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. 

Sources

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...

Comments

Hi Bridget A-O,

Your post highlights an important issue, bringing new facts to the table in a long-standing debate. In response to your writing, I'd like to stress the importance of balancing criticism between government and outside organizations (e.g., NGOs, scientists). The government of Canada is heavily criticized here, while the authors whose study is being cited in the CBC article are not at all. Upon reading the CBC article, I learned that the data being presented is drawn from a study that has yet to be peer reviewed. In any case it is important to be critical of the methods and data of a study, but especially so when the article is not yet published. In the article, the study author is also clear that some of the information (i.e., whether forest fires in the north are caused by humans) is not 100% certain. When reporting on science it is paramount that the reality of uncertainty be communicated clearly to the audience. It is also important to convey that government is not innately bad and other organizations are not innately good. Polarizing government from citizens is likely not the answer to natural resource conflict in Canada, especially in this era when we have a government more willing to be influenced.

It is interesting to see the discrepancies among information regarding Canada's natural resources. If the Canadian government is portraying forests with same tactics it is using to display information regarding oil extraction and natural gas than maybe we as citizens should be doing more research. It is hard to sum up an entire industry with a few facts, everything is relational and can be portrayed one way or the other depending on the persons biases. Canada has a staples economy as pointed out in your post which means that we rely on extraction of raw materials to supply the demand from other industrialized countries. Due to our reliance on resource extraction, deforestation is going to continue until our economy diversifies and starts to rely on other sources of income. If we continue the rate of deforestation that we are currently operating at we will be unable to provide timber to supply the demand from other countries without which our economy will suffer.

Your post brings up two things that I find interesting. The first being the importance that framing will have on an issue. There are multiple ways of viewing an issue and also many ways of presenting it to support these different views, making it hard for people know what to believe. In this case, is Canada's management of forests causing them to be degraded or have good management led to its preservation? This is also a good example of a cognitive conflict as the data for each argument is so contradictory of each other.

I agree with your topic and i first time to know the mountain view Gazette beetle target tree. It is very interest. I think we need make policies as soon as for product forest. I believe Canada government doing their best for product forest. control the Gazette is not easy and it will be hard. The insects is very important in the nature, but if they hurt human forest, It is too sad problem.
I hope tree will be safe. and I like your topic. good job.

Hi Bridget!

This article brings up an important issue of government trust and forms of conflict. Your post caught my attention as I have also attempted to 'google search' deforestation in Canada. Trying to narrow down which Canadian companies are performing acts of deforestation is extremely difficult. With your post are you trying to formulate a conspiracy idea or maybe highlighting a form of green-washing?

It may be true that the public is not receiving all the relevant details of Canada's forest. However, it is publicly agreed upon that Canada's forest cover is not declining. Though, you raise an important point that constant forest cover does not mean that the same forest diversity or habitat remains. The Boreal forest may be in threat of losing old growth forests, which are extremely valuable.

From a business perspective, companies can claim to have sustainable practices if they are following certain standards or regulations. However, it may be important to note who develops these standards and how they are developed. Are companies ignorant and are maintaining too much trust in government or are they aware but back incentive to change?

First off, I really enjoyed your paper. I loved how catchy it was, and your intro was really good. I hadn't realized that the forest was declining so much, nor that different authorities have different figures and perspectives. Thank you for clarifying why they have different figures and perspectives! As you had mentioned, we can always plant more trees--but we can't replace the creatures that depend on the forest, especially endangered species. I would like to know what you think the public should do once they are properly informed about the issue? What steps should the public take to protect the Boreal Forest?

First off, I really enjoyed your paper. I loved how catchy it was, and your intro was really good. I hadn't realized that the forest was declining so much, nor that different authorities have different figures and perspectives. Thank you for clarifying why they have different figures and perspectives! As you had mentioned, we can always plant more trees--but we can't replace the creatures that depend on the forest, especially endangered species. I would like to know what you think the public should do once they are properly informed about the issue? What steps should the public take to protect the Boreal Forest?

First off, I really enjoyed your paper. I loved how catchy it was, and your intro was really good. I hadn't realized that the forest was declining so much, nor that different authorities have different figures and perspectives. Thank you for clarifying why they have different figures and perspectives! As you had mentioned, we can always plant more trees--but we can't replace the creatures that depend on the forest, especially endangered species. I would like to know what you think the public should do once they are properly informed about the issue? What steps should the public take to protect the Boreal Forest?

I really enjoyed your blog post, it was very educational and eye opening. The title of the blog captured my attention and I was interested in learning much more about the status of the Boreal Forest. It is interesting that you brought up how Canada is responsible for deforestation at a rate which is higher or than countries such as Russia or Brazil. Mentioning that in your blog was wonderful because Canada has somehow stayed out of media attention when it comes to deforestation, especially in comparison to a country like Brazil. Often times the rates of deforestation in Canada are overlooked by media, and deforestation and the degradation of land are focused on other well-known deforestation hot spots. The fact that you were able to bring attention to this issue is great. I hope that in the future people will address the lack of environmental policies in Canada, and our country can start setting more sustainable examples.