Forest Management and Climate Change

Logging in Canadian Forests. Photo by Ruth Hartnup, Creative Commons License.

The Question
How is climate change research shaping Canadian forestry policy?

Background
Scientists are finding evidence that climate change has already impacted Canada’s vast forest regions. Shifts in climate are making forests vulnerable to attack by insects such as eastern spruce budworm and the mountain pine beetle, and to more frequent and more devastating fires. Forests are generally understood to absorb carbon from the atmosphere. By reducing atmospheric carbon they appear to offset sources of carbon from industry and elsewhere. But forests are not just carbon sinks, they are also potential sources of atmospheric carbon, especially as they become prone to frequent forest fires. Climate researchers are trying to model the contributions of forests to global carbon budgets. One hypothesis emerging is that young, managed forests absorb more carbon from the atmosphere than old growth forests. And yet, forest carbon dynamics are still not fully understood. Given that forest carbon budgets are difficult to model,  researchers have not yet achieved a consensus on how or whether to include forest carbon stocks in global atmospheric carbon budgets. These uncertainties make it difficult to rely on forest carbon models alone when developing sound forest policy. Indeed, if these models dictated forest policy, governments would promote cutting down old growth forests and replacing them with managed forests.  See below for more information.

Your Letter to Federal Scientists and Ministers

Dear Scientists,

Climate change poses a real threat to the health of Canadian forests and we are grateful that federal scientists are conducting research on this issue. We are also pleased to see that the Canadian Forest Service provides information to the public on its website outlining how its research programs are responding to climate change. One video explains how climate models and carbon budgets are being used as the basis for developing Canadian forestry policy. These models suggest that young, managed forests may be better carbon sinks than mature, old growth forests. The implication however is a forestry policy that promotes harvesting old growth forests and replacing them with managed forests. While climate change is undeniable, available climate models and modeling techniques are plagued with uncertainty.

How do your findings account for the ongoing debates in the climate modeling literature around best practices for the inclusion of forests in global carbon budgets? Are there uncertainties in your data or models that might cast doubt on a policy that promotes managed forests over protecting old growth forests? In other words, are these carbon budget models reliable enough to be used as the basis for forestry policy, especially when they appear to promote a policy of increased resource extraction from Canadian forests?

Such a managed forest policy seems to contradict well-established scientific evidence on the role of old growth forests in maintaining biodiversity, plant and animal habitat, water and nutrient cycling, and soil stability. In that regard, do you feel that the full range of your research, and the research of your colleagues, is being considered in formation of Canada’s forestry policy? In this case, are climate models and carbon budgets being used uncritically by the government to promote industry-friendly policies?

I am writing this email as part of Write2Know (http://write2know.ca) a letter-writing campaign that aims to mobilize public awareness and inquiry into federal research programs. We want to let you know that we value federal science and scientists, and that our questions arise out of genuine concerns about the health and well-being of Canadians.

We remain concerned about the legacy of constraints on access to federal scientists and the results of their research, the elimination of essential research programs, and the closure of libraries and archives. These constraints and closures have impacted what Canadians can and cannot know about the health of their bodies, communities, and environments. We are hopeful that a new government will address our concerns.

I look forward to your response.
Sincerely,

[Your name]

cc
Dr. Pierre Bernier, Research Scientist, Forest Productivity, Canadian Forest Service
Dr. Evelyne Thiffault, Research Scientist, Forest Biomass, Canadian Forest Service
Dr. Werner Kurz, Senior Research Scientist, Canadian Forest Service
Glenn Mason, Assistant Deputy Minister, Canadian Forest Service
Hon. Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development
Hon. Jim Carr, Minister of Natural Resources
Hon. Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change
Hon. Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science

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41Anna SapershteynMar 16, 2015
40DAVID HLYNSKYToronto, OntMar 15, 2015
39Alfredo ConversoCanora, SaskatchewanMar 15, 2015
38Sabrina ScottToronto, OntarioMar 15, 2015
37Jillian SmithMar 15, 2015
36Jennifer Dyerst. John's , newfoundlandMar 15, 2015
35Christianne StephensHamilton, OntarioMar 14, 2015
34Karen EnglanderToronto, OntarioMar 14, 2015
33Ailsa CraigSt. John's, NLMar 14, 2015
32Jody BerlandToronto, ONMar 14, 2015
31Michael Oman-ReaganMar 13, 2015
30Stuart BasdenToronto, OntarioMar 13, 2015
29Marilyn MarshallStratford, ONMar 13, 2015
28Michael ZrydToronto, OntarioMar 13, 2015
27carol farkastoronto, OntarioMar 13, 2015
26Bret HamptonKimberley, BCMar 13, 2015
25Brian OwensSt Stephen, NBMar 13, 2015
24Sheila MoiniOttawa, OntarioMar 13, 2015
23Lisa HowseSaskatoon, SaskatchewanMar 13, 2015
22Troy OgdenRegina, SKMar 13, 2015
21Martin MyersToronto, ONMar 13, 2015
20Max LiboironSt. John's, NewfoundlandMar 13, 2015
19Magdalena Kazubowski-HoustonToronto, ONMar 12, 2015
18Margrit EichlerToronto, OntarioMar 12, 2015
17Alison SymeToronto, OntarioMar 12, 2015
16Miguel Daraîche-LeblancMontréal, QuébecMar 12, 2015
15Stephen SongLunenburg, Nova ScotiaMar 12, 2015
14Charles MaurerToronto, ONMar 12, 2015
13George BissonNova ScotiaMar 12, 2015
12Sara KomarniskyEdmonton, Alberta (AB)Mar 12, 2015
11thomas klie-cribbMar 12, 2015
10Callum C. J. SutherlandToronto, OntarioMar 11, 2015
9Brad WallaceOttawa, ONMar 11, 2015
8Michael BrewerToronto, OnMar 11, 2015
7Ayelen LiberonaTorontoMar 11, 2015
6Katie KreloveToronto, OntarioMar 11, 2015
5Lauren SmithWhitby, OntarioMar 11, 2015
4Devon MollesonWhitby, OntarioMar 11, 2015
3Natasha MyersToronto, OntarioMar 11, 2015
2Samantha ReidOshawa, OntarioMar 11, 2015
1Gina MollesonSt. John's, Newfoundland and LabradorMar 11, 2015

More Information


A Year in the Life’ of Earth’s CO2. NASA’s simulation of global carbon cycling. It shows how concentrations of atmospheric carbon fluctuate with industrial production and with the seasons, as forests in the Northern Hemisphere begin to absorb carbon in summer months.

Buchholz, Thomas, et al. “Mineral Soil Carbon Fluxes in Forests and Implications for Carbon Balance Assessments.” GCB Bioenergy 6, no. 4 (July 1, 2014): 305–11.

Buizer, Marleen, et al.. “Climate Change and Deforestation: The Evolution of an Intersecting Policy Domain.” Environmental Science & Policy, 35 (January 2014): 1–11

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