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Five ways COVID-19 affected forests and the Canadian forest sector

COVID-19 has had an impact on the lives and livelihoods of people all around the globe. Canada is no exception - Canadians, the country’s forests, and the forest sector were also affected. Deemed essential to the well-being of Canadians, most forest sector workers continued to supply key sanitary household products and inputs necessary for many important products throughout the pandemic. At the same time, while physical distancing measures kept us apart, forests provided a haven for outdoor activity.

1. Covid-19 created challenges for employment and working conditions in the forest sector

Disruptions in forestry and manufacturing activities resulted in employment uncertainty and impacted forest sector jobs.

New health and safety measures caused operational changes, both in harvesting and manufacturing.

While most forest sector operations have recovered, some – notably newsprint and the printing and writing subsectors – are still affected and vulnerable.

2. Altered routines affected the supply and demand of forest products

Concerns over potential supply restrictions in tissue and paper hygiene products, combined with increased health and safety precautions, caused significant increases in demand.

Increased online shopping has led to a surge in demand for packaging products, such as cardboard, while decreasing the demand for paper flyers used in advertising.

Working from home has increased the emphasis on electronic media, decreasing the demand for both newsprint and office paper. Newsprint exports were down 31% in 2020.

3. Canadians made changes to their living spaces, increasing the demand for lumber

As homeowners tackled home improvement projects and created more outdoor spaces, the demand for lumber was greatly increased.

With people working from home, the preference for more space and bigger homes contributed to a rise in new home construction. Canadian single-family housing starts were up 6% between 2019 and 2020.

Construction of single-family homes uses more lumber than multi-family homes, contributing to record high lumber prices. Lumber prices at the beginning of 2021 were 175% higher than one year earlier.

4. With restrictions on socializing, Canadians sought out to green spaces, including forests

Strict health and safety protocols enticed many to find comfort and mental relief on hiking trails and in nature.

As authorities restricted travel to popular tourism destinations, the demand for camping sites surged across the country.

Newly created day-passes in popular areas sold out quickly as officials limited access to trails and sites to reduce exposure, overuse, and environmental degradation.

5. The economic recovery and lifestyle changes means opportunities for the forest sector

Countries around the world are taking steps to “build back greener,” creating a unique opportunity for Canada to invest, expand, and promote environmentally friendly forest bio-products.

Canada’s forest sector continues to innovate and respond quickly to shifting demands, such as developing compostable personal protective equipment (PPE) made from wood fibre.

The forest sector offers sustainable packaging alternatives to plastic. These support the effort to reduce waste in response to the notable increase in residential garbage caused by people ordering food delivery more during the pandemic.

Sources and information

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Email us at cfs-stateoftheforests-etatdesforets-scf@nrcan-rncan.gc.ca

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