National research forests

Table of contents

Living laboratories

The forest industry and forestry-dependent communities are challenged by a variety of social, economic and environmental changes. In order to help address questions from industry, woodlot owners and the scientific community, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) maintains two national research forests: Acadia and Petawawa. These living laboratories have a long legacy of providing scientific data that inform researchers and practitioners about long-term trends to help them address forestry issues for both the present and the future.

Today, the Acadia and Petawawa research forests are home to many important research studies, encompassing areas from silviculture and tree genetics to fire and remote sensing techniques, all of which inform best practices in forest management. With their combination of history, experimental sites and data, the Acadia and Petawawa research forests offer unique opportunities for both long- and short-term research.

Research programs

The national research forests are home to a variety of research programs, some of which have been underway for decades. Current areas of research, and potential collaborative research opportunities, include:

  • enhanced forest productivity through silvicultural treatments
  • biological evaluation of alternative harvesting treatments
  • forest health
  • forest vegetation management alternatives
  • forest diversity and natural succession
  • biodiversity
  • provenance trials using seed from various geographical locations
  • clonal studies, including somatic embryogensis
  • climate change

The knowledge gained from research conducted at Acadia and Petawawa will continue to enhance forest management practices around the world and aid in forest policy decision-making. NRCan is dedicated to addressing current forestry issues, while providing the opportunity, under secure conditions, to answer forest questions that have yet to arise.

Acadia Research Forest

The Acadia Research Forest, situated in the heart of the Acadian forest region, was officially founded in 1933. It is the site of some of the oldest documented forest research studies in Canada, including direct seeding experiments that were conducted in the early 1920s. Steeped in history, this 9,000–hectare forest was used as an unemployment relief camp and as a Jewish/German internment camp from the early 1930s until the end of World War II. In fact, many of the buildings at the Acadia Research Forest and the thinning studies were established during this time. The forest is also part of the Burpee Wildlife Management Area.

John McMullen
Acadia Research Forest Operations Manager
Noonan, NB

Petawawa Research Forest

The Petawawa Research Forest is a unique and long-established research laboratory located in Chalk River, ON, just up river from Ottawa, the nation’s capital.

Since its creation in 1918 by the Canadian Forest Service (CFS) of Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), it has been bringing together federal, provincial and industry researchers, whose work has contributed significantly to the protection and sustainable use of Canada’s vast forest resources.

This research forest serves as a living laboratory for innovative forest research activities, in effect providing an invaluable historical and scientific legacy. The forest research and applied management techniques that have taken place at the Petawawa Research Forest inform and advance forest management practices across Canada – today as much as 100 years ago.

Aerial view of the Petawawa Research Forest, scattered lakes and green forests.

The Petawawa Research Forest is not only Canada’s oldest continuously operating research forest, but it also remains at the vanguard of climate change research, contributing to Canada’s transition towards an innovative, forest-based bioeconomy.

The Petawawa Research Forest covers 10,000 hectares in the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence forest region

The research forest is in the northern portion of the Department of National Defence’s (DND) Garrison Petawawa. Under a Memorandum of Understanding with DND, NRCan-CFS has been responsible for managing the research forest land base since its inception. The CFS still manages the facility today, through the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre.

The vast forest is largely mixedwood, made up of both coniferous and deciduous trees such as white pine and sugar maples (amongst many others).

Operating under the principles of sustainable forest management

Forest management at the Petawawa Research Forest aims to emulate natural disturbances while conserving ecological, economic and social values.

Practices are guided by a strategic management plan informed by robust datasets, including those drawn from an enhanced forest inventory, bioindicators and extensive ground surveys. This is the only spatial forest management plan in the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence forest region. 

The mandate of the Petawawa Research Forest is to:

  • facilitate ongoing forest research and maintain long-term research installations
  • showcase the results of experimental trials to potential forest end-users and other researchers
  • carry out sustainable forest management to maximize the forest’s future research potential

Managed by the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre, the Petawawa Research Forest is available to CFS scientists and their collaborators from across federal departments, the provinces and industry. Researchers come to install new research studies or to build on existing research.

The site offers:

  • long-term site security
  • state-of-the-art forest inventory
  • affordability – Petawawa is considered one of the most cost-effective locations for fieldwork in Canada
  • on-site logistical, tactical and administrative support
  • ease of access to research sites on a well-maintained road network
  • a representational forest for the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence forest region, with boreal species present as well
  • excellent knowledge transfer opportunities, including through tours and presentations
  • long-term forest data collection
  • prestige – the Petawawa Research Forest is a world-renowned research facility

The value in long-term studies

Winter harvesting at the Petawawa Research Forest, heavy equipment and stacked timber logs.

Many long-term research studies have been carried out at the Petawawa Research Forest, addressing silviculture, forest fire research, forest ecology and tree genetics.

These studies have resulted in the creation of about 2,000 experimental research areas, and continue to have significant impacts on regional, national and global forest management practices.


Emerging areas of focus at the research forest

The Petawawa Research Forest is playing an important role in charting Canada’s future forest health and management practices and the prospects for forest-based industries. Among the notable forest research studies now underway in emerging areas of scientific research are those addressing:

  • next-generation enhanced forest inventory
  • climate change
  • innovative silviculture techniques
  • bioindicators
  • forest-based bioenergy

For more information about the Petawawa Research Forest, contact the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre.