Restoring forests: how we can protect the water we drink and the air we breathe

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Date: January-February 2015
From: Alternatives Journal(Vol. 41, Issue 1)
Publisher: Alternatives, Inc.
Document Type: Article
Length: 2,389 words
Lexile Measure: 1330L

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EMILY CARR'S work as an artist, writer and environmentalist captured not only the importance and beauty of Canada's forests, but also their complexity. Her painting and writing communicated strong messages about forest diversity and resilience, and starkly illustrated the effects of poor forest stewardship. Nearly a century later, we are still seeking the appropriate balance between economic and ecological factors, made all the more challenging by climate change.

Canada's forests account for nine per cent of all forests and 24 per cent of boreal forests worldwide. They buffer the world from rapid climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and moderating local climate, water flow and air quality. Our forests are home to two-thirds of all our species and are the source of more than 65 per cent of our water. Except for the past two decades, forests have been our primary sinks for greenhouse gases. Over 70 per cent of our Aboriginal communities reside in forested areas that are foundational to their cultures and ways of life. In 2013, forest harvesting contributed $19.8-billion to the nation's GDP and directly employed 216,500 people.

But Canada's forests are under siege by resource extraction and shifts in the types and extent of natural disturbances due to climate change. This is starkly revealed in the federal government's own State of Canada's Forests report, which shows that 3.9 per cent of our forests were disturbed in 2013 by insects, fire and logging, and for economic development. This is roughly four times the rate of disturbance expected for sustainable forest management. Government scientists expect the effects of climate change on forests to amplify with time.

In 2014, Canada made embarrassing headlines when the World Resources Institute (WRI) reported that we have accounted for 21.4 per cent of worldwide forest degradation over the past 13 years, the highest rate globally. The tar sands of Alberta, along with increased forest fires, were highlighted as major drivers of this degradation. The State of Canada's Forests report paints a rosier picture, but the WRI, an independent watchdog, has made clear that Canada's forest policies and practices focus on economic growth at the expense of environmental sustainability. Such single-minded management in this era of rapid climate change could undermine the natural resilience of our forests.

Although change in forests is normal, people are now causing change at much faster rates than in the past. Climate change caused by human activities has lengthened summers and increased drought, creating the fuel and weather conditions for earlier, more frequent and more severe forest fires. This is obvious to the locals in British Columbia, Yukon and Northwest Territories, who, in recent years, have experienced some of the driest and smokiest summer conditions in recorded history.

Warming temperatures have also created ideal conditions for massive insect and disease outbreaks. Mild winters allowed populations of the tiny mountain pine beetle to explode in British Columbia. Imagine the shock for people in forest-dependent communities like Quesnel, BC, as they watched their pine-dominated landscapes turn from...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A410902026