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Outnumbered: Calculating Logging Impacts on Canada’s Boreal Forest

Forests are the quiet warriors in the fight against climate change. Their ability to act as ‘carbon sinks’ and decrease the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere makes their protection even more necessary.

Canada’s Boreal Forest is especially valuable, as it holds some of the last remaining primary forests in the world.[1]The forest is also home to a diverse range of species, including the Woodland Caribou, designated as “threatened” under the Species at Risk Act.[2]


Despite claims that Canada’s forests are sustainably managed, misrepresentations of carbon emission calculations tell a different story. In order to prevent rapid deforestation and the extinction of resident species, it is critical that the national government take concrete action to preserve the forests within the country’s borders.


Logging Loopholes


Despite the Canadian government’s claims that the forestry sector is sustainably managed, there is significant push-back from environmental groups exposing loopholes in the current system. Advocacy groups insist that logging is occurring at unsustainable rates in Canada, but the impacts are not being fully reported. The façade of sustainable management has been challenged by the Natural Resources Defense Council (“NRDC”). The NRDC has made the claim that only Russia and Brazil have surpassed Canada’s exceeding loss of forest landscapes.[3]


In a 2021 report, several environmental organizations, including the NRDC and Nature Canada, took a close look at logging industry loopholes.[4] The main issue with Canada’s calculations is that the term “managed” is used inconsistently when calculating emissions. According to UN guidelines, “managed” is defined as, “land where human interventions and practices have been applied to perform production, ecological or social functions”.[5] Forests impacted by logging activities would traditionally be classified as “managed.” One of the inaccuracies in the government’s emission calculations is that primary forests are being included or excluded as “managed” forests based on whether carbon is being stored or emitted.


Primary forests have what is called carbon equilibrium. Growing trees retain carbon, but when events such as wildfires occur, carbon is released. The consistent inclusion of primary forests in the government’s reporting would not be an issue as long as both the carbon release and storage were accurately accounted for. Primary forests are being included in the calculations when carbon is being stored.[6] Yet, the forests are excluded altogether when releasing carbon as a result of natural events. These inconsistencies allow the picture to be painted of a country ambitiously reaching its 2030 emissions target. The reality is that Canada’s critical forests are not being protected the way they should be. The truths masked by this ambiguous counting system are pointing to the unsustainable destruction of carbon forests and the decline of their inhabitants.


Conclusion


Within Canada’s borders lies one of the world’s most important resources. The Boreal Forest contains some of the world’s last remaining primary forests. Primary forests retain carbon and biodiversity that secondary forests cannot compete with. The reliance on secondary forests as a solution for logging cannot be sustained long-term and cannot be an excuse to deplete the limited supply of primary forests left today. The Government of Canada must be held accountable for the inconsistencies and inaccuracies of their current emission calculations. Otherwise, these misrepresentations could lead to a fast-approaching future without the Boreal Forests and Woodland Caribou.


___ [1] NRDC, “Canada’s Boreal Forest: Why It’s So Important,” (1 July, 2022), online: < https://www.nrdc.org/stories/why-canadas-boreal-forest-important>. [2] Government of Canada, “8 Facts About Canada’s Boreal Forest,” online: < https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/our-natural-resources/forests/sustainable-forest-management/boreal-forest/8-facts-about-canadas-boreal-forest/17394>. [3] NRDC, “How Widespread Logging in Canada is Escaping Scrutiny,” (18, March 2019), online: <https://www.nrdc.org/experts/courtenay-lewis/how-widespread-logging-canada-escaping-scrutiny#:~:text=Canada's%20government%20boasts%20that%20in,boreal%20forest—to%20rapidly%20decline>. [4] Polanyi, M; Skene, J., “Missing the Forest: How Carbon Loopholes for Logging Hinder Canada’s Climate Leadership,” (October 2021), online: < https://naturecanada.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Missing-the-Forest.pdf>. [5] Ibid at 12. [6] CBC Canada, “Canada is Underestimating Carbon Emissions from Forestry Sector, Environmental Groups Allege,” (28, October, 2021), online: < https://www.cbc.ca/news/science/forestry-emissions-accounting-1.6227903>.



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