest management areas of just two companies are about the size of Great Britain. Today most of the boreal forest is under long-term allocation(46).
(See Table 1)

"If you look at how we let out tenure across the country, we’ve had provincial governments that have given forest companies tenure over certain chunks of land. After this is done, the rest of the world – fisheries biologists, wildlife bioligists, environmental groups, communities, protected areas, World Wildlife Fund – try to claw back or contain what forest companies are doing. We’ve been operating by management-by-constraint systems for the last several decades …..It’s really an antagonistic-type system where you have two entities who want the same thing … . It’s not management by foresight." (47)


Table 1: Ownership, Allocation and Protected Area - Western Boreal Forest






Ownership (hectares)1


Federal Crown




First Nations




Provincial Crown








Non-industrial private




Unspecified private














Forest land converted or seriously degraded (i.e. cropland, urbanization)





Crown Land allocated to forestry (%)





Area protected from logging, mining and hydro electric development (% of total land area)




Source: D. Soprovich, Wildlife Ecologist, Consultant to the Subcommittee, 1999


  1. K. Power, Canadian Forest Service. Areas are exclusive of "large water" class.
  2. World Wildlife Fund Database.
  3. B. Watkins, Manitoba Natural Resources. Does not include candidate sites.
  4. N. Cherney, Saskatchewan Environment and Resource Management; and World Wildlife Fund Database.
  5. Significant proportion of unallocated boreal forest consists of land with low volumes of wood fibre.
  6. World Wildlife Fund Database; and Alberta Special Places, "Progress of Special Places" website (updated 19 January 1999).
  7. Protected areas almost exclusively in northern boreal forest, with Wood Buffalo National Park making up nearly all of the area.

Logging is not the only industrial activity in the forest. Mining is a major activity particularly in the east. In the west, oil and gas exploration and development have imposed an ever expanding network of roads and seismic lines on the forest land base over the past several decades. In Alberta’s boreal forest, there are now over 88,000 oil and gas well sites each with an access road.(48) In one 250 by 225 km area of southern mixed-wood forest in Alberta, deforestation at the rate of 192 km2 per year was recorded.(49) Trees are still being cleared for pastures and hayland on the southern edge of the west’s boreal forest. The amount of tree clearing for non-timber activity in Alberta’s forest almost equals the amount of forest harvested by pulp and paper companies in the province(50). The Subcommittee was told that less than 9 per cent of the Alberta’s boreal forest is free of developments such as roads, pipelines, or logged-over areas.(51)

The Subcommittee also heard that the northern boundary of forestry operations is advancing steadily into ever slower-growing areas.

"We are running out of woods in southern Manitoba, and the forestry companies simply continue to migrate futher north." (52)

In the East, cutting is now occurring as far north as 52 degrees N latitude, in the very old, slow-growing forests of the James Bay territory in northern Quebec. There, 500 km2/yr are being logged mostly on Cree family hunting areas(53). Much concern was expressed over the fragility of the far northern ecosystems into which forest cutting is moving, including Labrador and the Yukon Territory. In Ontario, plans are underway to extend harvest licences into areas north of 51 degrees latitude(54) . Woodland caribou there are retreating to the northern limit of the logging areas, as has occurred in other areas.(55)

The opening of new forested areas generally brings increased recreation in the forms of hunting, boating, fishing and driving of off-road vehicles. It also increases the potential for human disturbance of wildlife and man-made fires.

"The major problem is these industries are opening up pristine boreal forest. Many other activities follow the industries into that forest, and that is the end of the natural forest as we know it." (56)

Federal environmental impact assessments of forest operations have not been undertaken when vast new areas are allocated to industry nor have they been undertaken when large cutting areas on both sides of a border converge on a single watershed, as on the Manitoba-Ontario border(57). In fact, a recent court decision ordering an environmental assessment of the impacts of harvesting activities, and not just of the proposed bridge that would enable harvesting, has been appealed by the federal government.(58) The Subcommittee was told that the way in which the federal government is applying the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act "is one of the underlying causes of deforestation."(59)

"We’ve put the cart before the horse and made major allocations across the province without doing the very things that any scientist would tell you must be done before you go ahead with those kinds of developments. … Every day of the year, we’re sending through probably 100,000 trees. How long can we sustain that at a time when we haven’t created a benchmark, established protected areas, or met other values." (60)

Only two provinces, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, require environmental impact assessments on forest management. However, the Subcommittee was told that Manitoba’s assessment decisions are not binding on the Minister and have no legal enforceability. (61)


Forestry Practices

Clearcutting is used in just over 80 per cent of all harvest operations in Canada but its use is on the decline as other harvesting methods gain acceptance(62). Clearcutting typically results in regeneration of sun-loving species such as poplar unless the soil is prepared mechanically and conifers are planted. If conifers are desired, herbicidal control of vegetative competition such as aspen poplar and grass may also be necessary.(63)

Currently, 60 to 70 per cent of logging in the boreal forest is taking place in old-growth(64). Some provinces require that old-growth stands be cut first. Most provinces now limit the size of clearcuts to 40 hectares.

While overall only 30 per cent of Canada’s forests have been harvested,(65) the rate has greatly accelerated since the days of the chainsaw. Between 1981 and 1995, 13.91 million hectares were harvested.(66)

"It used to be that we could always go over the next hill to find some more trees. Now that last hill is in sight, and the last of the wild original forest is in sight and will be cut in the next couple of decades." (67)

The present scale of cutting in the boreal forest has been equated by some to a giant liquidation sale.(68) Many stated that clearcutting has made the forest less diverse with regard to tree species, age of trees (now younger), and structure (standing and fallen wood)(69). The Director of Forest Management Branch for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources pointed out that fire suppression over the last 80 years has also affected the tree species composition and age-class structure of the forest(70). While these two might be expected to balance each other out, the Subcommittee also heard that, in spite of fire suppression, the forested area burned often equals and sometimes exceeds the area cut.

The Subcommittee saw pictures and visited sites where serious soil erosion occurred after rainfall on clearcuts. Leaching of nutrients from the denuded soil was mentioned as a problem.(71) The problem of drying out of soil and ground cover in clearcuts was also raised.(72)

While the size of individual clearcuts is now restricted by the provinces (often to 40 hectares), the cumulative size of neighboring or nearby cutblocks within a landscape is not. It was stated that the cumulative impact of clearcuts is having "profound effects on biological diversity." A representative from Environment Canada stated that harvesting of a large area of forest can change the microclimate to the extent that, in some places, the modified microclimate can no longer support tree growth.(73)

With regard to old-growth forests, the Subcommittee was told that areas of old growth are rapidly shrinking and the potential exists for long-term habitat loss of old-growth dependent species. The amount of old-growth remaining in the boreal forest is not known because inventories do not record age-class in a manner that permits old-growth data to be separated(74). The estimated total area of mature, old and mixed-aged forests is 102.23 million hectares; this declined by 1.65 million hectares between 1981- 1995, assuming no conversion of forested land for other uses.(75)

Many companies are now attempting to clear-cut in a manner that mimics the primary natural disturbance in the western boreal forest, namely, fire. As a result of fire, there is much variety in species and ages of vegetation in the Canadian boral forest. Recent Sustainable Forest Management Network research has found that fires have varied greatly in frequency and intensity in the North American mixedwood boreal forest over the last 6,000 years. The short fire cycles (50-100 year) are emulated by today’s cutting cycles, but longer fire cycles (300 years) are also "normal". During short fire cycles, early successional species of hardwoods predominate whereas late-successional softwood species have predominated during the longer cycles. Maximum landscape diversity is found between these extemes.(76)

To better approximate the variable results of forest fires at the stand and landscape levels and thus help maintain biodiversity, some companies are now modifying their clearcutting practices(77). Modifications include making cutblocks more curved and irregular in shape; leaving standing dead trees, small islands of live trees, and woody material on the ground;(78) leaving old conifers as seed trees to improve genetic biodiversity. Equipment that protects small conifers for regeneration purposes is being used in Quebec and elsewhere.(79)

The Subcommittee heard debate about whether clearcutting mimics fire. Differences were noted by some presenters; there was said to be less diversity after logging than after a fire, since a fire burns with varying intensities over an area(80). Also, a fire leaves much more fibre in the form of standing and fallen dead trees(81). Abitibi Consolidated in Ontario told the Subcommittee it has chosen to mimic not fire but horse logging in the boreal forest by leaving smaller-diameter trees(82). By so doing it has reduced its rotation age from 120 to 80 years. This has allowed the annual allowable cut to be nearly doubled.


Silvicultural Practices

Silviculture—"the theory and practice of controlling the establishment, composition, growth and quality of forest stands to achieve the biological and economic objectives of forest management"(83) — is not practised in an intensive manner in most of Canada, particularly in the East, where natural regeneration to the desired species is easier than in the West. In New Brunswick, over 85 per cent of regeneration is natural and very few areas require planting after harvest.(84)

However, in the West, aspen and grass commonly regrow on cleared areas. White spruce regeneration usually requires mechanical site preparation using heavy discing or other equipment. Herbicides are used in some provinces such as New Brunswick and British Columbia to suppress initial vegetative competition(85) while they are not used operationally in others, such as Alberta or Saskatchewan. Quebec has legislated an end to their use by the year 2000(86). Alberta’s regeneration standards regarding the presence of hardwoods in coniferous crop trees necessitate intensive silvicultural methods(87). Concern was expressed over toxicity of the herbicide carriers (which are the ‘inert’ ingredients in herbicides) and the effects on soil fertility of suppressing certain types of species.(88)

Adequate silvicultural methods have not been developed for the northern boreal forest.

"You have shallow soil, so the freezing will uproot your seedlings. You have a high rate of mortality. You do not have a huge snowpack protecting those seedlings against wind, and therefore you have a great amount of dessication."(89)

"Our experiments - and here I am speaking for the scientific forestry demonstrate that tree planting in the north does not work most of the time."(90)

The Subcommittee was told that replanting northern areas with genetic material from further south would not likely succeed and that seeds should be collected from the north.


Mills and pollution

Construction of pulp mills and associated infrastructure boomed in the prairie provinces during the 1980’s. At the same time, new federal regulations were also introduced and resulted in secondary treatment plants being installed in all mills across the country(91). In Quebec between 1993 to 1995, almost one and a half billion dollars were spent by 60 Quebec paper mills to set up secondary treatment plants. (92)

The Subcommittee heard that pollution of rivers was continuing in northwestern Alberta in spite of increasingly strict regulations of pulp and paper mill effluent in the 90’s by federal and provincial governments.(93)

The Subcommittee also visited the state-of-the-art Millar-Western pulp mill at Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan. This BCTMP (bleached chemical thermomechanical pulp) mill processes 280,000 tonnes per year in a closed-loop system that recovers wastewater and discharges no liquid effluent(94). According to the Canadian Pulp and Paper Association, as of 1998 there were three zero-effluent plants in Canada and total water use by mills is showing a steady decline(95). Closing the water cycle is more difficult for some types of plants than others and federally supported research is being conducted in this area(96). In Finland, the closed-loop system has been used for 15 years.

Tembec Inc. told the Subcommittee that it has addressed pollution in a different way, by recovering pulp by-products to produce ethanol and wood sulfates and other products from these.(97)

Mills also emit carbon dioxide. The industry has been switching from fossil fuels to biomass, using waste from the pulping process as fuel. This has resulted in a 15 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by this sector since 1990.(98)


Wood Supply and Cutting Rate

Some witnesses stated that the need to keep the mills supplied with wood necessitates harvesting at too rapid a rate.

"We have far too much wood processing capacity for the trees in the forest, and for the ability of our forests to supply them. That has put us in a box, because it means that to try to do anything that would result in the restoration of biodiversity or the protection of ecological integrity within the timber management plans, or to act on other values like establishing protected areas, will stress that situation further."(99)

The philosophy expressed by a manager at Millar Western expresses this idea from the opposite direction:

"They could have actually built a bigger mill but they didn’t and I think we’re very fortunate because that gives us latitude for the future...We don’t want to be at the wall because...people are going to want to withdraw chunks of land."(100)

The rate at which timber is being harvested determines whether there will be wood shortages or not.

"On much of the prairies, the rate at which we are harvesting the forest is such that when we need to harvest the regenerated stands in 60 to 80 years, they will only be of pulpwood size. This is expected to result in shortages of saw logs and the larger trees needed to maintain habitat and biodiversity values."(101)

Instead, the authors recommend a semi-natural/partial cut option.(102)

Some said that in spite of excellent provincial landscape management guidelines that have been developed, it is too late to apply these guidelines in many places because of the amount of logging that has already taken place.(103)

Temporary wood shortages are occurring in some provinces and are forecast for some others, even by the most optimistic of sources.

"Relative to the projected demand, it is anticipated that there will be a wood shortage due to a weak intermediate age class."(104)

Some provinces predict regional shortages. For example, Saskatchewan has a shortage of certain species in certain areas.(105) Deficits in softwood vis a vis capacity are currently occurring in or forecast for Newfoundland, New Brunswick, and British Columbia. (106)

Nationally about 180 to 190 million cubic metres is harvested out of a total annual allowable cut (AAC) of 230 to 235 million cubic metres according to the Canadian Pulp and Paper Association(107). However, there is no national standard for calculation of AAC’s, and they are not comparable between all provinces(108). AAC’s are based on sustainable yield, which is determined by an array of criteria, including inventory and predicted effect of the silvicultural regime used.(109) These criteria are not always transparent and the process has been called unrealistic by some. New Brunswick, for example, was accused of not allowing for any problems such as disease that might arise within the next 80 years in setting its AAC(110). Also, AAC calculations do not take quality of the fibre into account; thus there may not be a sustained yield on the basis of sawmilling-quality timber.(111)

Problems with forest inventories have also been mentioned. Some provincial inventories are not updated for decades and hence do not reflect the harvesting and fires that have taken place since the last inventory(112). Budget cuts have not allowed for adequate sampling of forest growth. All provinces are revising or have recently revised their forest inventory systems.(113)

Non-timber values such as wildlife habitat protection, tourism and recreation have an impact on the timber supply; namely, the timber supply will shrink as land is removed from use or its use restricted. Such has been the case with the application of pine marten habitat guidelines in Ontario(114). Also, costs of production are predicted to rise, as codes of practice and other rules become more restrictive.

"There will certainly be economic problems if we subtract certain territories from forest development, but it will be very easy to get around them if we agreed, in Canada, to move to more intensive forestry in certain areas. We practice mostly extensive forestry in Canada."(115)


Cumulative Impacts of Developments

Developments in the boreal forest must be viewed not in isolation, but together. Removal of cover by industrial logging, road-building for logging and petrochemical development, seismic lines and pipelines, and agricultural clearing of the southern part of the boreal forest all have impacts.

Initial data indicate that seven species of birds and one species of bat have reduced ranges of at least 50 per cent due to loss of boreal forest.(116)

Fragmentation of the forest landscape – that is, a separation of forest ecosystem components put the health of the ecosystem at risk.(117)

Some species will not cross clearings and their movements may thus become restricted. Researchers in Alberta found that forested corridors promote the movement of forest birds across gaps(118). As patches of forest become more isolated from each other, the risk of local extinction of species increases. These extinctions may occur long after the original fragmentation(119).

In some parts of the traditional land used by the Halfway River First Nations in Northeastern British Columbia, the density of roads, seismic lines, and pipelines is 1 km/km2 of land(120). In the U.S., 0.6 km/km2 is used as a rule of thumb for maximum road density in forested areas, based on the response of wildlife.(121)

While the management of forestry activities is under provincial jurisdiction, fish habitat protection is a federal responsibility under the Fisheries Act. The Subcommittee was told that road-building and mine tailings are posing threats to fish(122). Although the responsibility to enforce the federal legislation to protect fish habitat has long rested with the inland provinces(123), enforcement capabilities in some provinces has been lowered due to budget cuts.

There are only 60 federal enforcement officers responsible for enforcing this Act in all of Canada, as shown in Table 2:


Table 2: Fisheries Act Enforcement Personnel - 1998


















Total – Prairie & Northern Region







Atlantic Region



Pacific and Yukon Region



Source: House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, Enforcing Canada’s Pollution Laws: The Public Interest Must Come First, 1998, p.6; and G. Swanson, Op. Cit., p. 3:13


The Department of Fisheries and Oceans told the Subcommittee that it may be delegating to the provinces the authority over certain kinds of projects that affect fish habitat(124). This is of concern to the Subcommittee, because it may destroy the public’s ability to call for environmental impact assessments under the Fisheries Act.

Some research into water quality impacts related to forestry is being done. Repap told the Subcommittee it is involved in research on the impact of logging and road construction on water quality in New Brunswick(125). One forest company complained about a lack of co-ordination in the research being carried out by various levels of government. Research into the role of buffer strips is underway at the University of Alberta. The Subcommittee heard from numerous presenters that narrow buffer strips along watercourses often blow down.

Performance reviews of forest management operations are conducted in some provinces every 5 to 10 years, with licence renewal dependent on the outcome(126). In Ontario environmental audits of forest companies are conducted by an independent review panel every five years at the time of licence renewal to ensure that operations have been in compliance with the licence conditions(127). The results of performance reviews are available to the public in most provinces.


Recent Development in Sustainable Management of the Working Forest

As described in the introduction, governments, foresters, industry and environmental groups have turned their attention to the question of how to manage the "working" forest for all its benefits to society. A broadly based coalition from these sectors has since developed and signed two national forest strategies. Indicators by which to measure how well these strategies are being implemented are being developed and refined. Provinces are reviewing and amending their forest legislation and guidelines, and codes of practice aimed at sustainable development have been adopted by professional foresters, provinces, and companies.

Interdisciplinary research into sustainable forest management practices, policy, and institutions is being conducted by the Sustainable Forest Management Network, one of Canada’s Networks of Centres of Excellence centered at the University of Alberta. The main areas of concentration have been natural disturbance processes in the boreal forest; development and assessment of operational approaches that protect biodiversity and ecological integrity; and minimization of environmental impacts via life cycle analysis. The network’s $5 million/year funding comes from many sources, including the federal government, which contributed $3 million in 1997/98. One of the co-founders of the Sustainable Forest Management Network stressed the urgent need to translate research findings into applicable sustainable forestry methods. (128)

Federal forestry research staff has been severely downsized in recent years. The Canadian Forest Service has been focusing on climate change, effects of forest practices, forest health and ecosystem processes.(129)

Research and pilot projects have also been accomplished through model forests. These began as a National Forest Coalition decision to "establish working models of sustainable forest management in all parts of Canada to serve as labs for advancing national as well as international knowledge and practices." Under Canadian Forest Service guidance, eleven model forests involving approximately 250 organizations are in operation in Canada. Partnering organizations, often with divergent objectives jointly design and implement regional forest management to achieve a common goal.


The "Forgotten" Forest

About eight per cent of all forested land capable of producing timber is owned privately(130). The forests on this land are not managed by government and are sometimes called "the forgotten forest."(131) Although woodlots constitute a small percentage of the overall forest, they are highly productive, providing about 19 per cent of all industrial roundwood (including pulp)(132). The Canadian Federation of Woodlot Owners estimates that there are over 410,000 woodlot owners across Canada and annual sales total about $1.5 billion(133). Apart from timber, woodlots may also produce Christmas trees, firewood, or many other products for sale and/or use by the owner or they may be held for recreational and other purposes.(134)

There are many more private woodlots in the eastern boreal forest, especially Quebec and Ontario, than in the west. Industry also owns some woodlands (free-hold lands), that are of particular importance in New Brunswick, but are also found in Quebec and Ontario.(135)

Harvesting of woodlots is often by selective logging or clearing of small blocks. Stand tending and replanting are often practiced and non-timber values such as wildlife protected. Funding for rehabilitation of forests on private woodlots was provided through federal-provincial programs but this program has expired.

The Subcommittee heard that the woodlot marketing boards in New Brunswick, which had been promoting silvicultural practices, have lost their bargaining power with the mills due to a change of rules by government. Individual woodlot owners can no longer practice silviculture and make a profit; meanwhile, contractors and buyers may clearcut all the trees on private property with no restrictions, sell them to the mills, and move on.(136) Complaints about liquidation of private woodlots to supply mills outside of their provincial borders during times of wood shortage were heard all across the country.

Several important roles for private woodlots were suggested by various presenters. Firstly, as with plantations, they could help meet the timber demand. A number of presenters suggested that marginal farmland be converted into tree plantations to supply additional wood fiber.(137)

Secondly, they could aid in maintaining biodiversity. Many woodlot owners know where ecologically sensitive sites are, and are willing to protect them(138). Educational programs regarding forestry management for a variety of values have been developed for woodlot owners by government and some forest companies. Federal funding was available for woodlot stewardship programs from 1992-96. It was urged that this be restored (139). At present no compensation or tax incentives are afforded landowners who protect land in this way.

Thirdly, it was suggested that reforestation of abandoned agricultural land could provide a partial solution to the need to sequester carbon, although this would only be for the short-term and there is not enough land to provide a full solution.(140)

The Canadian Federation of Woodlot Owners told the Subcommittee that there are a number of taxation and legal disincentives to woodlot stewardship. For example, because most woodlots are of a size that does not allow owners to make a full-time income from them, they are in a part-time category and as such are not allowed to deduct silvicultural expenses from off-woodlot income(141). Also, since it takes decades for trees to grow, income may not be generated for decades, while Revenue Canada expects to see a profit from a business at least every several years(142). Seniors’ benefits at age 65 are cut off if income is earned and this leads some people to cut and sell their forests at age 64, or to cut it all within one tax year.

Following discussions between the Canadian Federation of Woodlot Owners and the Department of Finance, it appears that woodlot businesses may be treated as farming operations in the near future. In fact, the Honourable Ralph Goodale, Minister of Natural Resources recently indicated progress in this regard. He noted that the Canadian Council of Forest Minister’s Private Woodlot Taxation Task Force has concluded that woodlot owner’s demands can be met by issuing a revised interpretation bulletin on woodlots. They do not feel that new legislation will be needed(143). Restricted farm loss rules would apply if the woodlot is not the principle source of income for the owner. Woodlot owners feel there is still difficulty arising from the time frame in which woodlot owners must operate, as farm loss rules restrict deductions from other income to a certain amount, with additional losses, deductible against woodlot profit only, able to be carried back 3 years or forward 10 years.(144)

Ontario has also addressed some of these tax-related problems in its Managed Forests Incentive Program. As of 1998, the province’s woodlot owners who are managing their forests for certain values will, after filing forest management plans, be able to apply for tax relief.(145)


The "Protected" Forest

Awareness of a need to make some forested areas off-limits to development began to grow in the 1980’s. In 1991, Canada’s parliamentarians, in a unanimous motion in the House of Commons, agreed to a commitment to complete a network of protected areas representative of the nation’s 400 natural regions by the year 2000. All provincial and territorial governments and eventually 600,000 Canadians (signatories of the Canada Wilderness Charter) also endorsed this goal(146). Ratifying the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in 1992, Canada made a further pledge to establish a system of protected areas where special measures will be put in place to conserve biological diversity. To enable progress on this in the face of pressures to the contrary, the Senate Subcommittee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources held hearings across the country and recommended ways of proceeding.

The National Forest Strategy also states, and the Canada Forest Accord re-iterates the intent of the provinces, the federal government and other signatories to complete a network of protected areas representative of the nation’s forests "to provide ecological benchmarks, protect areas of unique biological value and manage for the continuation of old-growth forest landscapes as natural heritage."(147)


Provincial Protected Areas

The provinces are in various stages of completing their representative areas networks. Concerns were voiced to the Subcommittee that some provinces were not going to meet the commitment and with ongoing forest developments, options for areas to be protected were being foreclosed. The World Wildlife Fund of Canada reports annually on the status of protected areas in the country, according to their own protection standards – that primarily exclude logging, mining and development of hydro-electric dams or oil and gas resources. According to their most recent report (March 1999) the provinces in which the boreal forest dominates have the following percentage of their land base ‘protected’: Alberta – 9.8 per cent; Saskatchewan – 6 per cent; Manitoba – 8.1 per cent; Ontario – 8.8 per cent; and Quebec – 4.2 per cent. These figures include both federally and provincially protected areas.(148)

The Subcommittee heard from participants in Ontario’s Lands for Life Program during the public consultation phase of this unique public planning exercise regarding the use and management of 46 million hectares of Crown land in Ontario. Decisions about the amount of land that will be protected and the allocation of resources were made and agreed to by industry, government and environmental organizations, resulting in the signing of the "1999 Ontario Forest Accord." Commitments tie the protection of areas to wood supply and cost: protected areas will increase to over 9.5 million hectares and will represent of at least 12 per cent of the planning area. As a result of this arrangement, it is expected that there will be no net loss of the wood supply, increase in the cost of wood, or loss of jobs. Mineral exploration will be allowed in areas identified for protection that have provincially significant mineral potential. The siting of intensively managed forested areas must be mutually acceptable, and expansion of industry north of the planning area is to take place only "with full agreement of affected First Nations." (149)

A representative of the Métis Nation told the Subcommittee that: "The position of the Ontario government is that there are no Métis communities in Ontario, and if there are, the people who live in them and call themselves Métis have no rights."(150)

Industrial development is not excluded in protected areas in all provinces. As with mining in Ontario, Alberta is allowing existing oil and gas development to continue in the areas being protected under its Special Places 2000 Program. Ten years ago, until stopped by a court injunction, forest interests were allowed to cut much of the oldest and largest white spruce stand left in Alberta. The stand was in Wood Buffalo National Park.(151)

The Subcommittee heard from a number of presenters about the need for interim protection of candidate protected area sites. It also heard that some forest industry signatories to the Canada Forest Accord are not supporting protected area decisions.



Some of the boreal forest area lies within parks. Of the nine national parks in the boreal forest zone, four are highly significant from an ecological point of view. Nahanni, Wood Buffalo and Gros Morne are World Heritage Sites and Riding Mountain, is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

Fourteen Canada’s natural regions are within the boreal forest. Six of the fourteen regions are not yet represented by national parks(152). These regions are in Manitoba, Yukon, NWT, Labrador, and Newfoundland. The Subcommittee heard that lack of awareness of candidate sites among federal departments has been a problem in that various federal departments have issued timber and other kinds of development permits in some of the proposed candidate sites.(153) This has done irreparable damage in some instances.

As parts of larger ecosystems, parks are subject to impacts from activities outside their borders. According to Parks Canada, logging of adjacent areas is having a significant ecological impact on six national parks in the boreal forest.(154)

"If parks are benchmarks against which we measure the impact of human activities on natural ecosystems, then our national parks clearly indicate that forestry is having a negative ecological impact on the Canadian landscape."(155)

Parks, apparently, do not always equate with protection. Logging took place within Wood Buffalo National Park for many years.(156)

In addition to parks, there are approximately 23 million hectares designated "heritage forests" and protected by law to be left in their natural state. Another 27 million hectares are "conservation forests" protected from harvesting by policy.


Will Protected Areas Protect What is Important?

Increasingly, parks and other protected areas are becoming islands surrounded by development. This bestows great importance on their size and their degree of connectivity Connections between areas are more important than attaining a certain per centage of protected areas(157). The Subcommittee was told that, if a landscape pattern can be set up to protect caribou and grizzlies, for example, most forest bio diversity will be adequately protected. It is important to indentify and protect key wildlife corridors.(158)

Without connectivity, adequate size may be a problem. For example, to preserve a population of 1,000 grizzly bears in the foothills of Alberta (a stated Alberta Government objective), we must set aside 22 per cent of the foothills natural region. Yet the government’s target for the foothills is 1.94 per cent(159). Another example was cited by a representative of the Canadian Nature Federation.

"In 1983, a large, 1,500 square kilometre provincial park was established in northern Ontario. It was meant to protect caribou and maintain a representative portion of the boreal forest. In the ten years that park existed, they learned that the largest woodland caribou population in Ontario was at risk because of all the forestry activities going on around the park. The park was not big enough to represent the area, nor to sustain the woodland caribou, nor to maintain the fire regime which is required in that area. Aboriginal people, environmentalists, the government and the forest industry sat down and ended up negotiating, after ten years and $1.5 million, a park which is now ten times the original size." (160)

Protected areas may not be the whole solution. Representatives from industry and environmental group told the Subcommittee that the "working forests" in their entirety should be managed for biodiversity.

"If one accepts the ecological reality that … the components of ecosystems are in fact spread across the entire landscape, the entire forest, and that their position is constantly shifting in response to natural ecological forces like sucession and natural distrubances … then conserving biological diversity from an ecological perspective requires managing the entire landscape." (161)

"Many of those things you mentioned (protection and endangered species, different kinds of forests) could be done with good forest management as well as protecting areas" (162)



  • 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.
    • 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 prevent unsustainable logging and to address 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, until 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.
    • 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.

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