The forest sector comprises forest management activities (such as tree planting; forest protection from fire, disease and insects; and harvesting) and forest products manufacturing industries (including paper and wood products manufacturing). In Canada, managers of these activities are obliged to consider the protection of ecosystem conditions, including those for water.
- Forest management activities use little water. Nevertheless, some forest management activities, such as the construction of forest access roads and tree harvesting, may affect aquatic ecosystems. These effects can be positive if the activity is done responsibly, but they can be negative if forest managers do not adhere to guidelines and regulations. Recognizing this, forest managers have improved forestry practices to minimize the negative impacts of forest management activities on the ecosystem and to enhance the positive impacts that forest management can have on ecosystems.
- The structure of the forest cover has an important effect on characteristics of the associated water ecosystem. Forests are living systems and are constantly changing. As a result, they will have different interactions with aquatic ecosystems over time.
- Forest structure is changed by natural disturbances caused by pest or disease outbreaks and forest fires. These disturbances could result in negative impacts to the aquatic ecosystem (these impacts tend to be temporary). Where possible, forest managers use various techniques to minimize the negative impacts associated with these natural occurrences. For example, creating forests on non-forested areas by tree planting can create positive impacts on water ecosystems.
- Forest managers use pesticides to control insect infestations and for vegetation management to enhance the survival and growth of planted trees. Strict guidelines and regulations control the type, concentration and distance to water bodies of pesticides applied in forest management.
- Tree harvesting, while creating significant economic benefits for Canada, also changes the structure of the forest. An important consideration in all forest harvesting is its potential effects on water quality, and the activity is restricted where it could create negative effects on the water ecosystem. Tree harvesting and the associated need for access-road construction on crown land are planned and carried out to ensure that negative impacts to aquatic ecosystems are avoided or minimized.
- Among all forest management activities, forest access roads have the most potential to create negative impacts on forest water ecosystems – through the interruption of groundwater flow patterns, soil erosion and stream sedimentation. Therefore, planning the location, construction and maintenance of forest access roads is one of the most important priorities among water management issues in forest management.
- Innovative practices and policies that minimize the impact of forest access roads have been developed. In addition, strict regulations at the provincial and territorial levels mitigate many of the negative impacts of road construction and maintenance.
- The negative impacts on water ecosystems from forest access roads, however, are overshadowed by those from other land-use changes, such as other industrial developments and urbanization.
Forest products manufacturing
- The manufacturing industries of the forest sector accounted for 6 percent of gross water use in Canada in 2005. This water is used in processing activities that have low overall consumption.
- Gross water use, water use intensity (water use per unit of production) and water withdrawals by forest products manufacturing have declined substantially since the 1980s.
Sources: Environment Canada and Statistics Canada water use surveys
Eutrophication is a natural process that, over geological time, can turn a lake into a bog and eventually into land. But today, in many places, this process is accelerated by high concentrations of phosphorus and nitrogen that enrich the water with nutrients, causing aquatic plants to grow quickly. As the plant growth explodes, it chokes off the oxygen supply normally shared with other organisms living in the water. When the plants die, their decomposition uses up even more oxygen. As a result, fish die and bacterial activity decreases.
*Numbers may not sum to 100 due to rounding.
- Some of the main concerns about wastewater from forest products manufacturing operations include chronic toxicity to aquatic organisms and eutrophication (see sidebar). The industry has invested a significant amount of effort to prevent effluent from negatively impacting aquatic ecosystems and to ensure that strategies are tailored to local environments.
- Today, the Canadian pulp and paper industry has established itself as a world leader in elemental chlorine-free pulping. This process minimizes the release of dangerous organochlorine chemicals into the environment.
- Forest sector manufacturers accounted for 12 percent of industrial contaminant releases to Canadian waters in 2003. However, those releases take ecosystem capacity into account and are monitored and regulated to minimize negative effects.
- Canada’s Pulp and Paper Effluent Regulations have significantly improved effluent quality over the past 36 years. The Regulations are continually reviewed and updated to keep pace with emerging science and technology innovations.
- The forest products manufacturing industries spent $508 million on freshwater withdrawal, recirculation and treatment in 2005 (a major increase since 1996), or $0.142 per cubic metre of gross water use (approximately double the rate paid in 1996).
- In response to the challenges associated with effluent discharges, more than half of water-related spending in 2005 was devoted to water treatment technologies and processes that decrease the industry’s impact on water quality.
Total: $508 million
- There have also been concerted efforts to decrease the industry’s water use per unit of production. As one example, scientists at CanmetENERGY in Varennes, Quebec, have demonstrated that even efficient pulp and paper mills can significantly reduce their energy and water use by optimizing production processes. The cost savings associated with these efficiencies can often pay for the required technology investments in a relatively short period.
Source: Statistics Canada, 2008. Industrial Water Use, 2005.