President & CEO, Ontario Forest Industries Association
Canada’s forests are under constant change. For example, we have seen the devastating impacts of wildfire and insect outbreaks across the country.
Climate change has presented an additional layer of challenges. While protection of untouched wilderness is an appealing notion to some, in reality, there is no such thing in Canada. Forest succession and renewal is a natural process which ensures our forests remain healthy over time.
The impacts of a changing climate have applied a new reality across all forests and ecosystems. To mitigate and adapt to these challenges, we must have tools available to manage these threats. We must collectively encourage, support, and expand the sustainable management of our working forests to ensure their continued protection.
While forests are commonly viewed as part of natural climate solutions, people often forget that forests can be large emitters and sources of carbon dioxide. For example, in 2017, British Columbia’s greenhouse gas emissions from forest fires were 176 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, more than 2.5 times the total emissions for B.C. that year. Through the sustainable harvesting of forest products, that carbon can be locked up in valuable wood products, displace more carbon-intensive materials such as concrete or steel, and generate low-carbon biomass energy. Sustainable forest management is an essential part of the climate solution.
Our forests and wildlife have adapted to a cycle of natural disturbances, such as fire, that has maintained ecological integrity over millennia. Sustainable forest management in Ontario aims to emulate these natural disturbances while protecting individual social, economic, and environmental values. Looking across Canada, Ontario is in a unique and enviable position. Our robust legal framework and long history of successfully managing and renewing forests have resulted in a healthy and abundant natural resource. As demand for sustainable products increases, Ontario is strategically positioned to capitalize on this enormous opportunity.
A study commissioned by the United Nations indicates that global demand for forest products is expected to increase by more than 30% by 2030. Consumers have realized that forest products are critical to a sustainable bioeconomy. This presents an incredible opportunity to Indigenous, non-Indigenous, northern, and rural communities across Ontario who depend on a healthy and prosperous forest industry. All of this can be achieved through the active management of our public forests.
The concept of “protection,” i.e., leaving forests in a preserved state forever, is a misconception. Historically, the philosophy of nature being something that required human protection stems from the concept of saving natural areas for those in urban populations to travel to on the weekends to escape city life. Given the realities of today, this is an outdated perspective. Although there are certain sensitive or special areas that merit special consideration, I believe it is time we collectively rethink what “protection” means and how we can achieve it through active, adaptive, and sustainable forest management.