Biological Diversity Ecosystem Condition and Productivity Soil and Water Role in Global Ecological Cycles Economic and Social Benefits Society's Responsibility
Indicator 3.1 Rate of compliance with locally applicable soil disturbance standards Indicator 3.2 Rate of compliance with locally applicable road construction, stream crossing, and riparian zone management standards Indicator 3.3 Proportion of watersheds with substantial stand-replacing disturbance in the last 20 years

Canada’s forests play a key ecological role in the conservation and protection of surface and subsurface waters. Forests act as filters for pollution and are prime habitat for many aquatic and riparian species. Forest management activities modify forest soils through disturbance, erosion, and compaction. The use of management techniques to protect soil and water can minimize these impacts. However, when improperly carried out, forestry activities—particularly road construction and maintenance—can have negative effects on water quality, water quantity, and soil integrity.

These negative effects will impair ecosystem functioning and reduce ecosystem productivity. For instance, improper harvesting in riparian areas may result in an increase in water temperature due to the removal of the forest canopy and can increase soil erosion and stream siltation. Harvesting also causes water tables to rise, particularly in boreal forests where soils are wet and shallow, and increases the flow of water out of the watershed by reducing interception and transpiration losses. Soil nutrients are also often lost from harvested areas as they are carried away by the excess surface and ground waters. However, with proper management, water levels will usually return to preharvest levels within a few years and nutrient losses are curtailed.

Directly assessing the impacts of forestry practices on soil and water quality and quantity across all Canada’s forests is difficult and expensive. Therefore, two measures of compliance with (1) locally applicable soil disturbance standards and (2) road construction, stream crossing, and riparian zone management standards are used as indicators for assessing this criterion. These two indicators can provide an effective measure of soil and water conservation, provided the standards are periodically updated and supported by ongoing long-term research and the best available scientific knowledge. Athird indicator of forest cover removal from watersheds is also used to highlight areas where there may be significant changes in water yield, timing, and peak flow.

All Canadian jurisdictions have been active in monitoring and enforcing standards and regulations governing soil disturbance to protect the integrity of forest soils from harvesting. The rate of compliance with soil disturbance standards has been high, likely reflecting a good understanding of the importance of maintaining a productive land base.

Most jurisdictions also frequently monitor compliance with locally applicable road construction, stream crossing, and riparian zone management standards. Because of this, a significant portion of harvested areas is inspected annually and rates of compliance range from 60% to 99%. The various standards used across jurisdictions make it difficult to develop a national picture, but some jurisdictions are moving toward greater harmonization.

Provinces and territories are currently unable to provide estimates of the proportion of watersheds that experienced substantial stand-replacing disturbances over the last 20 years. 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. This should lead to detailed watershed databases that will provide the foundation for planning tools to predict the hydrological impacts of forest harvesting and other disturbances across various spatial and time scales.

Compliance with standards is only part of the picture when it comes to conserving forest soil and water. In addition, forest management activities must be adapted to reflect societal values on the basis of the best available scientific information on forest ecosystems. New research results on the impacts of forest harvesting must be continuously integrated into the forest management planning cycle to ensure that soil and water continue to sustain the functioning and productive capacity of forests. Information provided under Criterion 6 shows that governments are investing in scientific research related to soils and water (Indicator 6.5.3) and that jurisdictions are continuously revising their policies, guidelines, and standards or developing new ones on the basis of the best available scientific knowledge (Indicator 6.5.4). This, combined with the high compliance rate with soil and water standards among jurisdictions, suggests that although there may be individual examples of negative impacts on soil integrity, water quality, and water quantity, overall, the conservation of Canada’s forest soil and water is not being compromised by current forest management activities.