Forest management planning

In Canada, forest management planning is one of the primary tools used to ensure that the country’s publicly owned forests remain healthy and vibrant and are managed sustainably.

Key in this approach is the forest management plan that every forest company must, by law, draw up and have approved by government before any harvesting can begin on public lands.

People walking in the forest.

What is required in a forest management plan?

A forest management plan, usually covering a period of several decades, must:

  • outline a strategic vision and a commitment to protect multiple forest values in the area under management
  • assess the current state of the forest in the area the plan applies to
  • detail the desired future state of forest values in the area
  • set out the management objectives
  • describe the harvesting, regeneration and other activities to be carried to achieve the stated objectives

Management plans must be approved before harvesting starts

In Canada, most harvesting in publicly owned forests is done by private forestry companies. The companies operate under a licence or timber supply agreement they have with the provincial or territorial government that has jurisdiction over the land. These forest licences and agreements impose strict requirements on the companies.

Before a company may start any harvesting or other operations, it must develop a forest management plan and have it approved. Approval to harvest trees on public land is never automatic.

Forest management planning ensures that operations support sustainable forestry

Development of management plans follows a strict process which, although varying by jurisdiction, generally involves receiving input from industry, government agencies, the public and other stakeholders. The aim is to ensure that forestry operations and related activities are carried out in ways that support the sustainable management of all forest resources for generations to come.

In addition to forest management plans, more detailed tactical plans (to guide road building and harvest schedules, for example) are drawn up for specific operating areas and extend over a period of years. As well, annual operating plans identify exactly where and how harvesting operations and regeneration activities should occur in given years.

Forestry practices are monitored to ensure plans are followed

Even after a forest management plan is approved, government oversight continues. In their jurisdictions, provincial and territorial governments:

  • closely monitor forest companies to ensure they comply with the plans
  • track the timber that is removed from the tenured lands
  • ensure that the companies meet the regeneration standards after harvest
  • audit compliance of the companies with regulations regarding the protection of soil, water and non-timber values and services
  • review every company’s forest plans every 5 or 10 years

Forest companies are required to:

  • submit regular, formal reports on their activities
  • update their plans in response to changing conditions and objectives

Companies that fail to comply with forest management plans face penalties. These range from warnings and fines to the suspension of harvesting rights or seizure of timber.

Public participation is vital to forest management planning

Public participation ensures that the planning process is transparent and gives Canadians real influence in decision-making. Public participation processes vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction but the parties generally include:

  • Aboriginal peoples
  • industry and environmental groups
  • community representatives

In many provinces, advisory groups must be involved in forest management planning for public lands and the plans must be made available to the public for review and comment.

Scientific research is the foundation of forest planning

Both forest management planning and sustainable forest management practices in Canada are first and foremost based on science. Provincial and territorial governments use the best available scientific research to update and improve forest management planning and policy-making, as well as practices on the ground.

Canada’s forests are being studied constantly by scientists and technologists from Natural Resources Canada–Canadian Forest Service, provincial and territorial government research agencies, and academic institutions. The knowledge uncovered informs and updates forest management guidelines and regulations on a steady basis.

Canadian Forest Service research supports management planning

Canadian Forest Service research projects include studies of wildlife habitat, fire and pest management, forest growth and yield, and wood supply. Examples of studies that have directly enhanced forest management planning:

  • Forest inventory advances – By significantly increasing the quality and accuracy of forest inventories, Canadian Forest Service researchers have helped forest managers reduce the size of area harvested and length of forest roads built to gain the same volume of timber harvested as before.
  • New partial-cutting harvest practices – In collaboration with FPInnovations, Canadian Forest Service researchers are developing innovative partial cutting approaches for harvesting and regenerating forests in more profitable and sustainable ways.
  • Identification of the northern limit for managed forests – Work by Canadian Forest Service researchers on fire regimes and stand dynamics has helped the provincial government in Quebec determine the northern limit of sustainable commercial-scale harvesting.

Learn about sustainable forest management in Canada

Sustainable forest management principles protect the long-term health of Canada’s forests. Find out how Canada a leader in sustainable forest management.

Find out more