Seeing Canada through the trees
Why Canadians can lead the world in forest conservation
“Canada’s northern boreal forests are unfamiliar to most Canadians. Here in these hinterlands, we can find the more intact forests than anywhere else on the planet. These forests are also the largest storehouse of terrestrial carbon in the world, holding nearly twice as much carbon per square kilometre as tropical forests.”
Editor’s note: the following was submitted by Dan Kraus, senior conservation biologist with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, in recognition of National Forest Week, which was celebrated Sept. 24 to 30.
Forests define our Canadian geography and identity. Onethird of our country is covered with trees, and forests occur in every province and territory. Jobs in forestry employ more than 200,000 Canadians and support many Indigenous and northern communities.
It’s easy to think that our forests are endless, and it’s a mindset we’ve held for a long time. But we need to change our thinking. Although there are vast areas of forest in our northlands, these places represent some of our planet’s last stands of large intact forests. In southern Canada, we have lost and degraded many of our forests, impacting both nature and people.
Forests have been heavily impacted by land use change, fragmentation and invasive species. Invasive forest insects and diseases have taken a heavy toll on many tree species, including white ash, American chestnut and white elm.
The Acadian forest region in New Brunswick and Atlantic Canada, while it still has abundant tree cover, now has a lower percentage of the landscape with old-growth forest than Europe.
Canada’s northern boreal forests are unfamiliar to most Canadians. Here in these hinterlands, we can find the more intact forests than anywhere else on the planet. These forests are also the largest storehouse of terrestrial carbon in the world, holding nearly twice as much carbon per square kilometre as tropical forests. These forests are also home to up to five billion birds.
There are opportunities for Canada and Canadians to do more to become world leaders in forest conservation. In Canada’s north, we have a unique opportunity to create the world’s largest network of protected forests in the world. Canada may rank third for total forest cover (behind Brazil and Russia), but if there’s anywhere in the world where intact forests can be maintained, my bet is on Canada.
Increasing the area of protection in the boreal forest from the current 8.3 per cent to 17 per cent to help meet our international commitments for the Convention on Biological Diversity would result in the protection of more than 890,000 square kilometres.
Canada can also better catalogue high conservation value forests and other sites that have been set aside by industry and recognize the importance of these lands in contributing toward meeting Canada’s goals for protected areas. The energy, forestry and mining industries can all be leaders in demonstrating sustainability, responsible resource use and biodiversity conservation to the world.
Unlike forests in the north, the vast majority of southern forests are on private lands, and their protection and restoration requires thousands of individual actions. Fortunately, many land owners, farmers, corporations and governments are taking steps to protect these private forests. A partnership between TD Bank and the Nature Conservancy of Canada between 2012 and 2016 helped protect 160 square kilometres of forests in southern Canada. The Government of Canada’s Natural Areas Conservation Program has matched funding from provincial governments and individuals to protect more than 4,300 square kilometres in southern Canada, including many forests.
Finding conservation solutions for our southern forests is important for nature and people.
These forests provide habitat for many species, but also provide services to our communities. From recharging the groundwater that we drink to holding floodwaters during storms, to providing places for recreation, this natural capital is important to maintaining our quality of life.
There’s no doubt we have made important progress, but is there is still urgency for forest conservation in Canada. The strategic restoration of forests could ensure that our protected areas are connected with wildlife corridors, that the health of our streams and rivers is improved by forest buffers and that important habitats for wildlife are maintained.
What would be more Canadian than committing to conserve more forests than any other nation?