Language selection

Search

How does disturbance shape Canada's forests?

Over the last 10 years, wildfires and insect outbreaks have affected an average of 17.6 million hectares (ha) of forest each year in Canada, while 0.7 million ha have been harvested annually. During this decade, at least 16% of Canada’s forest land has been disturbed, attesting to their importance in shaping Canada’s forest landscape.

Climate change and sustainable forest management

There is increasing evidence that most natural disturbances are already being magnified by climate change. For example, climate change increases the risk of drought, which stresses trees and makes them vulnerable to insects and diseases. The additional consequence is that trees killed by these pests can increase the risk of wildfire and change fire behaviour or intensity.

Informed innovative forest and land management practices are needed to counteract the many possible interactions between various types of disturbance and, potentially, climate change. These practices will help to maintain resilient and healthy forests that will continue to support various goods and services that forests provide and that Canadians rely upon.

Key sustainability indicators

Explore the report to find information on the key sustainability indicators:

  • Forest insects: Trends of forest area affected by insects across Canada. Monitoring forest area defoliated and damaged by insects is important to determine impacts to timber supply, the risk of fire, and the risk to recreational enjoyment and other forest values.
  • Forest diseases: Tracking information of tree diseases. This is an important indicator that helps us better understand undesirable economic, social and ecological outcomes, including regeneration failure, volume loss and tree mortality (download the annual report for further details).
  • Forest fires: Annual data on total area burned and number of fires in the last 10 years. Understanding forest fires in Canada is important as they are a natural part of the forest ecosystem and help maintain the health and diversity of the forest, but can also result in costly economic losses and provide public health and safety concerns.
  • Forest carbon emissions and removals: Estimated annual net carbon emissions in Canada’s managed forests. Monitoring carbon emissions is important as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) are important contributors to global warming.
Infographic cover photo

Download the report
(PDF, 96 MB)

Forest insects

Forest area (in hectares) containing defoliated or beetle-killed trees for five insects in Canada, 2009–2019

Graph summary

This graph shows the trends in forest area, in hectares, defoliated by five forest insects from 2009 to 2019. The insects are Lymantria dispar (former common name: gypsy moth), eastern spruce budworm, jack pine budworm, mountain pine beetle and spruce beetle.

The forest area disturbed by Lymantria dispar was less than 1,000 ha from 2009 to 2011, but then jumped to over 23,000 ha in 2014. In 2015 and 2016, forest area disturbaned by Lymantria dispar decreased to less than 1,000 ha but has experienced an upward trend since 2017. In 2019, forest area disturbed reached a decadal high of 43,000 ha.

The forest area disturbed by eastern spruce budworm increased steadily from 831,000 ha in 2009 to 5.2 million ha in 2015. In 2016, forest area disturbed dropped to 4.9 million ha, but then increased to almost 6 million ha in 2018. In 2019, forest area disturbned by eastern spruce budworm was about 5.5 million ha.

In 2009, forest area disturbed by jack pine budworm was about 206,000 ha. From 2010 to 2015, forest area disturbed by jack pine budworm ranged between a high of 92,000 ha in 2013 to a low of about 25,000 ha in 2015. Jack pine budworm has continued an upward trend since 2015, with almost 2.1 million ha disturbed in 2019.

In the last 10 years, forest area disturbed by the mountain pine beetle has continued on a downward trend, from a high of almost 9 million ha in 2009 to only 357,000 ha in 2019.

From 2009 to 2010, forest area disturbed by the spruce beetle increased from 64,000 ha to 66,00 ha, but then decreased to a decadal low of 26,000 ha in 2013. From 2014, over 336,000 ha were disturbed by the spruce bettle. From 2015 to 2019, forest area disturbed by the spruce beetle increased from 242,000 ha to 518,000 ha.

Graph data

Table showing the area disturbed, in hectares, for five forest insect species: Lymantria dispar (former common name: gypsy moth), eastern spruce budworm, jack pine budworm, mountain pine beetle and spruce beetle for each year from 2009 to 2019.

Year Lymantria dispar Eastern spruce budworm Jack pine budworm Mountain pine beetle Spruce beetle
2009 385 831,937 205,701 8,953,441 63,863
2010 0 1,510,074 44,968 6,251,586 66,267
2011 0 1,492,829 27,765 4,624,907 61,774
2012 8,128 1,792,062 61,018 3,016,228 43,195
2013 8,452 2,777,998 92,176 2,973,935 26,601
2014 23,335 3,583,700 26,356 2,208,687 336,396
2015 757 5,235,854 24,634 1,447,954 242,344
2016 0 4,970,951 206,849 376,669 291,972
2017 10,858 5,519,287 748,880 332,259 506,881
2018 14,939 5,992,899 1,187,801 318,796 343,758
2019 43,159 5,537,800 2,071,977 357,049 518,440

Forest fires

Forest area burned and number of forest fires in Canada, 2010–2020

Graph summary

Between 2010 and 2020, the annual area burned was highly variable. The year with the highest area burned was 2014 with over 4.5 million ha. The year with the smallest area burned was 2020, with only 227,000 ha burned.

Between 2010 and 2020, the number of forest fires was variable. In 2020, there were about 4,000 fires, which is the smallest annual number within the past 10 years. The highest number of wildland fires in the past 10 years occurred in 2012, with about 8,000 fires.

Graph data

Table showing the area burned, in hectares, and the number of forest fires for each year from 2010 to 2020.

Year Area burned Number of fires
2010 3,177,963 7,312
2011 2,397,419 4,674
2012 1,811,679 7,910
2013 4,268,422 6,246
2014 4,545,657 5,016
2015 3,908,379 7,029
2016 1,319,574 5,259
2017 3,589,424 5,654
2018 2,328,851 7,111
2019 1,786,215 4,062
2020 227,477 3,935

Forest carbon emissions and removals

Net carbon emissions in Canada’s managed forests: All areas, 1990–2019

Graph summary

The net carbon emissions in Canada’a managed forest were 165 million tonnes of carbon-dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2e) in 2019, taking into account both human activities and natural disturbances. The trend in net carbon emissions from 1990 to 2019 is toward larger annual emissions, but with high annual variability. Canada’s managed forests were a net sink of carbon, absorbing carbon from the atmosphere, from 1990 to 2001, with the exception of 1995 and 1998, when managed forests emitted carbon. From 2002 to 2019, taking into account both human and natural disturbances, Canada’s managed forests emitted carbon each year. The three highest emitting years were 2015 (261 Mt CO2e), 2017 (226 Mt CO2e) and 2018 (258 Mt CO2e).

The graph also shows the annual area disturbed by forestry activities within Canada’s managed forest for each year from 1990 to 2019. The area disturbed remains around 1.1 million ha per year, with larger areas disturbed from 1999 to 2006 and small areas disturbed from 2007 to 2009. There is a clear downward trend from the largest area disturbed in 2004 (1.3 million ha) to the smallest area disturbed in 2009 (0.8 million ha). In 2019, 1.1 million ha were disturbed.

The graph also shows the annual area disturbed by insects and wildfires within Canada’s managed forest from 1990 to 2019. The area disturbed by both causes is highly variable from year to year. There is no clear trend in the area disturbed by insects, which varies from a low of about 1.0 million ha in 1992 to a high of 12.8 million ha in 2003. Wildfire activity varies from a low of 93,000 ha in 2000 to 2.3 million ha in 1995 and shows a trend of slow increase even with high annual variability. In 2019, insects disturbed 9.1 milllion ha, while fires disturbed over 1 million ha of Canada’s managed forests.

The graph also shows the annual area disturbed by firewood harvest within Canada’s managed forest for each year from 1990 to 2019. From 1990 to 2001, area disturbed was less than 300,000 ha, with a high of 297,000 ha in 1993 and a low of 177,000 ha in 2001. In 2002, area disturbed increased to 207,000 ha and has continued an upward trend, albeit variable. In 2019, area disturbed by firewood harvest within Canada’s managed forest was about 558,000 ha.

Graph data

Table showing the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions or removals, in millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, in Canada’s managed forests for each year between 1990 and 2019. A positive number indicates a net emission of carbon dioxide while a negative number indicated a net removal. The table also displays the area of forest disturbed, in hectares, for each year from 1990 to 2019 by four causes: 1) Area of forestry activities, 2) area burned, 3) area disturbed by insects and 4) area of firewood harvest.

Year Area of forestry activities Area burned Area disturbed by insects  Area of firewood harvest GHG net emissions
1990 964,690 278,644 4,138,128 249,577 -92.0
1991 907,492 583,301 1,742,496 231,659 -67.4
1992 1,003,799 107,860 1,056,544 274,585 -106.5
1993 1,010,841 686,300 1,109,644 297,579 -47.0
1994 1,047,057 568,968 1,955,173 291,772 -36.1
1995 1,100,417 2,273,569 1,746,900 250,464 161.6
1996 1,066,134 638,703 1,699,188 260,336 -24.8
1997 1,127,390 173,480 1,941,352 264,570 -74.6
1998 1,085,193 1,607,547 2,542,736 231,812 126.5
1999 1,230,303 644,371 3,587,462 245,342 -3.9
2000 1,263,434 93,145 3,568,543 207,654 -55.3
2001 1,199,592 202,897 7,617,376 176,885 -41.8
2002 1,275,024 1,445,684 9,792,327 207,269 125.8
2003 1,240,196 767,614 12,843,832 218,005 72.9
2004 1,381,524 947,406 7,119,060 286,051 156.3
2005 1,369,546 639,617 9,597,723 243,297 74.5
2006 1,239,119 662,462 12,057,322 255,459 91.4
2007 1,090,746 736,598 10,522,089 317,672 91.9
2008 974,803 390,212 8,270,690 336,057 37.8
2009 862,958 379,874 5,479,462 343,417 48.7
2010 1,033,348 982,154 5,547,428 332,961 127.1
2011 1,107,676 1,108,888 4,768,939 335,407 149.1
2012 1,102,786 928,260 4,310,305 356,464 109.7
2013 1,068,006 480,146 5,073,900 428,072 48.3
2014 1,069,190 1,281,563 7,327,265 467,715 165.8
2015 1,116,646 2,048,949 7,994,021 475,786 261.4
2016 1,138,454 766,144 8,139,877 464,560 104.1
2017 1,119,142 1,475,403 8,113,997 408,162 226.0
2018 1,095,915 1,424,062 8,283,068 468,501 258.3
2019 1,159,748 1,071,774 9,133,005 557,987 165.4

Net carbon emissions in Canada’s managed forests: Areas subject to human activities, 1990–2019

Graph summary

Forest management activities in Canada were a net sink of GHGs from 1990 to 2003. However, the size of the sink had been decreasing slowly from a sink of 70 Mt CO2e in 1990 to 20 Mt CO2e in 2003. By 2005, forest management activities in Canada became a source of 14.5 Mt CO2e, but then returned to a sink of 16.8 Mt CO2e by 2009. Since 2010, forest management activities have been both a source and sink of GHGs, but remain within a narrow range. In the last 10 years, the highest source occurred in 2019 with 8.6 Mt CO2e, and the largest sink occurred in 2012 with 3.7 Mt CO2e.

The graph also shows the annual area disturbed by forestry activities within Canada’s managed forest for each year from 1990 to 2019. The area disturbed remains around 1.1 million ha per year, with larger areas disturbed from 1999 to 2006, and small areas disturbed from 2007 to 2009. There is a clear downward trend from the largest area disturbed in 2004 (1.3 million ha) to the smallest area disturbed in 2009 (0.8 million ha). In 2019, 1.1 million ha were disturbed.

The graph also shows the annual area disturbed by low mortality insects within Canada’s managed forest for each year from 1990 to 2019. The area disturbed is highly variable. In 1990, area disturbed was about 3.0 million ha, but then droped to an average of 1.0 million ha from 1991 to 2000. There does seem to be some indication of an increasing trend, as area disturbed by low mortality insects within Canada’s managed forests has remained above 3.0 million ha each year, except for 2012 which had about 2.8 million ha disturbed. In 2019, about 7.2 million ha were disturbed, which is the highest value recorded since 1990.

The graph also shows the annual area disturbed by firewood harvest within Canada’s managed forest for each year from 1990 to 2019. From 1990 to 2001 area disturbed was less than 300,000 ha, with a high of 297,000 ha in 1993 and a low of 177,000 ha in 2001. In 2002, area disturbed increased to 207,000 ha and has continued an upward trend, albeit variable. In 2019, area disturbed by firewood harvest within Canada’s managed forest was about 558,000 ha.

Graph data

Table showing the GHG emissions or removals, in millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, in Canada’s managed forests due to forest management activities for each year from 1990 to 2019. A positive number indicates a net emission of carbon dioxide for that year, while a negative number indicates a net removal. The table also displays the area of forest, in hectares, burned and disturbed by high mortality insects for each year from 1990 to 2019.

Year Area of forestry activities Area disturbed by low mortality insects Area of firewood harvest GHG net emissions
1990 964,690 3,069,390 249,577 -70.3
1991 907,492 1,006,934 231,659 -73.8
1992 1,003,799 465,752 274,585 -61.4
1993 1,010,841 629,989 297,579 -53.3
1994 1,047,057 1,375,410 291,772 -50.3
1995 1,100,417 1,336,556 250,464 -33.2
1996 1,066,134 1,038,826 260,336 -39.2
1997 1,127,390 1,196,553 264,570 -39.6
1998 1,085,193 1,431,713 231,812 -50.7
1999 1,230,303 1,484,683 245,342 -35.2
2000 1,263,434 541,398 207,654 -20.0
2001 1,199,592 3,342,451 176,885 -35.8
2002 1,275,024 4,752,742 207,269 -17.4
2003 1,240,196 6,225,740 218,005 -20.1
2004 1,381,524 4,766,443 286,051 8.6
2005 1,369,546 4,573,016 243,297 14.5
2006 1,239,119 5,213,518 255,459 2.9
2007 1,090,746 3,965,267 317,672 -1.2
2008 974,803 3,153,139 336,057 -6.0
2009 862,958 3,180,315 343,417 -16.9
2010 1,033,348 3,880,788 332,961 -0.1
2011 1,107,676 3,445,793 335,407 0.3
2012 1,102,786 2,818,282 356,464 -3.7
2013 1,068,006 3,457,364 428,072 -0.1
2014 1,069,190 4,256,463 467,715 -0.7
2015 1,116,646 5,453,308 475,786 5.5
2016 1,138,454 5,921,652 464,560 0.8
2017 1,119,142 5,552,738 408,162 0.6
2018 1,095,915 5,969,589 468,501 7.5
2019 1,159,748 7,227,223 557,987 8.6

Net carbon emissions in Canada’s managed forests: Area subject to natural disturbances, 1990–2019

Graph summary

Since 1990, net annual GHG emissions that are due to natural disturbances in Canada’s managed forests have been closely related to the annual area burned. As the amount of of forest burned by wildfires varies widely from year to year, the trend in carbon emissions also varies, with large up and down swings over the span of a year or two. The lowest emissions were in 1992, with a net removal of carbon of 45 Mt CO2e, while the highest emissions were in 2015, with a net emission of 256 Mt CO2e. However, the graph shows an overall trend toward increasing carbon emissions caused by natural disturbances overtime.

The graph also displays the area of forest, in hectares, burned and disturbed by high mortality insects for each year from 1990 to 2019. The area disturbed by both causes is highly variable from year to year. There is no clear trend in the area disturbed by insects, which varies from a low of 410,000 ha in 1995 to a high of 6.8 million ha in 2006. The area disturbed by wildfire activity varied from a low of 93,000 ha in 2000 to 2.3 million ha in 1995, and shows a trend of increase, even with high annual variability. In 2019, high mortality insects disturbed 1.9 million ha, while wildfire disturbed about 1 million ha of Canada’s managed forests.

Graph data

Table showing the GHG emissions or removals, in millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, in Canada’s managed forests due to natural disturbances for each year from 1990 to 2019. A positive number indicates a net emission of carbon dioxide while a negative number indicates a net removal. The table also displays the area of forest, in hectares, burned and disturbed by high mortality insects for each year from 1990 to 2019.

Year Area burned Area disturbed by high mortality insects GHG net emissions
(Mt CO₂e per year)
1990 278,644 1,068,738 -21.6
1991 583,301 735,562 6.4
1992 107,860 590,792 -45.1
1993 686,300 479,655 6.4
1994 568,968 579,763 14.2
1995 2,273,569 410,345 194.8
1996 638,703 660,362 14.4
1997 173,480 744,799 -35.0
1998 1,607,547 1,111,024 177.2
1999 644,371 2,102,778 31.3
2000 93,145 3,027,145 -35.3
2001 202,897 4,274,924 -6.0
2002 1,445,684 5,039,584 143.2
2003 767,614 6,618,091 93.0
2004 947,406 2,352,617 147.7
2005 639,617 5,024,708 60.1
2006 662,462 6,843,804 88.6
2007 736,598 6,556,822 93.1
2008 390,212 5,117,551 43.7
2009 379,874 2,299,147 65.6
2010 982,154 1,666,640 127.3
2011 1,108,888 1,323,147 148.8
2012 928,260 1,492,024 113.5
2013 480,146 1,616,535 48.4
2014 1,281,563 3,070,802 166.5
2015 2,048,949 2,540,713 255.9
2016 766,144 2,218,225 103.3
2017 1,475,403 2,561,259 225.4
2018 1,424,062 2,313,480 250.8
2019 1,071,774 1,905,782 156.8
Sources and information

See Sources and information in the downloadable report for detailed sources.

Report a problem on this page
Please select all that apply:

Thank you for your help!

You will not receive a reply. For enquiries, contact us.

Date modified: