Canadian Geographic
Left navigation image
Future of forestry


Canada’s abundance of natural resources is the backbone of the national economy, allowing the country to play a significant role in international trade. The continued importance of Canada’s primary sector, with the forest, agriculture, mining and oil industries benefiting from strong export orientation, sets the nation apart from other developed countries. Canada continues to be the world’s biggest exporter of forest products, with the United States as its largest buyer.

In addition, vast improvements to the forest-products industry’s environmental practices, including reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and utilizing better sustainable-forest-management practices, have helped to establish Canada’s forest-products industry as a world leader in addressing climate change.

The Canadian forest-products industry directly employs about 240,000 Canadians in its forests, sawmills and pulp-and-paper facilities. Together with other natural-resource-based enterprises, the forest-products industry is the economic mainstay of many rural communities across Canada. One hundred ninety-two communities (census subdivisions) rely significantly on forestry. Half of them depend on it for at least 50 percent of their household income, while about one-quarter of them rely solely on forestry.

The 21st century has been challenging for Canada’s forest-products industry. Since 2004, demand for forest products has weakened — the result of a decline in newspaper printing, as people increasingly turn to the internet for information. But the most significant negative impact on the industry’s economic success so far is the housing crisis in the United States, due to the deep recession of 2008-09. U.S. housing starts in 2010 were 75 percent below their 2006 peak of 2.2 million units, causing lumber demand and prices to reach historical lows. These factors were responsible for the recent closures of Canadian sawmills and forest-products factories as well as 85,000 job losses since 2006.

While the prosperity of the nation’s forest-products industry has declined over the past few years, major transformational improvements have been made during this downturn. The industry recognized the need for environmental improvements years ago, and over the past few decades, it has worked to improve the way in which the forest base is managed. In fact, compared with the rate of change in the previous 20 years, the most significant changes have occurred this decade, and changes are expected to happen even more rapidly in the next 20 years.

Two major factors are behind these changes. The first is that the industry now has a better understanding of landscape through recent scientific findings and the adaptation to new information on the ground. The second relates to the changing values of Canadians — more is expected from companies working in the nation’s forests.

Over the past decade, FPAC members have made commitments to integrate sustainable-forest-management practices. With the largest area of third-party-certified forest in the world, the Canadian forest-products industry has worked toward ensuring that all purchased wood products come from legal sources, has improved effluent quality and has reduced water use.

Change is occurring at the mill level as well. Canada’s pulp-and-paper sector has reduced its greenhouse-gas emissions by 84 percent since 1990, surpassing Canada’s Kyoto targets more than 10 times over, while increasing production. All of this is transforming Canada’s forest-products industry into the world’s most environmentally progressive.

Building on this green consciousness, nine leading environmental organizations and 21 forest-products companies came together on May 18, 2010, to sign the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (CBFA). The Agreement covers 72 million hectares of boreal forest, making it the largest commercial-forest conservation plan in history.

Becoming more innovative and harvesting more value from every tree is the new face of forestry in Canada. The move toward cutting-edge green technologies will help secure jobs and position the forest-products industry as a player in the bioeconomy of the future.


This piece features a series of facts and statistics of the Canadian forest industry in present day, as well as an interactive map representing employment figures throughout the country.


On the next page:


Go now!  Go now!
Quiz :

Which animal's habitat is the focus of the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement?

Black-footed ferret
Snowy owl
Boreal population of the woodland caribou