Forests provide Canadians with a multitude of benefits and, as stewards of 10% of the world’s forests, Canadians have a strong commitment to sustainable forest management. But pressure on the resource is growing and multiple forest values often conflict. This has led to the need for tools to better define and measure progress toward sustainable forest management. Criteria and indicators (C&I) provide such a science-based tool. They facilitate a common understanding of what is meant by sustainable forest management and provide a framework for reporting on the state of forests, forest management, and achievements toward sustainability.

National Status 2005 is the second report by the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers (CCFM) on Canada’s progress toward sustainable forest management using its framework of 6 criteria and 46 indicators. The framework was developed with extensive input from stakeholders in the forest community and the report provides information that will improve public dialogue and decision making on the outcomes desired and the actions needed to continue to move the nation toward sustainable forest management.

This report is an important contribution to Canada’s continued commitment to develop and implement a credible framework to define, measure, and authoritatively report on progress toward the sustainable management of its forests. It is the result of extensive collaboration and cooperation between the federal, provincial, and territorial governments. The report is comprehensive, providing the best available information compiled by experts from across the country. Where possible, reports are linked to visions or goals expressed in the National Forest Strategy or other national or international agreements and conventions.

This report, and the C&I process as a whole, will help governments to evaluate the effectiveness of existing regulations, orient future policies, identify and prioritize information and research, guide forest practices, and clarify expectations of sustainable forest management in Canada. The C&I process is one of continual learning. As experience and knowledge grow, improvements will be made in the way Canada defines, measures, and reports on its progress toward the sustainable management of its forests.

Criterion 1. Biological Diversity

Biological diversity, or biodiversity, is the variability found among living organisms and the ecosystems that harbor them. Biodiversity can be measured at the ecosystem, species, and genetic levels.

Ecosystem diversity is the variety and relative abundance of ecosystems and their plant and animal communities. Stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans and from the southern tip of Ontario to the Mackenzie River valley, Canada’s forests cover 402.1 million ha, or 41% of the country’s land area, across 15 ecozones. The dominant age class is 41–80 years old, although forests older than 161 years occupy at least 17.6 million ha. Canada’s forests are largely dominated by coniferous species, but deciduous species are frequent. Wetlands are also an essential component of forests. Canada is estimated to have 134.6 million ha of wetlands, about 25% of the world’s wetlands. Canada’s National Forest Strategy notes the importance of conserving oldgrowth forests and threatened forest ecosystems and completing a system of representative protected areas. Over 31 million ha of forest and other wooded land are located in protected areas, although the total area is underestimated due to data limitations. More than 9.6 million ha of wetlands are protected. The forests located in Canada’s protected areas contain numerous examples of the diversity of forest types, age classes, and soil types found in all Canada’s forests.

Species diversity refers to the number and relative abundance of species found in an area. In 2004, there were 305 forest-associated species known to be at risk in Canada. Of these, 60% have remained in the same risk category since the last time they were assessed in 1999, 17% have moved to a higher risk category, and 1% have moved to a lower risk category, while 22% were assessed for the first time in 2004. Tracking changes in the populations of selected forest-associated species is also an excellent indicator of species diversity. Many species that are monitored across Canada are stable or increasing throughout their range, although populations of woodland caribou, an indicator of landscape connectivity in the boreal forest, are in decline throughout Canada. Populations of American marten are also declining in Atlantic Canada. Declines in populations of woodland caribou or American marten are important because both occur in mature and old forests, areas where forest management activities frequently take place. For both species, governments have developed or are in the process of developing practices to conserve the species and minimize the impacts of forest management. Introduced invasive alien species are also a significant threat to biodiversity, second only to habitat loss and modification. Governments have integrated means to address this issue into their legislation. Furthermore, the federal, provincial, and territorial governments are working together to develop a national strategy to address this threat.

Genetic diversity, or the variation of genes within a species, provides the material needed for evolutionary change. Governments are working to ensure that the trees or seed used to regenerate harvested areas have sufficient genetic diversity to respond to changing environmental conditions. Only about 15% of the area harvested requires planting or seeding for regeneration because most areas regenerate naturally. Most of the seed stock used for planting or seeding is collected from natural stands and likely has all the genetic variation present in the natural population. While some seed is collected from trees in orchards, research shows that there is little difference in the genetic variation between orchard and natural seed lots. Gene resource information programs have also been established to help monitor genetic resources. The conservation of forest genetic resources in Canada is achieved through the combined efforts of federal, provincial/territorial, and nongovernmental agencies, and numerous initiatives are underway to conserve forest genetic resources. Canada has undertaken conservation activities for many of its 58 native tree species in need of protection. One issue still of concern, though, is the declining genetic diversity of trees in the Carolinian forest region of southern Ontario due to urbanization and agricultural impacts.

Criterion 2. Ecosystem Condition and Productivity

Canada’s forest ecosystems have evolved to cope with, and recover from, natural disturbances while maintaining productivity. Humans, however, have generated new disturbances, such as harvesting, that may come at a rate and scale that sometimes exceed the natural rate of change typically experienced by forests. To maintain a sustainable flow of benefits from the forest, it is important to understand whether the total impact of these stressors falls within the impact range of the natural disturbances forests have evolved with.

Natural disturbances affect much larger areas of Canada’s forests than harvesting and deforestation. Temporary disturbance by forest harvesting averages approximately 900 000 ha per year, while natural disturbances, such as wildfire or insect defoliation, affect several million hectares of forest each year. About 177.4 million m3 of merchantable wood were harvested in 2003, representing about 0.6% of the estimated 29 billion m3 of total growing stock available in Canada. More permanent deforestation (i.e., through urbanization, conversion to agriculture, forest road construction, etc.) occurs on between 54 700 to 80 500 ha annually. While afforestation (the establishment of a forest in an area where none has existed for at least 50 years) has some potential to increase Canada’s forest base, current estimates indicate that only about 6000 to 10 000 ha are afforested each year.

Research efforts are underway to clarify the real impacts of pollutants such as acid rain and ozone on forests; however, much of the forest landscape in southeastern Canada and southern British Columbia is affected. Governments and industries have already taken steps to reduce atmospheric pollutant emissions as well as acid deposition. This has led to stabilized or, in some regions, reduced levels of ground-level ozone. Critical loads of acidifying compounds are also being addressed but the cumulative and combined effects of both ozone and acid rain on forests are still an issue.

Prompt regeneration of harvested areas is necessary to maintain ecosystem productivity and ensure a sustainable flow of wood products. Companies that harvest trees from crown land must, by law, ensure sufficient forest regeneration to reestablish thriving forest ecosystems on harvested sites. Overall, natural regeneration plays a much larger role in Canadian forestry than planting or seeding, accounting for 85% of the estimated 16.2 million ha of crown forest land that had been successfully regenerated by 2001. The most recent data indicate that the area of nonstocked forest land is gradually shrinking. By 2001, it had fallen to just under 2.1 million ha from 2.4 million ha in 1993. This is particularly striking because the total area of land harvested climbed by 50% from 1993 to 2001, demonstrating that recent regeneration efforts have been highly successful.

Criterion 3. Soil and Water

Canada’s forests protect surface and subsurface waters, act as filters for pollution, and are prime habitat for many aquatic and riparian species. Forest management activities can modify forest soils through disturbance, erosion, and compaction. Modifying management techniques to protect soil and water can minimize these impacts.

All provinces and territories have been active in monitoring and enforcing standards and regulations governing forest harvesting to protect the integrity of forest soils and water. As a result, the rate of compliance with soil disturbance standards ranges from 80 to 100%. Most provinces and territories also frequently monitor compliance with locally applicable road construction, stream crossing, and riparian zone management standards, and rates of compliance hover in the 60–99% range. When noncompliance is established, voluntary rectification and changes in operational practices are usually implemented, although enforcement penalties and remediation actions have been assessed.

Measuring the amount of stand-replacing disturbance within watersheds is an important indicator of the potential impacts of forest management on stream water quality and quantity. Unfortunately, at this time, data are insufficient to properly assess this indicator; however, research aimed at determining the proportion of watersheds that can be harvested without causing unacceptable damage to a range of forest values is progressing.

Criterion 4. Role in Global Ecological Cycles

Forests absorb and store atmospheric CO2, one of the main greenhouse gases (GHG), thereby helping to mitigate climate change. Since Canada holds approximately 10% of the world’s forests, it has a responsibility to improve its understanding of its forests’ contribution to global carbon cycles.

Canadian researchers are developing an improved forest carbon stock change model. Because of the current lack of data from the new model, this report focuses on a case study based on the Boreal Plains ecozone. This case study demonstrates the impact that disturbances, such as fire, can have on the uptake and emission of carbon in forest ecosystems. The 2000 CCFM C&I report noted that Canada’s forest ecosystems were, on average, a source of atmospheric carbon, releasing 44.6 Mt of carbon per year between 1990 and 1994 from stores totaling about 84.4 Gt of carbon.

Carbon stored in forest products remains locked up for days, years, or decades, depending on how the products were manufactured and used, and can affect the country’s overall carbon balance. Forest products carbon stocks have been increasing in Canada and increased by about 4.5 Mt of carbon in 2003.

The forest industry is the largest industrial energy user in Canada and has significant GHG emissions. Because of improved energy efficiency and use of cleaner fuels, these emissions (including both direct and indirect emissions from purchased electricity) were unchanged in 2002 from 1980 levels, despite a 23% increase in energy use and a 30% increase in pulp and paper production. Bioenergy now accounts for more than 55% of the total energy used by the forest sector, up from 47% in 1980.

Criterion 5. Economic and Social Benefits

Forests provide substantial commercial benefits, including timber, nontimber forest products, water, and tourism, and significant noncommercial benefits, including wildlife, recreation, aesthetics, and wilderness values. Although not always measurable in monetary terms, all these goods and services are highly valued by Canadians and provide significant benefits to Canadian society. Sustainable forest management requires that forests be managed to provide these goods and services over the long term.

Significant economic benefits accrue to Canadians from the forest. The most recent information shows that sales of timber products are valued at $77 billion and the contribution of the forest industry to Canada’s gross domestic product is 2.9%. Growth in the forest sector lagged behind that of the rest of the Canadian economy for several decades, but is now, on average, similar. Secondary manufacturing of timber products has also increased markedly since 1995, which increases the economic benefits derived from each cubic metre of wood harvested. Almost 80% of finished wood products were destined for export according to a 1999 Statistics Canada model. In addition to being a source of timber, Canada’s forests produce a diversity of nontimber products. Although they are small in economic terms, there is considerable potential to grow and they have an important role in the economies of rural communities.

Forest tenures are the agreements that allow the sustainable private extraction of a forest resource located mostly on crown lands. Most tenures in Canada are volume-based, but new tenure types are improving access to forest resources for small- and medium-sized enterprises, and Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities. Labor, forestry businesses, and governments each received a significant share of the wealth derived from the timber products industry. On average, between 1990 and 2002, over $9 billion in financial benefits were distributed annually to labor, $4 billion to businesses, and over $2 billion to governments.

Economic, social, and environmental sustainability goals depend on a level of resource use that does not exceed the long-term productive capacity of the resource base. Although it is still difficult to assess whether the extraction of nontimber forest products falls within sustainable levels, research is underway to better understand the management options and harvesting impacts. Timber product extraction takes place at levels below prescribed allowable annual cuts.

A competitive and vital forest industry is necessary to ensure that economic benefits continue to flow to Canadians. The average rate of return on capital employed (ROCE) in the forest sector had trailed that of the manufacturing sector and the total economy in Canada for much of the 1980s and early 1990s but improved in the late 1990s. Over the past five years, it has more closely tracked the ROCE for all industries, averaging around 6.62%. There is considerable cyclical variation in returns, as well as wide variation between subsectors, corresponding to differences in capital investment needs as well as product prices. In particular, the pulp and paper subsector has been recently hit with several mill closures due to low commodity prices, high energy and wood costs, and a lack of capital investment as a result of low ROCE. Internationally, Canadian companies face challenges in attracting investments away from their international competitors that consistently have higher ROCE. Still, productivity growth in the forest sector is high. Between 1997 and 2002, average forest sector productivity growth at the aggregate level (4.96%) outperformed the average productivity growth of all business sectors in Canada (2.29%). The forest sector also continues to provide hundreds of thousands of jobs. Despite recent declines, the sector has generated over 330 000 direct jobs since 1995, reaching a record of over 370 000 jobs in 2003, as well as over 500 000 indirect and induced jobs. Forest sector workers also enjoy higher average salaries than those in other manufacturing industries.

Criterion 6. Society’s Responsibility

Sustainability involves not only the values related to the forest resource itself but a human dimension as well. Forest operations take place often on crown lands that are located close to or within the boundaries of Aboriginal territories and communities. Furthermore, many rural communities depend on the forest sector for their economic and social well-being. Therefore, forest practices should reflect social values in order to be considered as effective means to achieve sustainability.

Governments and the forest industry have significantly improved the way they consult with the Aboriginal communities and other groups and communities in forest management planning. Resolved land claims and treaty entitlements are helping Aboriginal peoples to gain increasing ownership of land, better control over resource access, and enhanced long-term sustainable employment opportunities. Governments have also undertaken efforts to gather information on Aboriginal traditional ecological knowledge, funding studies to map the location of areas traditionally used by and of cultural importance to Aboriginal peoples. Still, while progress is being made, efforts are needed to provide more complete and more recent information on Aboriginal land ownership and traditional ecological knowledge to better inform decision making.

Forests support over 350 communities across Canada, most of which are rural. Sustainable forest management is particularly important to rural forest-dependent communities because they are more likely to suffer the high potential social costs of unsustainable practices than larger urban centers. The well-being and resilience of these communities can be examined by measuring specific human, economic, and social assets within the communities that provide the resources needed to respond to constant changes in their social, economic, or environmental systems. Many non-Aboriginal forest dependent communities across Canada enjoy higher than average levels of economic diversity, suggesting that they are better able to withstand a downturn in one sector of the economy than are other non- Aboriginal rural communities. However, they also tend to report lower than average education attainment levels, lower employment rates, and a higher incidence of low income compared with other rural communities. Results for Aboriginal forest-dependent communities reveal that they too have higher than average economic diversity, although education attainment levels and, in most cases, rates of employment tend to be the same as for Aboriginal nonforest dependent communities. Data on incidence of low income in Aboriginal communities are incomplete. These results suggest that many forest-dependent communities are associated with lower levels of wellbeing and resilience than other rural communities. Governments and others have developed initiatives to help improve the situation but more research is needed to understand the dynamic nature of wellbeing and resilience in forest-based communities.

Fair and effective decision making is an important social aspect of sustainable forest management. The provincial and territorial governments encourage public involvement in their forest management decision-making processes to incorporate the full range of social values and ensure a quicker response to changes in these values over time. Surveys show that almost three quarters of nongovernment participants in these processes are satisfied with their involvement. Most commented that they found the process fair and worthwhile, despite the complex and demanding nature of the exercise. Surveys of company compliance with sustainable forest management laws and regulations show that compliance is high, indicating that policy or management decisions are enforced.

Part of Canada’s responsibility to ensure the sustainable management of its forests is to demonstrate its commitment to improve the understanding of forest ecosystems and ensure that decisions are made using the best available information. The most common sources of forest information are forest inventories, which are widely available to the public and forest managers to inform decision making. Informed decision making is also ensured through continued investment in science and technology. Canada’s forest sector is a high-technology sector that purchases as much as $2.8 billion annually in imbedded technology plus invests as much as $494 million annually in science and technology to modernize and improve performance, an amount that has been increasing in recent years. The CCFM is also working to promote careers in forestry at the postsecondary level to ensure a steady supply of highly trained professionals into the workforce. Governments also periodically update their forest standards and guidelines to ensure that forest practices reflect newly available scientific information.


The forests of Canada are among the largest and most diverse in the world and they are at the heart of Canada’s growth and prosperity. In recent years, though, Canada has faced new challenges in forest management, with increasing pressure to conserve or manage its large areas of natural forests for activities other than timber production. Faced with these demands, forest policy makers and managers have sought to develop better ways to sustainably manage the resource.

Recent developments in forest management have focused on progress toward sustainable forest management, an approach that balances environmental, social, and economic objectives. Perhaps the most dramatic change has been the large increase in local consultation and conflict resolution processes in decision making about forests. Since the 1990s, forest managers and policy makers have increasingly consulted with stakeholders (forest owners, industries, Aboriginal peoples, local communities, etc.) to identify appropriate forest strategies, legislation, and management plans. Approaches to forest management that incorporate a broader array of values are now widely accepted and implemented. These approaches recognize the dynamism of ecological and social systems, the benefits of adaptive management, and the importance of collaborative decision making.

Modern forest management in Canada is a model of how progress toward sustainability can be achieved. However, continued success will require overcoming low rates of return on capital investments, becoming more competitive in the international marketplace, adapting to public demands for alternative forest uses, reducing or preventing the impacts of pollution and invasive species on forests, increasing Aboriginal participation in sustainable forest management, and improving the resilience and well-being of our forest dependent communities.

Canada’s forest sector will continue to succeed if it continues to change and adapt by applying leading-edge innovation to forest management and manufacturing; developing value-added products and new markets for products; improving information on forest-based services and sustainable harvest levels of nontimber forest products; reducing the area of forest affected by pollutants; eradicating or controlling invasive forest pests; continuing to improve consultation and cooperation between Aboriginal peoples, forest industry, and governments in forest management as well as continuing efforts to make information on Aboriginal forest-based ecological knowledge more available; and working with communities to ensure their long-term presence. The CCFM and others interested in sustainability are working hard to bring about change in these and other areas.

Forest policy makers and managers in Canada will continue to be faced with difficult choices because of greatly divergent opinions about priorities for managing forest resources. The implementation of C&I is a national priority and as monitoring continues, trends in forest conditions will emerge that can guide policy decisions. By sharing information and resources, CCFM member governments have increased their capacity to report while reducing their costs. Through their involvement in the process, stakeholders and the forest community are better able to express their values, making the indicators more relevant. By providing relevant, credible information, Canadians are better able to understand the options available for managing the forest, provide more meaningful input, and participate more actively in decision making. The CCFM’s national C&I framework has also led to the development of C&I at the provincial and local level and has been used in the development of sustainable forest management certification standards. Through all these efforts, C&I are helping move the nation toward sustainable forest management.

To facilitate future reporting, the CCFM is working on three initiatives to help establish a national mechanism to compile and provide timely and coordinated access to accurate forest information. First, the National Forestry Database Program (NFDP), which currently collects and stores various data for forestry statistics in Canada, will be expanded to collect and store the data required for all the CCFM indicators. Second, the National Forest Information System (NFIS), when fully developed, will provide Canadians with access to data via the Internet. Third, a new national forest inventory will enable trend estimates for many of the CCFM indicators and will complement the NFDP and NFIS and enhance the nation’s capacity to assess the sustainability of its forests.

Efforts are needed to improve the ability to assess the indicators and judge progress toward sustainability. This could include the further development of national reference values, which aid in interpreting indicator trends, or the development of more sophisticated tools to assess progress. One potential tool is the multicriteria analysis technique in which members of the forest community are invited to score indicator reports. The results can show how different sectors of society evaluate progress toward sustainable forest management, thereby providing feedback into the policymaking forum. Techniques such as this one can build on the foundation of solid forestry data already in place to gain a better understanding of Canada’s progress toward sustainable forest management.