Canadians expect their governments to be responsible stewards of their forest resource, and increasingly our overseas markets expect forest products to come from sustainably managed sources. Managing our forests sustainably requires finding a balance between environmental, economic and social benefits.
But how can we determine whether we are effectively achieving that balancing act? The answer lies in the use of criteria and indicators (C&I), objective measures for which data can be collected and tracked over time.
What are C&I?
Criteria and indicators are practical, science-based measures that give government, industry, researchers and the public a consistent way to define, assess, monitor and report progress in achieving sustainable forest management (SFM). They also help identify where improvements can be made.
- Criteria describe the different forest values that make up SFM: environmental, economic, and social. These are the forest values that Canadians want to enhance or sustain.
- Indicators describe the ways in which a criterion actually gets assessed. They are objective measures that can be supported by data.
At the national level, Canada uses a set of 46 indicators that represent the full range of forest values Canadians want conserved or sustained. Because sustainability requires balancing environmental, economic and social values, no single indicator can be used to assess SFM. Getting a full, clear picture requires taking the whole range of indicators into consideration.
By examining a suite of indicators together, we get an informative profile of Canada’s progress toward SFM.
Twelve indicators, addressing five of the six criteria (forest values) are listed below. Each links to an assessment report about that indicator. As this sample of C&I results shows, despite some challenges, Canada continues to make notable progress in many areas of SFM.
Ensuring healthy, productive forests and a cleaner environment
As Canadian forest industries continue to transform by investing in new technologies and new markets, they count on having a healthy, productive and sustainable forest resource base. The indicators show positive results in this area:
- Canada has nearly 400 million hectares of forest, other wooded land and other land with tree cover—in all, 10% of the world’s forest cover.
- About 640,000 hectares of forest were harvested last year—just under 0.2% of Canada’s total forest land.
- Across the country, timber is being harvested at rates more than 30% below the wood supply considered to mark the sustainable limit; natural and artificial regeneration are ensuring that sites harvested remain productive; and the annual rate of deforestation has declined to about 45,000 hectares a year—0.01% of the total forest area annually.
- The forest sector’s overall greenhouse gas emissions have dropped by 48% since the 1990s. It achieved these reductions by decreasing its reliance on fossil fuels, increasing energy efficiency and reducing energy use.
Providing wealth for Canadians
The Canadian forest sector has faced enormous challenges over the last decade and segments of the industry (such as pulp and paper) continue to recalibrate to succeed in these new conditions. Notable gains have been made in many areas, spurred in part by the recent U.S. housing recovery. In 2012:
- The forest sector’s contribution to Canada’s GDP rose slightly to $18.7 billion (1.1% of the GDP) from $18.1 billion in 2011.
- Forest product exports reached $25.1 billion, with softwood lumber exports surpassing $5.7 billion—an increase of 10.8% over 2011.
- China accounted for 16.3% of all Canadian forest product exports (compared with 1.8% in 2002).
- Direct employment in the forest industry continued its modest recovery, increasing by 0.9% and reaching almost 236,000.
Improving the social well-being of Canadian families
The Canadian forest sector continues to be a major employer nationwide, particularly in rural communities where forest-related work is often the main source of income.
- For about 200 communities across Canada, the forest sector makes up at least 50% of the economic base.
- Communities across the country benefit from numerous forest-associated values and services, such as recreation and ecotourism.
Building confidence in Canada’s environmental leadership
Canada’s forests are a source of national pride and an important contributor to the economy. The 20+ years of committed effort to sustainably manage the country’s forests are paying off and Canadians can look forward with confidence to their forests continuing to provide a broad range of benefits even within a constantly changing economic, environmental and social context. Also important is knowing that Canada’s trading partners can feel confident that Canadian forest products delivered to them come with strong environmental credentials from sustainably managed sources.
What do the indicators tell us?
The answer in short: thanks to Canada’s ongoing commitment to sustainable forest management, the country’s forests contribute significantly to Canadians’ lives and the nation’s well-being. This is not to say that the need to respond to the challenges—economic and environmental in particular—is over. On the contrary: efforts can be strengthened in several areas, including further product innovation and market expansion and better understanding of forest disturbances and their potential impacts. Challenges will always arise, but sustainable forest management gives Canada’s forest sector the ability to respond to these quickly and effectively.
Key indicator analyses
- Additions and deletions of forest area
- Annual harvest of timber relative to the level of harvest deemed to be sustainable
- Area of forest disturbed by fire, insects, disease and harvesting
- Carbon emissions/removals in Canada’s managed forests
- Contribution of forest products to gross domestic product
- Financial performance
- Forest-dependent communities in Canada
- Forest industry employment
- Forest product exports
- Forest sector carbon emissions
- Proportion of timber harvest area regenerated by artificial and natural means
- Status of forest-associated species at risk
Looking for additional indicator analyses
The State of Canada's Forests: Annual report 2013 includes a sample of the indicators for SFM and the latest information on what each shows about SMF progress in Canada's forests.
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