Without forests, life on earth would cease to exist. Absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen, forests are home to Indigenous persons and countless species of wildlife, and are a valuable source of wood for lumber, fuel, furniture, medicine and more.
For decades we have heard about the danger of deforestation to the planet from experts, activists, environmental groups and celebrities. Worldwide, actors and musicians including Madonna, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Vanessa Hudgens harness their powerful social media status, reaching millions of followers and boosting awareness about the risks to forests, wildlife, water supplies, and Indigenous persons. Musician and actor Sting has championed the world’s rainforests for over 30 years through the Rainforest Fund. Founded by the former Police band member, his wife Trudie Styler, and Dr. Franca Sciuto in 1989, the Rainforest Fund has expanded its initial focus on the Amazon to encompass Costa Rica, Mexico, Peru, Papua New Guinea and other countries facing deforestation.
Along with protecting the rights of Indigenous persons and safeguarding land “against the destructiveness of resource exploitation,” the Rainforest Fund has backed over 300 projects on issues ranging from land rights to environmental monitoring and clean water, issues affecting forests not only in Brazil, but worldwide.
The roots of forest sustainability
Globally, sustainable forest practices are growing thanks to initiatives from responsible and forward-thinking forestry companies, governments, and environmental associations. It has been almost three decades since Forest Principles were adopted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). Known as the Earth Summit, the 1992 event saw the release of Forest Principles addressing key sustainability issues “in a holistic and balanced manner,” and managing these areas “to meet the social, economic, ecological, cultural and spiritual needs of present and future generations.”
Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) – also known as sustainable forestry – is about balancing environmental concerns and the need for forest-related products used to create lumber for construction, fuel, medicine and more. Home to countless plants and wildlife, forests serve as an oasis of tranquility for hikers and campers, and provide a valuable source of employment for lumber companies.
Covered in 347 million hectares (ha) of forest, Canada comes in third worldwide after Russia and Brazil for most forests by area, but leads the way in third-party forest certification. According to the Canada Council of Forest Ministers, the nation is an SFM pioneer not only at home but also globally, benefitting other nations by increasing their forest knowledge and bringing in improved practices.
In Canada, there are multiple systems governing sustainable forestry. These include the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), the Forest Stewardship Council Standards (FSC) and the Canadian Standards Association’s Sustainable Forest Management Standards (CSA). Standards set forth by the CSA and SFI are internationally recognized by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). Based in Geneva, Switzerland, the PEFC is a leading global alliance of over 70 members ranging from businesses and trade associations to individuals, labour unions, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). As of the beginning of 2018, Canada has about 170 million hectares certified by at least one of these bodies, the FSC, the CSA, or the SFI.
Putting practices into place
On a worldwide scale, Sustainable Forest Management is on the rise because of concerns over dwindling resources. Much like systems used to manage the world’s oceans, policies governing SFM are changing and evolving, depending on the location and type of forest – tropical, temperate, or boreal.
A precisely managed system, sustainable forestry requires felled trees to be replaced with new trees (seedlings). After allowing these seedlings to mature, the new trees are then harvested and the cycle of planting and growth continues. The decisions we make today to protect forests and working forests from over-foresting, fire, and climate change will have environment, economic, and social implications in the future.
Much more than just replacing harvested trees, forestry practices require considerable planning, taking not only the forest and types of timber into consideration, but also an assessment of wildlife, watersheds, and more before a single tree is cut down. In some cases – depending on location – sections of forests are deliberately burned to foster regeneration. Until the 1970s, many believed it was important to always put out forest fires, which is not necessarily the case. According to Natural Resources Canada (NRCAN), the benefits of controlled fires enable the release of nutrients into the forest floor, and allow for more sunlight and growth.
Fires also afford certain trees like Jack pine (Pinus banksiana) and Lodgepole (Pinus contorta) the ability to reproduce. While trees are destroyed by fire, they are also reborn – specifically, the Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine. Like other pine trees, seeds are contained within their cones; however, these cones are serotinous. Coated with a strong resin, intense heat – like that from a forest fire – is needed to melt the resin, allowing the cones to open. Once the cones open, powerful winds disperse them across the forest floor, allowing new trees to germinate and grow.
Sustainable Forestry Management is not new, but it is growing. Canada in particular has taken a sensible approach to SFM, one that works for the environment and business alike. Contributing almost $20 billion annually to Canada’s real gross domestic product (GDP), forests and forestry continue to provide many social, economic and environmental benefits. NRCAN says the three industry subsectors include solid wood product manufacturing, pulp and paper product manufacturing, and forestry and logging, all significant contributors to Canada’s economic growth.
Employing approximately 210,600 men and women nationwide (including almost 12,000 Indigenous persons), “the forest industry represents a smaller percentage of Canada’s economy than other resource sectors, but it creates more jobs and contributes more to the balance of trade for every dollar of value added than do other major sectors.” This is especially the case in the forest-rich provinces of British Columbia and New Brunswick, which account for about 2.9 percent of the provincial GDP and approximately 4.5 percent of the provincial GDP respectively.
With forests disappearing for reasons including atmospheric change, desertification and others, Sustainable Forest Management is now more important than ever. One of the greatest factors remains the planet’s growing numbers. With a current population of 7.574 billion (as of 2018), numbers are expected to reach about 10.9 billion by the year 2050, according to data from the United Nations’ 2019 Revision of World Population Prospects https://population.un.org/wpp/. With more people and decreasing resources, we have no option except to maintain our existing forests for future generations.