Government of Canada Cuts Down Environmental Progress in the Boreal Forest
by BridgetA-O on October 8, 2016 - 11:00pm
They say there’s a Canadian inferiority complex, but this probably wasn’t the ego boost we were hoping for: the World Resources Institute says that Canada is the absolute best in the world at degrading untouched forest. The CBC’s Emily Cheung reported in 2014 that between 2001 and that time, we were responsible for a staggering 21% of pristine forest that was either degraded or lost, even more than well-known deforestation hotspots like Russia and Brazil.
If you’re a happy urbanite or are otherwise unsure about what the BIG DEAL about intact forest is (after all, we can always plant them again later!), the article goes on to explain that these forests are key habitat for endangered species with large ranges, like Caribou, as well as store carbon and manage local climates. The researchers whose paper the CBC article is reporting on used satellites to identify 104 million hectares (an area the size of Ontario) of this environmental goldmine that was lost in that period, more of which was in Canada than anywhere else. Moreover, researchers point out that there really is more to the forest than the trees – while restoration activities may occur (I said we could replant them!), it is extremely difficult to actually return the ecosystem to its undisturbed state.
What caused this? Gold mining would make a good pun, but while the extractive industry was a significant contributor, gold in particular wasn’t the most impactful industry. In fact, the CBC listed fires, which are left to burn in the north, and fragmentation of the forest (especially to build roads for mining and fossil fuel production as the chief culprits.
None of this, however, is the most shocking part of this story. What is surprising is that if you look at Natural Resources Canada’s website, it would appear that nothing is wrong. In fact, the very first Google result for “Deforestation Canada” is an article by NR Canada titled “Deforestation in Canada: Key myths and facts”, whose first sentence is “At 0.02% of its forested area, deforestation in Canada is among the world’s lowest.” Why the discrepancy? Are the nasty scientists at the world resources institute just trying to malign nice Canadian foresters? Or is NR Canada lying through its teeth?
Strictly speaking, neither. Unlike the world Resources Institute, which considers degradation as deforestation (likely because degraded forest cannot provide the same services as an intact forest and is fundamentally changed) NR Canada defines deforestation strictly in the sense of a permanent conversion from forest to other land uses, generally to urban or agricultural land. And, to further improve their case, they suggest that intact forests and reforested forests are the same, despite the fact that when you replant the trees (or let them seed in), the ecosystem doesn’t just bounce back.
It is safe to say that NR Canada is not just uninformed. Instead, what we are seeing is a deliberate attempt to frame the forestry sector as one that is not harming the environment in anyway. And if there is no harm, then why should anyone complain about the continued extraction? Canada has been and continues to be a resource economy, where primary economic power is generated through extraction and export of raw materials, but this isn’t just a neutral process. The Canadian government is actively involved in making sure we continue to base our economy on these activities, and Natural Resources Canada’s comments are just a continuation of the same story that we have been telling ourselves for centuries. Hopefully, posts like that of the World Resources Institute will challenge that narrative enough to actually make a change.
Natural Resources Canada. (n.d.). Deforestation in Canada: Key myths and facts. In Natural Resources Canada. Retrieved October 8, 2016, from http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/forests/fire-insects-disturbances/deforestation/1...
Cheung, E. (2014). Canada's degradation of pristine, intact forests leads world. CBC. Retrieved October 8, 2016, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/canada-s-degradation-of-pristine-intac...