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World's Boreal Forests:

Management & Sustainability
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Canadian National Forest Strategy


FOREST ECOSYSTEMS: Multiple Values

Canada is richly endowed with naturally established forests. These ecosystems are marvellously diverse complexes of plants, animals, soil, water and air. Our forests are the product of millennia of evolution. While they host the same basic life forms as forests throughout the world, Canada's forests bring together species and ecosystems distinct to our country. This diversity ensures their ability to adapt and survive. Forest ecosystems and the life they support have an intrinsic value that underpins their social, cultural and economic importance.

Sustainable forest management means following ecologically sound practices that maintain the forest ecosystems' integrity, productivity, resilience and biodiversity. That involves sustaining a wide range of ecological processes through which plants, animals, micro-organisms, soil, water and air interact. As a result of these processes, forests provide a number of functions essential to life on this planet. For example, they maintain the chemical balance of soil, air and water, stabilize the climate, recycle nutrients, break down pollutants, clean the air and water, and are vital to watershed protection, soil formation, carbon storage and the habitat for wildlife. The products of forest growth may be harvested on a sustainable basis, and even enhanced through silvicultural practices, as long as the forests' inherent biological limits are respected.

The natural resilience of forest ecosystems is reflected in their capacity for renewal. Fire, insect damage, disease, windstorms and age cause all trees to die eventually, but also create new conditions for forest species that thrive in more open conditions. This resilience needs to be maintained so that forest ecosystems can adapt to global disruptions such as extended cycles of climatic change, as well as atmospheric pollution and changes in land use and vegetation cover. Forests must be managed in ways that let them recover after disturbances and extended changes. This is a key element of sustainable forest management.

Canadians recognize the importance of biodiversity -- specifically, the term includes the variety of different species, the genetic variability of each species and the variety of different ecosystems to which they belong. Conserving such a diverse and rich array of plant and animal communities in Canada's forests requires management strategies and practices to maintain the health and diversity of whole forest landscapes. As well, specific areas warrant particular protection because of their unique ecological features and other values. In Canada, we have a special attachment to old forests for their aesthetic and ecological values. Representative landscapes may be maintained through designation as protected areas, while in other cases management on longer rotations helps to retain their features.

There are many kinds of protected areas in Canada. The World Conservation Union's widely accepted framework for the classification of protected areas contains five categories with increasing degrees of human intervention permitted: scientific reserves and wilderness areas, parks, natural monuments, habitat and wildlife management areas, and protected landscapes. According to the Canadian Conservation Areas Database, in 1995 approximately 7.6 percent of Canada's forest land was located in protected areas, mostly in parks.

Ecosystem-based forest management is the integrated management of natural landscapes and watersheds, ecological processes, wildlife species and human activities. This approach needs cooperation on a regional level to ensure that forests contribute to Canadians' environmental, economic, social and cultural aspirations.

Ecosystem-based forest management requires better knowledge and information about characteristics of the forest that go beyond conventional timber-based inventories. We need to understand through research and development how forest ecosystems respond to natural disturbances and human activities. We also need, through dialogue and planning, to define our objectives clearly and monitor our performance. In 1995, the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers released Defining Sustainable Forest Management: A Canadian Approach to Criteria and Indicators, to help guide and assess our progress in applying the ecosystem approach and achieving sustainable forest management. The first Criteria and Indicators of Sustainable Forest Management in Canada: Technical Report on data availability and reporting capacity was published in 1997, with the companion implementation plan to produce a first comprehensive report by the year 2000. These documents are referred to here as the Canadian C&I framework. A similar initiative, undertaken in collaboration with countries having the majority of the world's temperate and boreal forests has produced the Criteria and Indicators for the Conservation and Sustainable Management of Temperate and Boreal Forests, referred to as the Montreal Process C&I.

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Principles

Healthy forest ecosystems are essential to maintain the quality of life.

The sustainable use and management of forest ecosystems must maintain their essential ecological processes, biological diversity, productivity, resilience and capacity for renewal.

Comprehensive, accurate inventories that include information on key forest values are essential for sustainable forest management.

Forest use and management must maintain the diversity of plants and animals, ecosystems, and landscapes.

Sustainable use and management of Canada's forests must respect their role in maintaining local and global ecosystems.

Framework for Action

We will improve our understanding of forest ecological functions and their response to natural disturbances and human activity, and we will enhance our ability to manage forests in a way that will maintain the productivity and resilience of those ecosystems:

1.1 By broadening the scope of inventories and information on key forest and landscape characteristics, including the impact of natural processes and human activities on forest ecosystems, non-timber features and growth and yield of forest resources. Such information is needed to manage the forest sustainably for a wide range of values, to forecast changes in the forest and to meet Canada's international reporting commitments.

1.2 By gathering the data on the state of Canada's forest ecosystems needed to enable Canada to report fully and regularly on the criteria and indicators of sustainable forest management as outlined in the CCFM and Montreal Process frameworks.

1.3 By completing ecological classifications of forest lands that are operationally functional at the regional level, with emphasis placed on lands under active forest management, and, based on these, completing a national classification of forest ecosystems.

1.4 By giving priority to basic and applied research on forest ecosystems, including their response to natural disturbances and to human activities, and their role in the cycling of greenhouse gases, within adaptive and mitigative management strategies.

We will enhance our capacity to ensure that our forest management activities maintain the biological diversity of our forests:

1.5 By improving the system for reporting nationally on the state of forest biodiversity in Canada, using the CCFM and Montreal Process frameworks of criteria and indicators of sustainable forest management.

1.6 By working toward completing, by the year 2000, a network of protected areas representative of Canada's forest ecosystem classification categories, to provide ecological benchmarks, protect areas of unique biological value and manage for the continuation of old-growth forest landscapes as natural heritage.

1.7 By incorporating precautionary approaches to maintaining biodiversity, with specific objectives and indicators, into forest management plans.

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