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 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. In fact, some trees species in the boreal forest depend on the heat of fire in order to regenerate.
When it comes to methodology, satellite mapping has 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 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 version fiction” discussion about deforestation on the web site of Natural Resources Canada. 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.
Have no doubt—Canada has a stellar world-leading record of sustainable forest management. Canadians can be confident that our healthy renewable forests are going to be there for generations to come.