by David Lindsay, President and CEO, FPAC

Recent discussions about forest destruction and deforestation in Canada may have caused undue confusion and alarm in the public.  The fact of the matter is that Canada has virtually zero deforestation—a negligible 0.02% per year. The rate has actually been declining for the past 25 years with 64,000 hectares lost to deforestation in 1990 and just 45,800 hectares in 2012.

The misunderstanding about what is actually happening in Canadian forests stems from unfortunate challenges with terminology and methodology. 

The word deforestation means a permanent loss of forests because of a change in land use— for example forests cleared for agriculture, transportation corridors or urban development.  However deforestation does not take place in the event of forest fires or wind damage or sustainable harvesting.   In Canada, 100% of harvested areas are regrown by law and natural disturbances such as forest fires and infestations are part of a forest’s natural cycle—the forests grow back. In fact, some trees species in the boreal forest depend on the heat of fire in order to regenerate.

When it comes to methodology, there is no doubt that forestry in the 21st century has seen more use of accurate earth observation satellites that provide an unprecedented ability to visualize and monitor forest dynamics.  However, a failure to correctly interpret satellite data can cause misunderstandings and concern when no alarm is warranted or scientifically founded. 

Certainly satellite images have been a valuable tool to monitor the condition of threatened tropical forests. However these images cannot detect trees under five metres in a healthy regenerating forest. To get a true picture requires that aerial imagery be supplemented with on-the-ground field inspections and land-use records to see whether forest cover has been permanently lost.  For example, work is underway between the Canadian Forest Service and researchers at the University of British Columbia to provide accurate maps of forest cover change.  These maps will allow us to see whether forest cover has been lost, degraded, or permanently converted to another type of land use.

FPAC is now working with the government and environmental groups to encourage an accurate representation of the true state of forests in Canada and elsewhere in the world.  We also welcome the new “fact versus fiction” discussion about deforestation on the web site of Natural Resources Canada aimed at debunking myths and misrepresentations about the subject.  Understanding the data is critical because it allows industry, government, scientists, environmentalists as well as the Canadian public to engage in educated conversations about the health of Canada’s forests.

The conversation around deforestation is a legitimate one.  However it needs to be based on facts. The vast majority of forest cover loss in Canada is both natural and temporary, and cannot be equated with man-made, permanent losses elsewhere in the world.  It’s unfortunate if misinformation that has been recently circulated in the public would lead anyone to conclude that Canada is in worse shape than countries such as Brazil or Malaysia where forests definitely are being lost. Canada’s forest management practices cannot and should not be compared to Russia or Indonesia where corruption and illegal logging is rampant.

The truth is that Canada has a stellar record of rigorous forest management policies.  Canadians can rightfully be proud of the progressive management of their renewable forests and feel confident those forests will be there for generations to come.