Conservation and protection of Canada’s forests

Miles Canyon, Yukon

In Canada, we take the conservation and protection of our forests seriously. We have more forested area than nearly any other country in the world, and forests are central to our heritage, culture, environment and economy.

We ensure conservation and protection through sustainable forest management practices and strict national laws. Read on about Canada’s stewardship commitments and activities and the science that informs them.

SEE ALSO: Sustainable forest management in Canada

What is the difference between forest conservation and protection?

Forest conservation and protection mean different things but together both approaches help maintain forest ecosystems and biodiversity.

Forest conservation refers to a range of activities, tools and approaches to achieve forest health and biodiversity objectives, including in managed forests where harvesting occurs. These activities are set out in sustainable forest management plans and many are backed by law.

Conservation efforts may take the form of provincial guidelines that forest companies operating on the land must follow such as:

  • retain trees used by wildlife during harvesting
  • create a mix of tree species types and age
  • ensure that sections of forest remain connected to meet wildlife habitat needs

Forest protection refers to the creation of parks and other areas to legally protect them from industrial activity and to help preserve healthy ecosystems. Some examples include:

  • networks of protected areas that enable wildlife to move from one area
  • habitat for vulnerable plant species
  • protected marine environments
  • national historic sites or national parks

Sustainable practices and strict laws conserve and protect our forests

The primary goal of Canada’s forest conservation and protection efforts is to preserve the health of this country’s wide range of forest ecosystems.

In Canada, forest land outside formal protected areas is safeguarded by the laws, regulations and policies that all provinces, territories and the federal government have developed to enforce sustainable forest management across the country.

Because 94% of Canada’s forests are on publicly owned land, this means that preserving forest ecosystem health is a shared responsibility and commitment of sustainable forest management Canada-wide.

Federal restrictions help conserve forest biodiversity

Canada recognizes the categories of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which define various levels of restrictions for land set aside for conservation and protection purposes. Canada has developed national guidelines [2 Mb PDF] to apply those restrictions across the country.

Federal laws designate and define protected areas

Protected areas are a major component of Canada’s national forest conservation strategy. In these legally defined areas, some activities are restricted in order to preserve natural ecosystems. For example, industrial activities such as harvesting, mining and hydroelectric development are banned in nearly 95% of Canada’s protected forests.

About 24 million hectares of forest area is protected in Canada, almost 7% of the country’s total forest area. Many millions of additional hectares lie in remote, inaccessible areas and are therefore also largely unaffected by human activity.

Watch this video to learn more about protected areas.

National and provincial parks hold most of Canada’s protected forests

Canadian legislation, including the National Parks Act, has been developed in parallel with provincial government legislation and strategies for creating and managing protected areas. Today, about two-thirds of Canada’s protected forests lie within national and provincial parks. The rest lies in other types of protected areas, such as wildlife reserves.

Read about Parks Canada’s approach to protection in our national parks.

All conservation and protection efforts are science based

All of Canada’s protected area designations, strategies and forest management plans are grounded in science. Scientific research supports development of best management practices, and governments and industry incorporate new scientific knowledge into forest legislation and policies and forest management plans.

Examples of scientific research related to forest conservation and protection

  • Managing forests for marten – Canadian Forest Service researchers are studying the effects of forest management practices on marten habitat in Ontario and Newfoundland & Labrador. This research has been used to help land managers make planning decisions that will protect the species in managed forests.
  • Birds in boreal forests – Canadian Forest Service scientists have found that harvesting practices that mimic natural disturbances can benefit birds and other wildlife. As a result, many forest companies have moved toward adopting harvesting practices that emulate natural disturbances.
  • Woodland caribou – Canadian Forest Service researchers and other scientists are conducting a large field study to see how disturbances in forests affect woodland caribou. Information from the study will contribute to management decisions aimed at protecting the species in managed forests across Canada. 
  • Riparian zones – Canadian Forest Service researchers have begun long-term studies into the importance of riparian areas in boreal and temperate forests. These studies have influenced management decisions related to harvesting along streams and rivers.
  • Boreal synthesis research papers (2013–2015) – Canadian Forest Service researchers have been assessing the state of Canada’s boreal zone by reviewing scientific literature. The results have been published in a series of papers on topics such as climate change, biodiversity, carbon and water resources.

Read more about sustainable forest management in Canada

Sustainable forest management ensures the health, safety and long-term sustainability of our forests. Find out what makes Canada a leader in sustainable forest management.

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