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The Canadian Forest

Canadian National Forest Strategy

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Sustainable Forests -- 1998 - 2003

This National Forest Strategy is meant to guide Canada's efforts in sustainable forest management as we enter a new millennium. It is a renewed plan of action to deal in a forthright manner with the connectedness among the ecological, economic, social and cultural aspects of forest use and conservation.

To understand the current stage of evolution in setting forest policy at the national level, we need to review recent milestones that mark Canadian forestry. This century has seen unequalled acceleration in human population, widespread industrialization, globalization of markets, the advent of the information age and the emergence of a global economy based on both material and informational resources.

In contrast to the globalization of the economy, fundamental ideological rifts are occurring worldwide between cultures which suggest or perhaps simply remind us of the overarching importance of reconciling economic pursuits with human values and relations, and with nature's ability to sustain human activity.

1906 - 1992: Broadening Considerations and Interests

A broadly based conservation movement brought about Canada's first national forest congress, presided over by Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier, in 1906. The congress resulted in important changes. With the cooperation of governments and businesses, forest services were set up to protect and manage the forests, and interest prompted Canada's first forestry university program in 1907.

The following sixty years were marked by World War I, the Great Depression, World War II and post-war recovery. By then it was time to look again at emerging challenges in the forest, and a series of national reviews to assess Canada's forests began. In 1966, representatives of the forest sector across the country gathered in Montebello, Quebec, to review forest development. In 1977, the first National Forest Regeneration Conference was sponsored by the Canadian Forestry Association. This was followed in 1981 by A Forest Sector Strategy for Canada. These events helped to define the nature of the issues more clearly and to expand Canada's forest management efforts accordingly.

In the mid-1980s, public forums on the situation of forests and future of the forest sector were sponsored by the newly formed Canadian Council of Forest Ministers (CCFM), culminating in a National Forest Congress in 1986. The results provided the basis for A National Forest Sector Strategy in 1987, produced under the direction of the CCFM. It constituted Canada's first truly national and comprehensive statement of strategic concerns and objectives. However, in philosophy it still reflected a primary concern with sustaining timber yields, as explained in this statement dating from 1910: "... our legislators ... are well aware that forests feed springs, prevent floods, hinder erosion, shelter from storms, give health and recreation, protect game and fish, and give the country aesthetic features. However, the Dominion Forest Reserve policy has for its motto: 'Seek ye first the production of wood and its right use -- and all these other things will be added unto it'."

While progress was made on key recommendations in the 1987 Strategy, the CCFM, recognizing society's changing attitudes toward its forests, set out in 1990 to achieve consensus on much broader directions for forest management. New directions would consider the forest ecosystem as well as social, cultural and economic values, as expressed by the Brundtland Commission (the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development). Views were sought from a wide range of Canadians at regional meetings, through workbook commentaries and in a national workshop. Successive drafts were reviewed and, by means of hundreds of letters, phone calls and faxes, Canadians helped to shape the final form and content of the 1992 national forest strategy, Sustainable Forests: A Canadian Commitment.

A clearcut forest

1992 - 1998: Interrelationships and Converging Interests

The 1992 National Forest Congress brought together a unique partnership of federal, provincial and territorial governments, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, industry, academia, private woodlot owner associations, Aboriginal groups, and environmental and other non-government organizations. Their commitment to making the 1992 National Forest Strategy a reality across Canada was confirmed with the signing of the first Canada Forest Accord. To ensure that the Strategy was implemented in an open, coordinated, holistic and directed fashion, the CCFM encouraged the establishment of a government and non-government coalition whose purpose was to oversee the implementation of the Strategy from planning to evaluation. The signatories of the Accord formed the National Forest Strategy Coalition.

As participants noted, the ecological, economic, social and cultural aspects of forest use and conservation are all interrelated. One of the most striking features of the 1992 Strategy was that the nine Strategic Directions reflected this connectedness, both within themselves and from one to another.

The partners to the Strategy defined a total of 96 commitments to action. A few highlights of achievement include the following:

  • Eleven model forests involving more than 250 organizations have been established as working models of sustainable forest management. Canada has also led the development of an international network of model forests, now numbering eight in four countries.
  • Most provinces now require forest companies to consider, before they harvest on Crown lands, all foreseeable impacts from their activities and to minimize any adverse impacts on soil, wildlife and even climate.
  • Codes of practice that support sustainable forest management have been or are being adopted by governments, industries, labour and professional organizations.
  • Education and research institutions and forest managers have shifted focus to apply the principles of sustainable forestry and to develop ecological and adaptive management methods.
  • More financial resources are being dedicated as a matter of priority to environmentally sound forestry technologies.
  • Internationally, Canada is recognized as a leader in sustainable forest management.
  • The Strategy was instrumental to Canadian representations at the 1992 United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development (UNCED), which resulted in the Forest Principles, and afterwards in addressing all relevant forest-related commitments stemming from the UNCED.
"The Strategy was an ambitious undertaking.  It involved the active participation of a wide array of organizations and it required a demonstration of what has been accomplished.  We continue to believe there is a genuine desire among the signatories to fulfill the Strategy's goal and vision, as well as among Canadians in general.  This is demonstrated in the progress that has been made toward meeting the Strategy's commitments, and by the enthusiasm and helpfulness of those who responded during this evaluation.

"In a broad sense, the signatories to the Forest Accord (and non-signatories) have, by and large, done what they said they would do.  What is not clear is the degree to which their activities have brought them to where they wanted to be.

"Having said that, the evidence we examined illustrates a clear dedication to doing the things necessary for achieving the intended ends of the Strategy...We conclude Canada probably is moving toward sustainable forest management, but at the moment this is only measurable in terms of local forests, and not yet on a national scale.

"In the Mid-term Evaluation, we noted that Canada had made substantial and meaningful progress in contributing to wise management of forests in a global context.   This continues to be true.  Canada continues to be a leader in advocating the importance of the global sustainability of, and the wise use of, the world's forest resources.  The Strategy still stands out as a unique example of an effort to mobilize resources on a national scale expressed in demanding commitments with wide scope that requires a broad range of participation.  The undertaking was encompassing, and in that context, the progress is reassuring."

Source:  National Forest Strategy Final Evaluation Report, Blue Ribbon Panel, 1997

One of Canada's commitments was to develop a Canadian framework of criteria and indicators to guide the sustainable development of forests. Defining Sustainable Forest Management: A Canadian Approach to Criteria and Indicators was released by the CCFM on October 19, 1995. The result of a two-year consultative process, these criteria and indicators reflect the values of Canadians and the forest uses they find desirable. As such the Canadian criteria and indicators serve to define sustainable forest management and guide the development of related policies and business activities. They complement the principles, values and vision expressed in the 1992 National Forest Strategy already reflected in some provincial forest strategies and in efforts to develop a national system of certification for sustainable forest management.

The 1992 Strategy was the first in which participants insisted that progress be evaluated by an independent panel and that the results be published. Four nationally respected scientists and experts were appointed and provided with resources by which to review and evaluate the actions taken. They conducted both a mid-term and a final review.

  • The mid-term review highlighted four key commitments that required further effort:
  • completing an ecological classification of forest lands;
  • working toward completing, by the year 2000, a network of protected areas representative of Canada's forests;
  • broadening the scope of forest inventories to include information on a wide range of forest values; and,
  • developing a system of national indicators to measure and report regularly on progress in achieving sustainable forest management.
Looking to the future, in the final review the panel restated those points and cautioned that efforts must be maintained. It also drew attention to four other issues that require special attention:
  • Aboriginal forestry;
  • measuring on-the-ground changes;
  • mid-career training; and,
  • private-land forests.

The panel also noted the flux in society: "Clearly, forest management objectives, and techniques for achieving those objectives, have developed rapidly over this period within a broader, changing context of evolving societal values. Although most of the original commitments continue to be relevant, some of them will have to be rewritten to reflect changes, not only as a result of actions by the Coalition, and advances in forest science and technology, but also as a result of changes in Canadian society with respect to expectations of 'our forests'."

In conclusion the panel stated: "It appears to this Panel that there is reasonable evidence that Canada is moving toward sustainable forest management where the word forest is used in an encompassing context. We are not there yet and progress is uneven across the country, but the Strategy has provided a framework for action. As shown in the specific analysis of our report, many of the commitments of the Strategy will continue to be relevant as guides to further action, albeit in some cases modified to reflect the changes since 1992.

This sets the stage for the 1997-1998 consultations leading to the 1998 National Forest Strategy, which clearly builds on the previous work and extends into the new millennium to 2003.

The CCFM gratefully acknowledges the help of many organizations and individuals who participated in this most recent cooperative national effort, most of whom were also involved with the 1992 Canada Forest Accord. Their thoughtful and ongoing contributions reflect the sincere commitment of many Canadians to the health of their forests.  

The National Forest Strategy (1998 - 2003) -- Sustainable Forests: A Canadian Commitment represents the collective vision of all of us for the future of our forests. This is a progressive agenda for Canada's forest stewardship.

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