Legality and sustainability


Assuring the legality and sustainability of Canada’s forest products

Canada has an international reputation as a trusted source of legally and sustainably obtained forest products.

Illegal logging and the trade in illegal timber is a major problem in many areas of the world, with damaging economic, environmental and social consequences.

Canada, however, has established an extensive and rigorous system of forest governance to prevent such activities. This means that consumers of forest products harvested in Canada can be confident that the wood they are buying was obtained legally and harvested under a system of sustainable forest management (SFM).

And it’s not just Canada’s word on this. Third-party certification attests to the integrity of the country’s forest management practices. More forest land in Canada is independently certified than anywhere else in the world.

Canada, a leader in forest governance

Canada has a robust system of procedures to ensure that its forests are governed in the public interest. Several reports and studies have confirmed that Canada’s forest management policies and practices are among the most stringent in the world.Footnote 1

Canada is also a country that respects the rule of law. It consistently earns ratings as a jurisdiction with a very low incidence of corruption (see indices maintained by Transparency International and the World Bank). Findings by organizations in Canada’s export markets also indicate that Canadian wood products are of negligible risk with respect to illegality.Footnote 2

The risk of illegal logging is negligible in all regions of Canada. But how can foreign importers, seeking to comply with legislative and regulatory requirements related to illegal logging, know that? And how can Canadian exporters provide assurance to their buyers that laws and regulations are in place to ensure the legality of Canada’s wood supply?

That assurance is explained here, both in terms of Canada’s forest governance framework (regulating and managing our forests) and Canada’s part in preventing illegal international trade.

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Canada’s forest governance framework

Canada has about 400 million hectares of forest or other wooded land, nearly 92% of which is publicly owned. The federal, provincial and territorial governments share responsibility for these public forests.

Governance of public forests

Provincial and territorial forests

Canada’s 10 provinces and 3 territories have jurisdiction over 90% of the country’s forests. Each provincial and territorial government develops and enforces legislation, regulations and policies related to forests.

  • Laws and regulations focused on sustainable forest management: Forest-related legal oversight may differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but the goal is the same across the country: sustainable forest management (SFM). This is an approach to forest management that considers not just timber, but many other forest-related values, including wildlife, biodiversity, soils, water, resource-dependent communities and scenery.

    These SFM-focused laws, regulations and policies address land-use planning, forest practices, forest regeneration, Aboriginal interests, public consultation, biodiversity, protected areas, natural disturbances and more.

  • Approving forest management plans: The provinces and territories use a variety of tenure arrangements to grant rights and responsibilities to companies operating in public forests. These tenure arrangements (in effect, forms of land concession) do not automatically give companies the authority to harvest timber. Before any trees are felled, governments must first approve forest management plans and authorize the proposed harvesting.

    Failure by a tenure holder to comply with approved plans and harvesting permits can result in stiff penalties, from fines or the suspension of harvesting authorities to seizure of timber and even imprisonment.

    All provincial and territorial governments collect royalties (or “stumpage fees”) for trees harvested on public lands.

  • Monitoring and enforcement of forest practices: Each provincial and territorial jurisdiction closely monitors the companies operating in public forests, and requires formal reporting on their activities. As well, the provinces and territories use systems of checks and controls to track the timber that is removed from these lands. Government agencies responsible for enforcement conduct compliance audits. Where there is evidence of any contraventions, more detailed investigations may be carried out.

    Enforcement activities may lead to the issuance of warnings, tickets, fines or other penalties. The most serious infractions are prosecuted through the court system.

  • Federal laws that apply to all forestry operations: While the provinces and territories have authority over the management of most forested land in their jurisdictions, forestry operations are also bound by national legislation. The comprehensive laws and regulations enforced by the provinces and territories are therefore designed to address the requirements of federal legislation relevant to forests, such as the Species at Risk Act, the Fisheries Act, the Migratory Birds Convention Act, and the Plant Protection Act.

    Forestry activities must also comply with international agreements Canada has signed, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

For more information about the extensive laws, regulations and enforcement systems in place in Canada’s provinces and territories, please visit the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers (CCFM) website.

Federal  and Aboriginal forests

Nearly 4% of Canada’s forests are under federal government and Aboriginal ownership. These forests are mainly located in national parks, lands owned by the Department of National Defence (DND) and federal lands held in reserve for-, or lands otherwise controlled by Aboriginal peoples. The regulation and management of forestry operations on these lands is the responsibility of several federal government departments, including DND, Parks Canada, Natural Resources Canada and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. Aboriginal governments and communities are increasingly assuming roles of responsibility over federal lands and forests as well.

Forestry operations on federal and Aboriginal lands currently place relatively small volumes of timber into the supply chain. Federal departments are generally responsible for the management of lands under their administration and control. However, under the Forestry Act and accompanying Timber Regulations, departments may request that Natural Resources Canada assume responsibility for the protection and management of any forests on their lands. Where forestry operations occur on reserve lands, they are governed by the Indian Act or the First Nations Land Management Act.

Provincial and territorial legislation also applies, except where federal legislation takes precedence. Forest management plans are generally required for all operations. These plans address inventories as well as harvesting, silviculture and other activities. Before harvesting activities start, contracts or permits must be prepared, setting out such details as areas to be cut, scaling of timber (measuring to estimate volume) and receipt of revenues.

Privately-owned forests

Only 6% of Canada’s forests are privately owned. Timber companies in some provinces own large tracts of forest (for example, in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and British Columbia). The rest of the private forest land base is divided primarily among thousands of small family-owned forests and woodlots located across Canada.

About one-tenth of the total volume of roundwood and pulpwood harvested in Canada comes from private lands (National Forestry Database, 2011).

Forest management on private lands is supported by provincial/territorial and municipal regulations, guidelines and partnership programs.

  • Many private landowners use forest management plans and take advantage of government programs to guide their stewardship and harvesting activities.
  • Some provinces have laws that set standards for forest management practices on private lands.
  • Most provinces have regulatory mechanisms to track timber harvested from private lands so that it can be differentiated from public timber (for which royalties must be paid). These mechanisms include regulations for timber scaling, timber marking and transportation.

Discouraging illegal and unsustainable activities on private lands is done not just through government oversight (described above). Landowners and nearby communities tend to be diligent about monitoring activities in private forests because those forests provide sources of income, employment, recreational opportunities and important ecological benefits (such as biodiversity and watershed protection).

In provinces without statutes related to forest harvesting on private lands, landowners can rely on laws of general application to protect their property from trespass or timber theft.

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Importing illegal forest products (factsheet)

Importing illegal forest products: Know the rules, avoid the penalties

What you need to know to source forest products responsibly.

At the border

Canada is the second largest exporter of primary forest products in the world, but it also imports wood and wood products.

Most of these imports are associated with cross-border trade with the United States, which is also a low-risk jurisdiction for illegal harvesting. The forest products sector in Canada and the United States is highly integrated, with logs and other timber products crossing the border to supply mills in both countries.

Canada also imports relatively small volumes of wood products from other sources.

Under the Customs Act, all goods imported into Canada must be reported to the Canada Border Services Agency. Border services officers may examine any goods that are imported or exported, and can detain goods until the agency is satisfied that the importation or exportation complies with the Customs Act or any other act of Parliament.

Preventing imports of illegally harvested forest products

Canada is a party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The aim of CITES, an agreement between 178 countries, is to ensure that international trade in specimens, parts and derivatives of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Trade rules apply to CITES-listed tree species, such as ebony, ramin and rosewood. For these examples, a listing means restrictions in trade of the raw wood, either in log, board or veneer form. These materials cannot be imported without an accompanying CITES permit.

To enforce the convention, Canada has enacted the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act (WAPPRIITA). Environment Canada is the lead federal agency responsible for enforcing this act.

WAPPRIITA is used not only to enforce CITES in Canada, but also to control imports of non CITES-listed species that have been obtained illegally. Section 6 (1) of WAPPRIITA states: “No person shall import into Canada any animal or plant that was taken, or any animal or plant, or any part or derivative of an animal or plant, that was possessed, distributed or transported in contravention of any law of any foreign state.

Environment Canada works with a broad range of partners, including the Canada Border Services Agency, to ensure that imports comply with CITES and with relevant legislation and regulations in foreign countries for non CITES-listed species.

Differentiating between wood products from CITES-listed tree species and tree species not listed under CITES can be technically challenging. To help address this problem, Environment Canada has created and internationally distributed the CITES Identification Guide – Tropical Woods. Canada is also working on ways to increase the reliability of species identification on trade permits, customs forms, border declarations and associated documents. For instance, through the Single Window Initiative, (PDF, 1.1 MB) Canada is examining the feasibility of a digital coding system for taxonomic names that international customs and other regulatory authorities could use to better capture electronic trade data for plants and animals. Digital coding would give authorities a greater ability to intercept timber and timber products from protected tree species, and even those harvested illegally.

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Guidance for importers and exporters

Natural Resources Canada has prepared a factsheet, Canadian Forest Products: A Legal and Sustainable Choice, that reviews Canada’s forest governance system, third-party forest certification, and what others say about the legality of Canada’s forest products.

In partnership with the Australian Government, the Government of Canada has also developed a country-specific guideline for Canada and an associated Quick Reference Guide. These documents were developed to help businesses importing timber products into Australia better understand the legal frameworks used in Canada to regulate the harvesting of timber and to assist importers in carrying out their due diligence requirements.

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