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Going, going ... (Forests).

We tend to forget that Canada is one of the most forested nations in the world. As Global Forest Watch points out, our country "contains over a third of the world's boreal forest, one fifth of the world's temperate rainforest, and a tenth of the total global forest cover. Canada has the second major repository of northern forests, after Russia. Canada's boreal forest is one of the three largest `frontier forests' remaining on the planet. The other two are in Russia and Brazil. Canada's relatively undisturbed forest areas are sufficiently large to maintain all of their native biodiversity."

But, say environmentalists, Canada is not doing a very good job of looking after its forests. Dr. David Schindler thinks Canada's boreal forest could be gone in 50 years. Dr. Schindler teaches at the University of Alberta and is recognized as one of the world's foremost experts on the boreal forests. There might be a few isolated patches of boreal forest left in protected parkland, but the huge green swath that covers northern regions will be gone. It's a combination of threats, most of them from human activity, that causes Dr. Schindler to make his dire prediction. Global warming is one problem.

During the 1990s, temperatures around Kenora in northern Ontario rose by 1.6%. That doesn't sound like much but it was enough to accelerate water loss by 50%. The drier environment encouraged two massive forest fires to ravage the area in a single decade. Acid rain, which comes from pollutants carried on the wind from coal-fired power stations, vehicle exhausts, and other sources, is another factor. As are logging practices, such as clear-cutting. All combine to weaken the forest's ecology.

Dr. Schindler points to Alberta for a glimpse of the boreal forest's future today. Half the province lies within the boreal forest region, but only nine percent of Alberta's remaining forest is wild. Oil wells and pipelines get preference over forests. In Manitoba and Quebec, hydro dams have submerged or damaged almost 20% of the boreal forest: in some provinces, more than 60% of it has been scheduled for clear-cutting. Global Forest Watch believes that logging in boreal regions will have to be reduced by 25% to be sustainable in the long run. Canada's federal and provincial governments seem to have done little to protect this rich natural resource. Often, because responsibility is shared, each jurisdiction blames the other.

Ottawa's Canadian Forest Service (CFS) has the job of promoting "the sustainable development of Canada's forests and competitiveness of the Canadian forest sector for the well-being of present and future generations of Canadians." That's a tough job to do with a budget that has been cut to ribbons. Between 1995 and 1998, the annual operating budget of the CFS was reduced from $219 million to $93 million.

Global Forest Watch reports that "At both the federal and provincial levels, deep budget cuts have drawn down the staffing and resources required to implement and enforce new policies and legislation." As a result, says the group, the responsibility for forest management is being left increasingly in the hands of a few very large forestry companies. The record on that is not very encouraging.

In a 2001 report, the Sierra Legal Defence Fund accused Ottawa of giving up on the enforcement of water pollution laws in eastern Canada. The group said that pulp and paper mills from Ontario east committed almost 3,000 violations of water pollution laws between 1995 and 1998. Only seven prosecutions were launched. The government and industry officials attacked the report as inaccurate.

And, it's not just the boreal forest that's threatened; Canada's west coast rainforest has been the scene of mammoth battles among environmentalists, Native peoples, and forestry companies.

British Columbia's coastal rainforest is the last temperate, old-growth forest left in the world. It is an almost priceless resource as an untouched ecosystem and habitat, but also because of the very valuable timber it contains. But, those two aspects of the forest are incompatible. Cut down the forest to harvest the timber and the ecosystem is lost. Keep the ecosystem as it is and the value of the wood cannot be realized.

Five years of conflict seemed to be resolved in April 2001. British Columbia's Premier Ujjal Dosanjh, coastal Native Indian leaders, environmental groups, and forest companies signed an agreement covering the region from northern Vancouver Island to Prince Rupert as well as the Queen Charlotte Islands.

Half a million hectares of new, protected areas were created and logging on a million more hectares was postponed. Timber harvests will decline and a more ecologically friendly system of forestry introduced. A multi-million dollar transition fund will help workers who lose their jobs as a result of the deal.

One of the key elements in the battle was a campaign by environmentalists against the customers of logging companies. They succeeded in pressuring U.S. companies such as Home Depot, the world's largest lumber retailer, to boycott wood products from the area.

Other activists have taken note of the success of this campaign. We can expect to see similar tactics used by environmentalists in campaigns to promote sustainable practices.

CLEAR-CUTTING: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY

Almost everybody has bad things to say about clear-cutting, except loggers. Clear-cutting is a technique in which every tree in an area is felled at the same time. The commercially valuable logs are hauled out and the rest are left on the ground, The area can then be planted with identical saplings. So, a future crop will be of trees that are all the same age and species that can be harvested I mechanically. That's the good bit. The bad is that clear-cutting destroys habitats, disrupts natural watercourses, and triggers increased soil erosion. It also results in hideously ugly landscapes. The vision of bald mountain tops, looking as though a nuclear weapon had been exploded on them, has been used by environmental groups. Billboards showing patches of clear-cut Canadian wilderness have been effective in persuading Europeans to boycott our lumber products.

HOME OF THE SPIRIT BEAR

A rare, white bear lives in the forests along the coast of British Columbia Known as the Spirit Bear to Native people, this animal quickly became the poster child of the struggle to save the ancient forest from logging. What has come to be called The Great Bear Rainforest stretches in a band about 200 kilometres wide from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to the Alaskan border. It includes stands of red cedar, western hemlock, sitka spruce, and balsam fir; some of these trees are 1,000 years old. But, it's the Spirit Bear that may have saved the forest; its image has been exploited shamelessly by the environmental movement. One campaign was against the Centex home building company in the U.S. and was aimed at halting the use of rainforest lumber in construction. On a billboard a picture of a Spirit Bear had the caption, "Your new Centex home leaves him homeless: stop using old-growth wood."

BOREAL BONANZA

The boreal forest is Canada's largest ecosystem, stretching from Newfoundland to the Rockies. It took 65 million years to evolve to its present state, and provides Canadians with life-support systems estimated to be worth at least $70 billion a year. The boreal forest filters impurities out of water; it captures carbon and produces oxygen; it builds soil; it protects and sustains the world's largest collection of lakes and wetlands; and, it provides a habitat for thousands of species.

FACT FILE

The volume of timber taken from Canadian forests increased by 14.6% between 1980 and 1997.

Forests cover 45% of Canada's land area.

Less than 8% of Canada's forests are fully protected from logging and other industrial exploitation.
Websites

Canadian Forest Service--http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/cfs-scf/index_e.html

Canadian Forestry Links--http://www.magma.ca/~evb/forest.html

Global Forest Watch Canada--http://www.
globalforestwatch.org/english/
canada/
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Publication:Canada and the World Backgrounder
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Sep 1, 2002
Words:1320
Previous Article:Nature's bounty. (Economics).
Next Article:Natural ejection. (Biodiversity).
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