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Canadian National Forest Strategy

PRIVATE WOODLOTS: A Growing Opportunity

There are more than 425 000 woodlot owners in Canada. Together they own more than 18 million hectares of commercial productive forest land, or more than 12 percent of Canada's total. Woodlots are an important source of commercial timber, providing an annual harvest of 39,6 million cubic metres, or 21 percent of the national harvest. Woodlots are important as wildlife habitat, as reservoirs of biodiversity, as carbon sinks and as a source of clean water, since they are often the only forest in inhabited rural areas. Woodlots are important for their environmental and recreational values, and as a source of many specialty products. Canadian woodlots produce annually more than four million cubic metres of fuelwood, more than four million Christmas trees and 15 (DL) million litres of maple syrup. Other food, medicinal and ornamental products are growing in importance. Serving as windbreaks and shelterbelts, farm woodlots help increase crop yields, reduce fuel consumption and promote soil conservation.

Woodlots are much smaller than management units on publicly owned forests. Owners who harvest trees typically derive part-time income from their woodlots, carrying out small-scale, less mechanized operations than those on public and industrial land. Although larger-scale operations are normally associated with a processing facility, most woodlot owners require the woodlot itself to show reasonable profit potential.

Owners' objectives for woodlots are highly diverse. A woodlot may be a source of income or of firewood and other products for home use, a long-term investment, or perhaps an insurance policy or retirement savings fund. Recreation, spiritual renewal, wildlife conservation and a sense of commitment to future generations are other common objectives. An individual owner will often combine a number of these objectives, and change their priority over time according to family circumstances.

This diversity of objectives results in an unplanned, natural mosaic of varied forest conditions in the rural landscape. Differences are accentuated by variations in the quality of harvesting and other management practices from one owner to another. Besides reflecting owners' objectives and levels of commitment to good stewardship, woodlot management is influenced by local market conditions, availability of financing, silvicultural programs, technical services and a mixture of government policies. Those are the factors accounting for the diversity which woodlots contribute to the rural landscape.

In nine provinces, woodlot owners have formed associations as a tool for promoting cooperative efforts in managing their resources, marketing their products and providing other services.

The challenges confronting woodlot owners, their associations, and other agencies seeking to encourage sustainable development of woodlots have changed over the five-year span of the 1992 National Forest Strategy. At the beginning of the period, finding profitable markets for timber was a challenge. Prices and demand have since risen in many areas for some species, so that harvests have increased in some cases above sustainable levels.

The end of federal-provincial Forest Resource Development Agreements (FRDAs) which provided direct funding for silviculture has resulted in large reductions in the amount of intensive silviculture practised on woodlots. Development of alternative funding mechanisms for silviculture programs has been a major challenge. In some provinces, stakeholders have developed methods for sharing the cost of investment in silviculture.

Services for transfer of education and knowledge on woodlot management to woodlot owners have ended or been reduced since the end of FRDAs. Most provincial forest extension services -- where they existed -- have also been reduced since 1992, weakening the technical support network for woodlot owners. Development of effective ways to fill that void remains a major challenge to sustainable development of woodlots across the country.

A rising interest in sustainable forest management certification confronts owners with new challenges. The proportion of well-managed woodlots must be increased. Methods must be developed to coordinate individual land use choices so that regional targets can be achieved. Mechanisms for public consultation that respect individual owners' rights must be established.

A review of the federal income tax system's effect on woodlot management was completed in 1992. Interest in implementation of the review's recommendations has been limited, up to 1997. Over-harvesting and reduced funds for silviculture in many provinces amplify the need to remove disincentives or create incentives to sustainable management of woodlots.

Some information on woodlot resources and management has been developed in some provinces, but it is generally of lower quality than information on public land. Lack of information about harvesting and silviculture levels, combined with delays in updating basic resource inventories, has led to difficulties in estimating and managing for sustainable yields on private lands. It is a major obstacle to efforts to develop landscape management strategies and to move toward sustainable ecosystem management on private land.

Over-harvesting of woodlots and conversion to agricultural use and crop production are major concerns. A general increase in public concern about sustainability of natural resources and landscapes has increased the pressure on governments and woodlot owner associations to act decisively to improve the overall level of woodlot management. This growing pressure, coinciding with a period of reduced support in several key areas, has contributed to uncertainty among woodlot owners about the prospects for profitable development of their resources.

Just as challenges facing woodlot owners have increased since 1992, so have opportunities for developing more profitable and productive woodlots. Demand for timber, recreation and other products, including non-commercial services such as clean water and attractive landscapes, is increasing in most parts of Canada. A major challenge lies with incentives that would make environmental and other non-timber investments economically feasible. Effective policies and partnerships of associations and governments with other stakeholders will determine success in realizing the potential of woodlots in the coming five years.

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Private woodlots provide important environmental, economic, social and cultural benefits to their owners and to the community. Consequently, the community has a responsibility to contribute to the sustainable development of private woodlots.

Sustainable development of woodlots will increase the level and range of benefits available to their owners and to the community at large.

Woodlot owner awareness, education and knowledge are of major importance for the attainment of sustainable development of woodlots.

Woodlot owners have property rights that include determining the objectives for which their forests will be managed. As owners they hold a responsibility to sustainably manage their woodlots, as circumstances permit, within the rural landscape.

Expectation of a fair return for investments made in the woodlot sector is a prerequisite to sustainable development of woodlots. Assessment of fair returns must also include costs absorbed by owners to maintain environmental and social benefits enjoyed by the larger community.

Framework for Action

We will increase the environmental, economic, social and cultural benefits derived from woodlots:

8.1 By developing comprehensive strategies for the sustainable development of woodlots, which will assess the woodlot sector in the forestry, social and economic and environmental contexts; identify barriers to sustainable development; and establish targets and funding commitments to achieve the potential of woodlots.

8.2 By establishing clear policies to address the challenges stated in this strategic direction and establish a calendar for action on:

  • incentives to invest in woodlot management including appropriate taxation and woodlot management programs.
  • inventories of woodlot resources and land use;
  • fair access to market, opportunities for value-added products and fair return for sale of timber and other products;
  • silviculture and harvest standards to optimize output of a full range of forest products;
  • woodlot owner education, woodlot research and knowledge transfer appropriate to the requirements of small-scale, multi-use forestry; and,
  • regional landscape management and planning.

8.3 By implementing changes to the Federal Income Tax Act and to provincial and municipal taxation which will contribute in a constructive way to investments in and fair returns from the sustainable development of woodlots.

8.4 By defining mechanisms and priorities for conducting appropriate inventories of woodlots, which will improve data on forests, including timber and other forest resources.

8.5 By developing value-added strategies for woodlot products, to market a broader range of timber and other products.

8.6 By carrying out afforestation of marginal agricultural lands, through the implementation of proper land use planning and incentive programs.

8.7 By identifying private woodlot research needs, undertaking relevant research and establishing mechanisms through which new knowledge can be transferred to woodlot owners.

8.8 By developing, implementing and financing appropriate woodlot owners' education programs, technology transfer and other knowledge transfer programs, which will strengthen the woodlot owners' capacity to pursue sustainable development.

8.9 By establishing a consultative committee to the federal minister for the woodlot sector, to provide advice and encourage good communications within the sector.

We will promote regional landscape management and planning that includes woodlots :

8.10 By developing closer links with other associations concerned with forest tenure and other land uses, in support of optimal land allocation and use among competing users.

8.11 By developing and implementing protection and conservation measures concerning woodlands under private tenure, in order to prevent loss of woodlot ecosystems and private forest to housing, agricultural, industrial or other uses.

8.12 By ensuring that woodlots and woodlot management are recognized in the development of policies that may indirectly affect sustainable development of woodlots.

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