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BY TONY KRYZANOWSKI
Recent events—such as the most devastating wild fire season in Canadian history—which to some degree is a consequence of a changing climate, has put forest health and its maximum value at risk.
Historically, Canadian forest health has frequently faced similar challenges, but they have been overcome by adapting appropriate forest management practices. That same effort is needed now, given how our changing climate is impacting the health of our forests.
A good example of a past national initiative implemented to mitigate a challenge to forest health and maximizing its value was the reforestation backlog program of the 1980s and 1990s (Forest Development and Partnership Agreements in Forestry) to address a lack of maintenance and sustainability of the natural forest mix. Major initiatives were launched, combining the resources of the Government of Canada, and provincial and territorial governments, to address the issue of maintaining the forest’s values such as its natural species mix, size, scale and occupancy across various sites in Canada.
One of the main issues at the time was related to the reduction in volumes and tolerance of softwood species. They had establishment issues as it related to natural regeneration after harvesting activities. There was a noticeable reduction of softwood components in the forest mix. Forest development agreements primarily between the federal government and provinces resulted in a national initiative to address the dwindling softwood component in the forest by stimulating activity on the ground that advanced site management practices. This program was successful in recovering the distribution and production of the softwood component in the forest mix across Canada.
Today and since the turn of the century, the impact on forest health resulting from a changing climate has become evident with fluctuations in temperatures throughout the year, variation in snowpack and summer moisture, and wind and temperature extremes. This has resulted in pathogens and pests, as well as vegetation competition, some of which are exotic, that would not normally be associated with these types of forest conditions. But because of a changing climate, they have adapted and established themselves within Canadian forests, impacting them in a negative manner. This has also resulted in single species stands becoming more susceptible to wild fire, as is quite evident this year, more so than the volume and intensity of wild fires that would naturally occur had these changing climate issues not occurred.
“We now need a major movement toward adapting our management practices, not by completely changing what we are doing now, but taking our novel practices, ingenuity and resources as it relates to management skills and expertise, and applying them in the forest in a manner that will minimize the risk to social and economic values while maintaining forest health,” says Derek Sidders, Program Manager Technology Development and Transfer at the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC).
One of the main goals should be forest diversity, including biodiversity in combination with a healthy forest that can sustain an economic component, providing quality material with valuable attributes for solid wood products, composites, and pulp and paper products.
“We have also developed the most advanced fire behavior and intelligence systems in the world, mimicked and adopted by many other countries, and have a tonne of expertise on the ground as it relates to forest and fire management,” says Sidders.
This includes local management expertise distributed right across Canada. Many have been dabbling in novel treatments and managements that have enhanced their ability to manage their preferred species and/or habitats to maintain a healthy and economically valuable forest resource for their local communities, company employees, and the public.
The Canadian Wood Fibre Centre/Canadian Forest Service’s primary mandate is to protect and maintain forest values for Canadians. As such, they have developed a significant research catalogue related to tweaking various management practices to maximize value and health while minimizing vulnerability to the variety of climate, weather, and physical issues challenging the maintenance of a long term cover crop. There are many opportunities to learn from the legacy and historical demonstrations, trials and research studies developed over decades by individuals working within the CWFC/CFS research, forest stakeholder, and forest management networks.
Furthermore, the Two Billion Tree Program and other Government of Canada and partner tree planting and habitat and tree planting enhancement programs contribute to the adoption of climate change mitigation and adaptation practices and programs.
Fundamentally, it will also take a commitment from commercial consumers of the forest to adopt and apply proven, novel initiatives to maintain a healthy and resilient forest, given the challenges presented by a changing climate in today’s world.