Seeing the Opportunity in Canada’s Forests

Derek Nighbor

Forests are intrinsic to Canadian life. We know that with the great power of Canada’s forest resources comes an even greater duty for sustainable management and responsibility. While we may follow Russia and Brazil as the third-largest forested country globally, Canada has a critical competitive edge that puts us above all others.

Under Canada’s commitments to human rights, family-supporting wages and benefits for workers, and responsible forest management and sustainability, we stand number one globally with 36% of the planet’s independently audited and certified forests.

This is one of the many reasons customers of wood, pulp, paper, and wood-based bioproducts worldwide are increasingly looking to Canada. In the next few years, we have an opportunity to turn this into a post-pandemic advantage and need the federal government’s leadership to help us enable the possible.

As the world turns to lower-carbon products to build greener homes, businesses, and communities, and as we work to mitigate the risks of worsening pest outbreaks and more catastrophic fire patterns, sustainable forest management and the use of Canadian forest products has never been more important.

Canada’s forests play a critical role in our fight against climate change by capturing carbon. And the products we make coming out of them are equally crucial for climate action.

In Canada’s boreal forest, younger trees absorb carbon faster than older trees do. As our forests age, they gradually lose their carbon-storing abilities and face a growing risk of drought, disease, insect infestation, and fire. In the process, they become increasingly likely to release stored carbon back into the atmosphere, turning our trees from climate change fighting assets into liabilities.

Historically, Canada’s forests were a net sink that absorbed more carbon than they released. But in the face of worsening natural disturbances over the past two decades, the balance has shifted, and Canada’s forests have become an overall net source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Insects and fire have emerged as the biggest problems for Canada’s carbon story.

The opportunity in Canadian forestry is both environmental and economic – and it’s multi-layered. Harvesting trees when they are older locks carbon into long-lived wood products, which can displace more fossil fuel-intensive and polluting materials like cement. Using leftover wood chips and bark from sawmills can eliminate waste and make environmentally friendly alternative products like biofuels and bioplastics for the marketplace. Renewing forests by replanting and supporting regeneration restarts the carbon-storing cycle; actively managing forests supports biodiversity and helps mitigate the risks of pest and fire outbreaks. All of this can be taken further by working with Indigenous and local communities to incorporate local values into planning to create much-needed economic activity to help power some 600 communities across the country and fill government coffers with stumpage fees and taxes.

These are just a few solutions that Canadian forestry can bring to our environment and the economy. So, how can the federal government work with Canadian forestry workers to help us address worsening climate-induced forest disturbance while realizing significant GHG reductions? Check back next week with some answers to these questions.

Derek Nighbor is the President and CEO of the Forest Products Association of Canada – representing the forest products sector which operates in over 600 Canadian communities, providing 225,000 direct jobs, and over 600,000 indirect jobs across the country.

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