Nearing the end of a lifetime in the boreal forest, a retired forester writes a passionate plea for rational, science-based forest management.
The boreal forest is constantly changing, often dramatically. We like to picture it as a stable, balanced system. Really, it is anything but stable. The boreal forest is dynamic.
For over sixty years, forester Malcolm F. Squires has seen mature forests within protected areas devastated by insects, moose, wind, and wildfire. While the forests often return from this destruction, they are never quite the same. A naturally balanced boreal forest is a human notion that does not match the reality of nature. If we don’t soon recognize and accept that reality and stop making irrational demands that a forest be “protected” from change or human management, we may be dooming them to disaster.
About the authors
Malcolm (Mac) F. Squires graduated in 1963 from the University of New Brunswick with a B.Sc. in forestry. He worked first in Newfoundland and then in Ontario for thirty-four years as an industrial forester. He then moved to forestry consulting, while advocating for the boreal forest through visual art, writing, and speaking. He lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
Dr. John Kennedy Naysmith has spent his career working in forestry in various capacities, including as a professor of Forestry at Lakehead University and with the Ontario Forestry Futures Trust.
Excerpt: Dynamic Forest: Man Versus Nature in the Boreal Forest (by (author) Malcolm F. Squires; foreword by John Kennedy Naysmith)
CHAPTER 1: CANADA IS A FOREST NATION
Canada is a forest nation. Our forests benefit each and every one of us, regardless of whether we live in Whitecourt, Millertown, Gull Bay, or Toronto. Some of those benefits are obvious, but many are less obvious, especially if we live in larger cities far from the boreal forest. Those benefits are often thought of as separate and independent, but, like in the forest itself, every benefit is part of an interdependent whole.
The forest industry can’t be easily separated from the transportation, energy, mining, and tourism industries, because to variable degrees they are all dependent on each other for their success. The success of businesses within those industries in turn helps ensure the economic and social viability of our communities and the quality of life we have come to expect.
There are many other benefits that, because of the wealth provided by business, we can participate in or use. First to come to mind are the numerous everyday products that are on our store shelves: lumber and the scores of paper and pulp products, such as tissue, magazine, packaging, and wrapping papers. Then there is wood fibre in some of our clothing and even forest-derived ingredients in some of our toothpastes and medicines. We keep adding new products with advancing knowledge and technology. As I write this, I am looking around my office and all, or a part, of practically everything I see came from the forest. The wood in the framing, walls, and floors of my house, the paper on the wall, my book case and the books in it, the reports and files in my filing cabinets, even some of the ingredients in the paints on the walls and in my art supplies are made to some degree from forest products.
All of those products are dependent on trees, but trees are only part of the forest. Think of the other products of the land: the wild meat, fish, skins, berries, and mushrooms. These are all items that we extract from the forest, and they easily command a dollar value. However, there are other, less tangible benefits, including carbon storage, oxygen production, water regulation, climate buffering, aesthetics, relaxation, and spiritual enhancement. The boreal forest is home to billions of migratory and non-migratory birds, mammals, insects, spiders, reptiles, amphibians, plants, and fungi. Time spent in the woods is beneficial to our mental and physical health. Yes, the boreal forest is a necessary part of our human habitat.
Of course, it is easier to quantify the economic importance of Canada’s forest to Canadians. Our forests and forest industry supported directly and indirectly 288,669 jobs in 2014 and when the industry was at a low point it paid $8.657 billion in wages during 2012. Total revenue from goods manufactured by the industry was $53.159 billion in 2012 and total exports from the sector were valued at $30.774 billion in 2014.
Because of the immense importance of forests to Canada and the world, it is imperative that we sustain them and ensure their health. In order to do that, it is necessary to use proper forestry practices, which in many cases, particularly in Canada’s boreal forest, involves clear-cut harvesting. I acknowledge that probably the majority of Canadians believe that clear-cutting the forest is bad for the environment, but I intend to demonstrate in this book that if we are to live in, utilize, and sustain a healthy boreal forest, then clear-cut harvesting and even-aged stand management has to remain the predominant silvicultural system.
Some Comparative Statistics
Forests cover only 27 percent of the world’s four billion hectare land area. Because of human population increase and forest area shrinkage, the available forest per person has dropped from 0.8 hectares in 1990 to only 0.6 hectares in 2015. I feel that if that ratio continues to deteriorate we are headed for serious trouble. It is becoming clear to me that we must control our birthrate, sacrifice some of our wants, and co-operate at sustaining our forests.
Canada has a total of roughly 347 million hectares of forested area, or approximately 9 percent of the world’s total, and 9.5 hectares of forest for every one of its citizens. That provides us with a wealth of opportunity compared to the opportunity available to residents of most other nations. It also places a huge responsibility on each of us to ensure our forests are well managed.
Canada stands out in many ways among forested nations. For instance, only 6.2 percent of the Canadian forest is privately owned, and that is predominantly held by industry. The provinces own 76.6 percent, the territories 12.9 percent, aboriginal 2.0 percent, and the federal government 1.6 percent. The majority of forest harvesting in Canada is carried out by industry and their contractors through timber licences acquired from the provinces.
By comparison, in Finland, “individuals and families own some two-thirds of the Finnish forests.” “There are approximately 350,000 privately owned forests in Finland, making private, non-industrial forest owners central actors in the Finnish timber trade.” There, for practical reasons and economy of scale, land owners sell standing timber to firms that do the harvesting.
No two nations in the world have the same legislation, forest policies, land ownership patterns, climate, forest soil, plant and fauna species, and disturbance patterns. Even within Canada there are differences in all of those across the nation, sometimes over relatively short distances.
I have discovered in my reading that there is a trend among many nations, including in Canadian jurisdictions, toward returning forests to their more natural patterns. Most acknowledge that objective will never be fully achieved, because of our human need for resources.
Significantly, “more than 46 percent of the country’s forests are certified. As of 2015, Canada had 166 million hectares of independently certified forest land. That represents 43 percent of all certified forests worldwide, the largest area of third-party certified forests in any country.” I am proud of that.
Fire is the greatest renewal agent in the Canadian boreal forest. The average area burned each year for the past twenty-five years has been approximately 2.5 million hectares, with this area being consumed by an average of approximately 7,500 fires. Only 3 percent of the fires are responsible for burning 97 percent of the area that is burned,8 doing so in large firestorms. In comparison, timber harvesting is responsible for only a fraction as much depletion of Canada’s forests as that caused by fires. During 2015, the area harvested — 0.77 million hectares — was only 31 percent of that which is burned in the average year. Also in 2015, 0.44 million hectares, equivalent to 57 percent of the harvested area, was planted and 17.4 thousand hectares was seeded. The remainder was left to regenerate naturally.
Among the Nordic and Baltic nations, “The highest proportion of planted forests, but also the smallest forest area, is found in Denmark, with an estimated 66 percent share of productive planted forests (FAO 2014b). Second and third are, however, the two largest countries, Sweden and Finland, with planted forest shares of 43 and 26 percent, respectively.”
Never been in the boreal forest, or even if you have, take this instructive tour through the eyes and mind of one of Canada’s most perceptive and knowledgeable professional foresters.
Ken Armson, former Provincial Forester, Ontario
A clear, accessible narrative … an interesting companion read alongside The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohleben.
This is solid stuff — a comprehensive, factual review of why the boreal forest, which covers much of Canada, northern Europe, and Russia, benefits more from clear cutting than from selection harvesting, a program favoured by some. In a constructive and non-confrontational way, Mac Squires, a professional forester with decades of experience working in Canada’s boreal forests, examines how the trees in the forest reproduce, grow, and react to intervention — by natural disturbance and by humans — using all of this to explain his carefully considered position. For anyone interested in the health of the forest, I urge you to read this book.
Michael R. Innes, former Vice-President Environment, Abitibi-Price