Forest 2020 :

Forest 2020 : A productive dialogue across Canada

Source : Canadian Forest Service

In Canada, society demands more and more that decisions concerning land use take into consideration leisure activities, protection of resources and protection of endangered species.

If, as in most countries, we want to designate more land as protected areas, for the conservation of resources and for an integrated use of the land while maintaining our position as a major exporter of wood products and all the while assuring the stability of labour groups, we must adopt a new, more balanced approach to forest management.

It is essential that the Canadian forestry sector, an important part of the national economy, take into consideration the demands of the world market for forest products. Canada, as a forest nation, is involved in worldwide conservation efforts and is striving to be vigilant in its management of the environment.

Initially it could seem contradictory to claim that the forestry sector must find ways of producing wood while focussing its efforts toward the conservation of the forest. The Canadian Council of Forestry Ministers (CCFM) is determined to find ways of satisfying these two apparently contradictory challenges.

The CCFM has asked for input from the Canadian public to better understand their feelings about a new approach concerning the sustainable development of the forestry sector. This new concept currently being studied is known as Forest 2020.

The demand for wood

Wood products are essential for daily life, but they also play an important part in the world economy. It is estimated that the total annual production of industrial fibre in the world reached 1.5 billion cubic metres by the end of the millenium. Wood production has increased by 50% since 1960 and should continue to increase by 20 to 50% from now until the year 2020. This intensified production of wood fibre produces capital in response to the needs created by the constant rise in world population, which is expected reach 10 billion inhabitants by 2050. Although nearly 50% of wood harvested in the world is transformed into firewood for developing countries, the continued growth on an international scale also influences the consumption of forest products.

Where does the wood come from?

With the increase in world demand for wood products increasing in the foreseeable future, it is reasonable to ask where this wood supply will come from and what environmental impact such a level of wood harvesting might have on the resource and associated values.

Forested land on earth is estimated at 3.5 billion hectares, or about 27% of the earth's land mass; however, only half of that forested land is productive forest land. The remaining forested areas cannot be harvested due to conditions which are protected by law. The principal areas of production of commercial wood is currently concentrated in North America, Europe and Asia.

Until recently, a large part of the wood used worldwide came primarily from natural forests which were relatively undisturbed. But, as indicated by the United Nations Organization for Food and Agriculture (OFA) : ' … we're changing gradually from the harvesting of forests that man has never disturbed to those forests which are semi-natural (second growth, where human intervention is visible), plantations and trees outside forests.' This phase is already complete in Europe, which now possesses only semi-natural forests. The OFA indicates that semi-natural forests, forest plantations and forest fallows on agricultural land is increasing throughout the world.

Forest plantations have become more and more popular in the past twenty years and provide a significant quantity of wood in certain countries. The OFA estimates that there are about 125 million hectares of forest plantations in the world, representing 3.6% of this resource on earth; these plantations provide 22% of logs for the forest industry and 5% of the firewood used worldwide.

The situation in Canada

Within the Forest 2020 project, numerous questions will be examined with the view of achieving a balanced management of the forest resources. For example, discussions are planned concerning a number of approaches regarding the intensive management of certain forests for the primary purpose of timber production, management of other sectors of the natural forest to obtain a number of benefits, and possible means for assuring the conservation of the forest. Primary forest plantations, or forest farms, could constitute an interesting approach for decreasing the pressure on natural forests in Canada and, at the same time, remaining competitive in meeting the growing world demand for wood.

Intensive forestry is considered an essential element in the Canadian forest management strategy - a strategy which will be further developed within Forest 2020 - with the goal of increasing the supply of wood fibre necessary to maintain the competitiveness within the forestry sector. Forest plantations using high yield species are often part of intensive forestry programs and constitute a practice used by a number of countries who wish to produce more wood from a smaller area of land while contributing to the conservation of the natural forests. According to recent estimates from the OFA, plantations, as a result of their increased production of wood fibre, in theory could satisfy the world demand while using only 5% of the world's forest land.

At the end of the 1960's and the beginning of the 1970's, the provincial governments and industries in Canada began to invest in research investigating ways to produce trees more quickly, using smaller areas of land located closer to sawmills. This research is continuing with a particular focus on the use of wood as a alternate fuel source and the use of forest plantations as a means of slowing the process of global warming, as trees eliminate carbone from the atmosphere.

Rapidly growing trees are not yet used on a large scale within the forest industry in Canada. Contrary to common belief, it is not necessary to have a tropical climate to achieve rapid tree growth. Climate is only one contributing factor. Canada has a number of favourable conditions to support the use of rapidly growing tree species : very advanced forestry and agricultural industries, a vast area of land, an abundant source of water, a qualified work force and research capabilities. Canada's success in tree farming should be achieved as a result of innovation and application of up-to-date knowledge and information.

Intensive forest management, consisting of forest plantations combined with the establishment of parks and conservation areas, and the adoption of an integrated approach at the landscape level for the use of natural forests, could be a solution for attaining the balance being sought. The federal, provincial and territorial governments are working together to develop these ideas and the dialogue with the Canadian public continues.

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