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Economy, Forestry

Canadian softwood lumber, national forest inventory, Canadian jobs, total stock, Scandinavian countries

Forest products contribute significantly to regional and rural economies. The forest industry as a whole employs 370,000 people directly and an additional 510,000 in support services (1994 statistics). It is estimated that the full range of forestry activities—from logging, through manufacturing, to trade in wood products—generates 1 in 15 Canadian jobs. The industry accounted for 2.9 percent of Canada’s GDP in 1995 and 14.1 percent of goods exported.

Canada’s forests are about 10 percent of the world’s total forest area. Despite heavy harvesting by early settlers, forests, mainly coniferous, still cover 27 percent of the country’s land area. A national forest inventory is conducted every five years by Forestry Canada, the federal forestry agency, in cooperation with provincial and territorial agencies. Fifty-six percent of the 1996 inventory was considered commercial quality, and 28 percent of the total was actively managed for timber production, while 12 percent was protected in forest reserves. During the past 15 years, an average of 0.4 percent of the national stock of wood was harvested per year, and another 0.3 percent was lost to fire or pests.

Most of the forestland is owned and managed by the provincial and federal governments. Provincial governments control 71 percent of the total, leaving 23 percent in federal jurisdiction and 6 percent in private hands. Private lands include small woodlots and large industrial freeholds.

Canadian wood products are among the finest in the world: Canadian softwood lumber is made up of long fibers that provide a high strength-to-weight ratio, and Canadian pulp is known for strong, light-colored paper products. Canada is the world’s largest producer of newsprint: In 1995 it produced 27 percent of the world’s total and exported more than 85 percent of its production, supplying half the world’s export market for newsprint. The United States is the world’s second largest producer, at 18 percent, but uses nearly all of its output domestically. The Scandinavian countries are Canada’s most significant competitor in the timber trade, supplying 22 percent of world demand. Canada is also the world’s second largest producer of pulp, the third largest producer of sawn lumber, and the world’s largest exporter of softwood lumber. The forest industry is concentrated in British Columbia, Quebec, and Ontario. In 1991 the combined value added of forest products for these provinces was C$35.5 billion, about 85 percent of the national total for forest products. (Value added is the difference between the price of raw materials used in a product and the price it commands as a finished item.) The most important species, in order, are spruce, hemlock, cedar, and Douglas fir. Both the output of and employment in the forest industry declined during the early 1990s but began growing again in 1992.

The annual allowable cut for a forested area is the amount of timber that can be harvested each year without diminishing the long-term sustainability of the forest. Canada’s estimated annual allowable cut in 1996 was 230 million cu m (8.122 billion cu ft) or 0.6 percent of the total stock. There is uncertainty in many parts of the country over whether the current harvest rates are sustainable. Regional supplies vary considerably, and some local shortages have been identified. The provincial government of British Columbia tightened its rules on forestry practices in 1995. The same year, the federal and provincial ministers responsible for forestry published guidelines, entitled Defining Sustainable Forest Management, to standardize practices and ensure a viable industry for the future.

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