Criteria and indicators
Canadians expect their governments to be responsible stewards of their forest resource, and increasingly our overseas markets expect forest products to come from sustainably managed sources. Managing our forests sustainably requires finding a balance between environmental, economic and social benefits.
But how can we determine whether we are effectively achieving that balancing act? The answer lies in the use of criteria and indicators (C&I), objective measures for which data can be collected and tracked over time.
Criteria and indicators are practical, science-based measures that give government, industry, researchers and the public a consistent way to define, assess, monitor and report progress in achieving sustainable forest management (SFM). They also help identify where improvements can be made.
- Criteria describe the different forest values that make up SFM: environmental, economic, and social. These are the forest values that Canadians want to enhance or sustain.
- Indicators describe the ways in which a criterion actually gets assessed. They are objective measures that can be supported by data.
At the national level, Canada uses a set of 46 indicators that represent the full range of forest values Canadians want conserved or sustained. Because sustainability requires balancing environmental, economic and social values, no single indicator can be used to assess SFM. Getting a full, clear picture requires taking the whole range of indicators into consideration.
By examining a suite of indicators together, we get an informative profile of Canada’s progress toward SFM.
Eleven indicators, addressing five of the six criteria (forest values) are listed below. Each links to an assessment report about that indicator. As this sample of C&I results shows, despite some challenges, Canada continues to make notable progress in many areas of SFM.
Canada’s forest sector has undergone substantial economic trials in the last decade. Segments of the industry continue to struggle, but there are encouraging signs of sector recovery and transformation. For example:
- The contribution the forest products sector made to Canada’s GDP rose.
- The value of forest product exports increased.
- The industry’s financial performance improved, particularly for return on capital employed.
These and related economic figures are still below their previous peaks, but an upward trend is clear. Several factors have driven this favourable shift, but notably: growth in Asian demand for Canada’s forest products; continued economic recovery globally; and restructuring by many forest sector firms.
Despite a decline in forest industry jobs in Canada in recent years, the sector remains a major employer nationwide, particularly in rural communities where forest-related work is often the main source of income. Although the number of forest-dependent communities has declined over the last decade as the sector has shrunk, the forest industry is still the main economic driver in nearly 200 such communities.
Third-party forest certification continues to increase in Canada, sending the message to new and emerging markets that Canada’s forest products come from legal and sustainable sources. Today Canada has the largest area of certified forest in the world: 40% of the world’s total.
Less than 0.2% of all forest and other wooded land in Canada is harvested each year. Total harvest rates remain well below the level of harvest deemed necessary for maintaining sustainable stands. On top of that, natural and artificial regeneration (that is, through seeding and planting) are ensuring that areas harvested stay productive and able to provide essential ecosystem services such as regulating water quality and quantity.
Deforestation has annually affected about 0.01% of all forest and other wooded land in Canada in recent years, but even that low rate is declining.
Natural forest disturbances caused by fire, insects and disease are an essential part of the process of forest renewal. However, these natural disturbances have had serious economic impacts in several regions of the country over the last decade. A notable example is in British Columbia, where more than 18 million hectares have been affected by the mountain pine beetle infestation. As well, habitat loss and degradation associated with some forest disturbance threaten many wildlife species. In all, 349 forest-associated species are currently at risk.
However, natural disturbance processes are recognized today as being a normal part of forest renewal. Forest management practices are therefore increasingly being designed to mimic natural disturbances and so help preserve the healthy attributes of Canada’s forests.
The forest sector has also made considerable progress in decreasing its reliance on fossil fuels, increasing its energy efficiency and reducing its energy use. During the past two decades, the sector’s overall greenhouse gas emissions have dropped by 51%.
Forest industry transformation and innovation are well underway, supported by new technologies and new markets. Efforts are focused on improving efficiency, developing new products and processes, finding new uses and markets for traditional products, and maintaining a healthy and productive resource base.
Improving our understanding of how forest ecosystems work and change is key to ensuring their ongoing sustainability. However, the natural complexity of these ecosystems, combined with ecological changes caused by climate change, invasive alien species and other factors, makes this an ever-challenging endeavour.
Fortunately, a tool such as C&I provides an invaluable means of measuring, monitoring and tracking Canada’s progress toward SFM—and in effect, of helping us determine how effectively we are achieving the SFM balancing act.
Key indicator analyses
- Additions and deletions of forest area
- Annual harvest of timber relative to the level of harvest deemed to be sustainable
- Area of forest disturbed by fire, insects, disease and harvesting
- Carbon emissions/removals in Canada’s managed forests
- Contribution of forest products to gross domestic product
- Forest industry employment
- Forest product exports
- Forest sector carbon emissions
- Forest type and age class
- Proportion of timber harvest area regenerated by artificial and natural means
- Status of forest-associated species at risk
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