Canada’s reputation as a responsible steward of the forest lands is coming into question.

January 13, 2024
Gord Miller

By Gord Miller, Chair Earthroots

The international community has become aware and concerned that boreal forest management in northern Ontario and Quebec is not ecologically sustainable and that one of the most symbolic species of that ecological community is now threatened with extinction. For over 30 years theOntario environmental group Earthroots has been doggedly challenging the inadequacies of forest management practices implemented under the direction of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Now scientists led by an Australian group have vindicated that effort. The researchers published an analysis of over 40 years of government data and arrived at the conclusion that major changes are needed if ecological integrity of our forest is to be maintained. That concern has been picked up and echoed in a story about that international study in the New York Times.

Forest cutting practices in the boreal are supposed to mimic the patchwork of stands of different ages and species naturally created by fires. But the analysis by the international group shows that this is not working. The forests may be sustainably maintaining a maximum wood production and the silvicultural practices may be sustaining the regeneration of commercially desirable tree species. But the landscape has been degraded in its ability to support and sustain the complex flora and fauna of the boreal forest.

To illustrate that point the authors of the study focus on the woodland caribou which they correctly describe as an ‘umbrella species’ (a species whose health and success can be used as conservation indicator of the protection of the greater ecological community). The analysis indicates that present management practices don’t leave enough large patches of old forest to sustain the caribou population and other portions of the biota dependent on old growth for all or parts of their life cycle. As a result the woodland caribou is listed as ‘threatened’ over its present range and ‘extirpated’ over many thousand of hectares of former range.

Stands of trees greater than 100 years old are often simply dismissed as ‘over mature.’ But ecologists recognize it as ‘old growth’ habitat which has many other features of economic significance beyond its contribution to biodiversity and ecological integrity. Old growth has been found to continue to sequester carbon, countering climate change, when surrounding clear cut forest stands are negatively discharging this greenhouse gas. And old growth stands are reservoirs of ancient genetic information that provides the resilience that has served these ecosystems for centuries.

There is no doubt that we need to harvest the timber of the boreal to support our society and economy. But we must be attentive to the long-term ecological needs of the forest community when we manage the resource.This study demonstrates that we are not letting enough of the forest landscape stay old or grow old to maintain the ecological integrity. We must preserve the old growth that remains.


Mackey, B.; Campbell, C.; Norman, P.; Hugh,S.; DellaSala, D.A.; Malcolm, J.R.; Desrochers, M.; Drapeau, P. Assessing theCumulative Impacts of Forest Management on Forest Age Structure Development andWoodland Caribou Habitat in Boreal Landscapes: A Case Study from Two CanadianProvinces. Land2024,13,6. 10.3390/land13010006

New York Times Article

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