Forest Governance - Canada

Comprising 348 million hectares of land, the Canadian boreal forest makes up approximately one quarter of the world’s remaining original forests, and nine percent of global forests. While Canada is the second largest country in the world in terms of area (9.9 million km2), the 35.5 million people inhabiting Canada are concentrated in the southern regions, largely in major cities and urban areas. Thus, much of the Canadian boreal forest is sparsely inhabited, and pressures due to population remain fairly low. While the boreal forests of Canada are home to about 70% of native and aboriginal communities, these groups believe in the preservation and sustainable use of forested area. In 2013, the forest industry employed 216,500 people, and contributed $19.8 billion to Canada’s overall GDP.

The 1990s was a time of dispute between traditional regulatory approaches and those of a more community-based model of sustainable forestry management. The years since have seen the emergence of key new actors in forest policy decisions, including First Nations aboriginal people, forest certification programs, and scientists. The involvement of these non-governmental parties has diversified the discussion of sustainable forestry management in Canada from what was traditionally a closed forest policy system. However, Canadian forest laws are still developed and enforced by the provinces and territories. Therefore, forest laws, regulations, and policies differ between Canadian jurisdictions, but all must take into consideration wildlife protection, First Nation interests, land use planning, timber harvesting, and silvicultural practices for forest regrowth and regeneration (see Silviculture).  Ninety-four percent of forested land is public, with 90% owned by the provinces, 2% owned by the federal government and 2% belonging to aboriginal groups. The remaining 6% of forests are privately owned. Provinces will grant forestry companies the right to harvest timber on public lands as forestry concessions. Provincial governments will then approve forest management plans and harvests, and monitor the actions of forest companies to ensure legality of practices. Provinces and territories must also adhere to federal laws and international agreements, such as those regarding endangered species. Forestry regulations on private lands are determined by local municipal governments, but generally follow the provincial guidelines.

153 million hectares of Canadian forested land is certified and sustainably managed. Currently there are three third-party forest certification systems implemented in Canada: the Canadian Standards Association, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, and the Forest Stewardship Council (see Forest Certification in the Boreal). The goal of forest certification is to hold forest companies to certain standards of sustainable management and harvesting practices. Third-party certification is an extra step that guarantees legality of forest products while assuring that forestry practices adhere to the standards of sustainability. Standards are routinely updated to reflect current knowledge and research regarding sustainable forest management.

Total wood volume in Canada is monitored by species group and by province to determine rates of tree growth. With a total wood volume of 47 billion cubic meters in Canadian forests, the sustainable harvest level is considered to be 227 million cubic meters per year. Spruce has the highest wood volume at 22.4 billion cubic meters, with poplar and pine in second and third place with 6.2 and 5.6 billion cubic meters, respectively. Tree growth rates are determined by a number of factors, including climate and site conditions, as well as tree health, genetics, and age. Some Canadian boreal forests tend to be slow growing, while others are highly productive.

The annual deforestation rate in Canada has declined from 64,000 hectares in 1990 to 46,000 hectares in 2010. Conversion to permanent agriculture remains the largest source of deforestation, despite dropping from 42,100 hectares deforested in 1990 to 18,900 hectares in 2010. Deforestation from the oil and gas industry has increased in the past two decades, rising from 4,400 hectares in 1990 to 11,100 hectares in 2010. The World Resources Institute uses remote sensing techniques to detect changes in tree cover loss, which includes both permanent deforestation from land conversion and temporary tree cover loss from logging, fires, or other sources of mortality. Collaborative data between WRI, University of Maryland, and sixty partnership organizations show that tree cover loss due to forest fires was high in Canada between 2011 and 2013, second only to Russia. The average annual tree cover loss in Canada between 2011 and 2013 was 2.45 million hectares.

Canada is involved with UN REDD+ initiatives (see REDD+) and has contributed $45 million through the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), which aims to help developing countries build capacity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In particular, the focus is on improving conservation and implementing sustainable forest management. Conservation within Canada itself includes IUCN protected areas (see Protected Areas), government initiatives within the Canadian Conservation Institute, First Nation protected areas, and joint initiatives and frameworks that unite conservation groups, forest companies, financial institutions, and First Nations. 


Canada, N. R. (2014). The State of Canada’s Forests: Annual Report 2014. Natural Resources Canada (Vol. 1). doi:10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004

Cheadle, B. (2014, November 13). World Parks Congress sees Canadian First Nations land management as a model. The Canadian Press (Winnipeg). Winnipeg. Retrieved from…

Government of Canada. (2016). Forests. Retrieved from

Howlett, M., Rayner, J., & Tollefson, C. (2009). From government to governance in forest planning? Lessons from the case of the British Columbia Great Bear Rainforest initiative. Forest Policy and Economics, 11(5-6), 383–391. doi:10.1016/j.forpol.2009.01.003

Sizer, N., Petersen, R., Anderson, J., Hansen, M., Potapov, P., & Thau, D. (2015). Tree Cover Loss Spikes in Russia and Canada, Remains High Globally.