Canada has 347 million hectares (ha) of forest. This represents nearly 9% of the world’s forests.
What is a forest?
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) defines forest as land spanning more than 0.5 ha where the tree canopy covers more than 10% of the total land area and the trees can grow to a height of more than 5 metres. It does not include land that is predominantly urban or used for agricultural purposes. Forest is treated as synonymous with forest land.
Land that temporarily has no trees is still considered to be a forest when the disturbance is known to be temporary and trees are expected to grow back (e.g., after harvesting, fire, or an insect infestation). This is distinct from:
- deforestation – The conversion of forest to another land use, such as clearing for agriculture or the permanent reduction of the tree canopy cover to less than 10% of the total land area.
- afforestation – The establishment of forests through planting or seeding on land that, until then, was not classified as a forest.
Naturally caused gains and losses of tree cover are considered neither deforestation nor afforestation. After wildfire, it can take a decade or more for trees to regenerate and grow back to a height of 5 metres or more. During this period, the forest continues to provide important habitat for plant and animal species that depend on young forests – what ecologists call early successional forest habitat.
The majority of Canada’s forests are on publicly owned land. Many are in parks or protected areas; others have been designated for multiple-use sustainable forest management; and still others are in remote, sparsely populated areas where forests are not designated officially for particular uses. Provincial and territorial governments collaborate with the federal government, the forest industry and other stakeholders to ensure that forest monitoring and evidence-based sustainable practices are maintained.
In previous State of Canada’s Forests reports, forest area was based on the most current National Forest Inventory (NFI) baseline survey (period of measurement from 2001–2006). In an effort to provide trend data and to align with other reporting organizations, forest area is now adjusted for known deforestation and afforestation to provide adjusted values for other reporting years. The next full survey of our NFI is expected to be completed in 2017, at which time forest area will be adjusted to reflect data collected between 2007 and 2017.
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2012. FRA 2015 Terms and Definitions [1.44 Mb PDF]. Forest Resources Assessment Working Paper. Rome, Italy. (June 28, 2016).
- National Forest Inventory. Standard reports, Table 4.0, Area (1000 ha) of forest and non-forest land in Canada. (May 13, 2016).
- The base estimate of forest area for Canada comes from the National Forest Inventory (NFI) baseline report.
- The estimate of current forest area (2015) was calculated by taking the NFI baseline estimate at the source above and adjusting it for known increases in forest area (afforestation) and known decreases in forest area (deforestation) that occurred during the time since the NFI baseline data were collected. These adjustments are described in Canada’s country report to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization for the 2015 Global Forest Resources Assessment.
- The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations definition of “forest” and other terms are provided in FRA 2015: Terms and Definitions.
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