The development of silvicultural systems in Canada

Canada’s forests are of vital importance globally because of their extent, biodiversity, carbon storage, hydrology and supply of wood to North American and Asian markets.

Little incentive to improve forest productivity

Over 90% of the silviculture systems applied in Canada involve clearcutting and planting or seeding to spruce, pine or fir. This even-aged system is appropriate in many areas, but there is considerable opportunity for partial cutting, selection or commercial thinning systems in certain forest types. The industry largely meets minimal reforestation standards on harvested land. However, there is little incentive to practice intensive or restorative silviculture to improve forest productivity or help meet midterm timber supply shortages. This lack of incentive comes partly from the high risk of mortality of oldgrowth forests, uncertainty in volume-based tenures and, importantly, improper global market valuation of forest products. Stumpage revenues from the boreal forest are too low to provide for tenure holders to invest in intensive silviculture.

Transformation of the industry toward sustainable forest management and social forestry

Professional innovation and public engagement in forest management has increased slowly in the past few decades. Major friction originating from First Nations blockading operations on lands under treaty negotiation, and ENGOs protesting clear- cutting and employing market-place boycotting strategies, has motivated governments to transform the industry toward sustainable forest management and social forestry. Milestones of these movements are British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest, Quebec’s L’erreur Boreale and Sustainable Forest Development Act, and the Canadian Boreal Forest agreement.

Opportunity for experimentation with forest management practices

At present, 8% of Canada is in legally protected areas and up to 40% of Canada’s forest is under some form of protection such as certification. The large extent of primary forest that still exists in Canada and the tension over its management provides opportunity for engagement and experimentation with sustainable forest management practices.

The development of silviculture and forest management in Canada has been shaped by seven important factors:

1. The vast extent of old primary forest.

2. The short, 300 year history of forestry.

3. Public ownership of 93% of the forest land.

4. A largely urban population.

5. Licensing of most (~80%) of the cut to large companies at low stumpage rates.

6. Weak regulation of the industry.

7. Historically low knowledge of the wide diversity of forest ecosystems and silvicultural systems.

Please find more information about the conference and SIFI:s newsletter 8 which summarizes the day here.

Text: Suzanne W. Simard, Professor, Dept. of Forest Sciences, University of British Columbia

Photo: © Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC).