The future of Canada's forests

It's hard to imagine a landscape that touches Canadians in as many diverse, important ways as our forests do. It's equally difficult to think of another landscape that requires as much complex management.

I recently participated in a briefing session of assistant deputy ministers involved in forests across Canada, and I can attest that the hard work, strong cooperation and broad engagement are the new normal.

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=That's because, more than just part of our environment and economy, Canadian forests are a way of life. And forest managers are collaborating across widespread geographies and integrating a broad range of disciplines to ensure forests remain strong and healthy for Canada's next 150 years and beyond.

This summer's devastating forest fires that affected parts of the country from B.C. to Ontario are a stark reminder of how forests can affect our everyday lives. And if not for the brave firefighters and support crew who helped fight the fires, the impacts could have been far worse.

While the forest sector will focus on restoration efforts, the fires are also an opportunity to take stock, to plan for future forests, and to identify how best we can continue to conserve them.

Third party certification systems like the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) require forest managers to take into account these damages and develop reforestation plans and forest management plans to help ensure the forest ecosystem continues to provide ecological, economic and social benefits and that planning occurs for future forests.

Our forests can help mitigate climate change impacts by absorbing and storing carbon in trees, soil and biomass. And the stored carbon within every forest product helps reduce the amount of CO2 that would otherwise be emitted.

SFI ensures forests certified to our standard are well-managed for rigorous environmental, social and economic values. As we consider the present and future impacts of climate change, and how best to intervene, our forests will continue to play an increasingly important role in carbon reduction efforts.

At SFI, we're funding research with the Saskatchewan Research Council and Canadian Forest Service to help understand the carbon values of specific managed forests across the country. With Saskatchewan Research Council and Ducks Unlimited Canada, we're also working to help develop methodologies to improve our understanding of carbon values of wetlands within forest ecosystems.

Forests have always been central to the lives of Canada's Indigenous people and today there's a substantial rise in First Nations participation in the sector as it employs more than 9,000 Indigenous people, including those working within more than 1,200 Indigenous businesses.

The industry, in cooperation with senior levels of government, is working closely and collaboratively with Indigenous people across the country, developing new approaches to forest management and land use that allow for greater Indigenous involvement.

Because forest certification is important for improved access to markets worldwide, SFI has worked with Indigenous people to develop an umbrella approach to the standard.

This allows many Indigenous forestry operations, otherwise unable to afford certification, instead to pool their resources and acquire SFI certification, ensuring well-managed forests and improved access to mills for timber processing.

While the forest sector has become much more inclusive, it's also innovating at an increasing pace. And it's this innovation that allows us to adjust dynamically to changing conditions on the ground - whether through innovative wetlands management, or research into species migration patterns.

Forest managers are also applying new techniques to manage better for the multiple species in our forests. Multiple-species management, including protection for endangered species, allows forest managers to consider the full complexity in a forest ecosystem and to enhance biodiversity protection. For example, work with fRI Research has helped demonstrate key areas for habitat restoration to conserve both caribou and grizzly bear to ensure the needs of both these species are met whenever possible.

For our part, SFI is more than a standards body; we work at the intersection of thriving forests, sustainable communities and responsible procurement - notions barely dreamed of during the past 150 years.

The forest sector has witnessed incredible change. That's why we look forward to strengthening this inclusive, sustainable and innovative sector, and to sharing in the hard work, cooperation and engagement that will characterize the future of our forests.

- Kathy Abusow is president and CEO of SFI Inc., which works to show how responsible forest management can maximize the environmental, economic and social values that matter to all of us.

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