Additions and deletions of forest area
Why is this indicator important?
Knowing how and why forest areas change over time is important for managing forests sustainably because such changes may result in long-term deletions (deforestation) from or additions (afforestation) to Canada’s forest landbase.
- Deforestation means the long-term conversion of forest to other land uses. In Canada, deforestation is mainly the result of forest land being converted to use for agriculture, industrial development, resource extraction and urban expansion. Harvesting, when followed by regeneration, is not deforestation.
- Afforestation means the establishment of new forests on previously non-forested land.
Deforestation is a concern because forests provide a number of ecological services, such as water purification, erosion control and provision of wildlife habitat. Forests also contribute to global climate stability by acting as sinks and sources of carbon dioxide. Monitoring forest additions and deletions helps scientists gauge Canada’s ability to meet its climate change-related commitments.
What has changed and why?
Over the last two decades in Canada, the annual rate of deforestation has declined, dropping from just over 64,000 hectares in 1990 to about 45,000 hectares in 2010. Spikes in this downward trend have occurred for short periods, however, when forested areas have been submerged by water reservoirs associated with large hydroelectric projects. For example, 35,000 hectares of forest area were lost in the mid-1990s and another 28,000 hectares were lost in the mid-2000s because of the development of reservoirs. Since 1990, about 0.33% of Canada’s total forest area has been converted to other land uses.
In 2010, deforestation resulted in net emissions of 15.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, down from 27.5 million tonnes in 1990.1
Limited afforestation has been carried out in Canada since 1990 relative to the total area of forested land. Although millions of trees are planted each year to supplement natural regeneration, these efforts are occurring primarily as part of sustainable forest management in areas that were already forested. Urban and rural planting initiatives are underway in many regions, including Quebec, Ontario and the Prairie provinces.
What is the future outlook?
The trend of decreasing deforestation is expected to continue over the next four decades or so, but at a slower pace. Conversion of forest to agricultural land uses will remain the largest factor. Although the rate of deforestation for agriculture is expected to decrease, it is possible that economic or policy changes within the agricultural sector could increase deforestation rates. Only the oil and gas sector is currently experiencing an increase in deforestation rates. Over the next decade these rates are expected to stabilize or increase, although that will depend on how economic conditions affect oil and gas activity. Predicting future deforestation with precision is impossible, but it is anticipated that the overall rate of deforestation in Canada will be lower in the future than it is today.
aValues reported are for listed year.
bResulting from the creation of permanent forest access roads.
dIncludes mines, gravel pits, oil and gas projects and highway construction.
eIncludes urban development.
fIncludes ski hills and golf courses.
gTotals adjusted for rounding.
Sources: Canadian Forest Service, Deforestation Monitoring Group; and Environment Canada, National Inventory Report 2013
1These numbers account for lateral transfers of carbon from the forest ecosystem to the forest product sector, in the form of (1) greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere and (2) residual emissions from deforestation in previous years.