Canada's Legal Forest Products


Canada has an excellent reputation as a supplier of forest products from legal and sustainable sources.  With an extensive and rigorous system of forest governance, Canada has a negligible incidence of suspicious log supply.   It is also a leader in third-party forest certification, with more land certified to voluntary, market-based forest certification programs than any other country.

Canada – A leader in forest governance

Canada has a robust system of procedures to ensure that forests are governed in the public interest.  Several reports and studies have confirmed that Canada's forest management policies and practices are among the most stringent in the world.

Canada is also a country that respects the rule of law and achieves consistent ratings as a jurisdiction with a very low incidence of corruption (see indices maintained by Transparency International and the World Bank).  Corruption indices support the findings by organizations in Canada's export markets that Canadian wood products are of negligible risk with respect to illegality.

As a supplier of forest products from legal and sustainable sources, Canada is in a good position as consumer countries act to prevent illegal logging and the trade in illegal timber.  Consumers of forest products harvested in Canada can be confident that the wood they are buying was obtained legally and is not contributing to the serious negative economic, environmental and social impacts that are associated with illegal logging in many areas of the world.

The risk of illegal logging is negligible everywhere across Canada, regardless of the region. As importers in some countries seek to comply with legislative and regulatory requirements related to illegal logging, they may request Canadian exporters to document that their forest products are made of timber harvested in Canada. Information provided on this page and throughout this site will help Canadian exporters provide assurance to their buyers that laws and regulations are in place to ensure the legality of Canada's wood supply.

Canada's Forest Governance Framework

Canada has approximately 400 million hectares of forest or other wooded land, 92% of which is publicly owned.  The federal, provincial and territorial governments share responsibility for these public forests.

 Public forests - Provinces and Territories lands

Canada is a federation of ten provinces and three territories.  Under the division of responsibilities in Canada's constitution, the provinces and territories have jurisdiction over 90% of the country's forests.  This jurisdiction includes the authority to develop and enforce legislation, regulations and policies related to forests.

Each province and territory develops its own set of forestry legislation and policy. Specific laws may differ between provinces and territories, but all are focused on the same goal: sustainable forest management (SFM) that considers a wide range of values, including communities, wildlife, biodiversity, soils, water and scenery.  Governments support SFM with laws, regulations and policies that address land-use planning, forest practices, forest regeneration, Aboriginal interests, public consultation, biodiversity, protected areas, natural disturbances and more.

The provinces and territories use a variety of tenure (concession) arrangements to confer rights and responsibilities to companies operating in public forests.  These arrangements do not necessarily grant the authority to harvest timber.  Governments must approve forest management plans and issue harvest authorities before any trees are felled.  Failure to comply with approved plans and harvesting permits can result in stiff penalties, including suspension of the authority to harvest, fines, seizure of timber and even imprisonment.

Each jurisdiction closely monitors companies operating in public forests and requires formal reporting on these activities.  In addition, the provinces and territories operate systems of checks and controls to track the timber that is removed from these lands.  Government agencies responsible for enforcement will conduct routine compliance audits, as well as investigations where there are reports and evidence of a contravention. Enforcement activities may lead to the issuance of warnings, tickets, fines or other penalties.  The most serious infractions are prosecuted through the court system.

All jurisdictions collect royalties for trees harvested on public lands. These royalties, also known as stumpage, are received by provincial and territorial governments.

The following links connect to fact sheets about the extensive laws, licenses, permits, and enforcement systems in place in each of Canada's provinces and territories.  The fact sheets also provide an overview of the ownership and use patterns of forested lands in each jurisdiction, as well as information about third-party certification and consultation with Aboriginal peoples and the public. 




Northwest Territories

British Columbia

Yukon (Territory)


New Brunswick

Newfoundland & Labrador

Nova Scotia


Prince Edward Island



The Territory of Nunavut is excluded because there is minimal forest harvesting activity within the territory

 The provinces and territories have jurisdiction over the management of most forested lands, but forestry operations are also bound by some national legislation. The comprehensive laws and regulations enforced by the provinces and territories are designed to address the requirements of federal legislation relevant to forests, such as the Species at Risk Act, the Fisheries Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Forestry activities must also comply with international agreements to which Canada is a signatory, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Public forests - Federal lands

The federal government owns 2% of Canada's public forests.  These forests are mainly located in national parks, lands owned by the Department of  National Defence and First Nations reserve lands.

Forestry operations on federal lands are limited and place relatively small volumes of timber into the supply chain.  Where these operations occur, they are governed by the Forestry Act and accompanying Timber Regulations, or by legislation enabling forest harvesting on reserve land.  Provincial and territorial legislation also applies, except when overridden by federal legislation.  Forest management plans that make provisions for inventories, harvesting, silviculture and other related activities are generally required.  Contract or permits must be prepared prior to commencement of harvesting activities which delineate areas to be cut, scaling of timber, receipt of revenue, supervision of cutting activities and identification of environmental constraints.

The following link connects to fact sheet about the extensive laws, licenses, permits, and enforcement systems in place for Canada's federal lands.

 Private lands

The remaining 6% of Canada's forests are privately owned.  There are some large tracts of forest owned by timber companies, for example in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Vancouver Island (in British Columbia).  The rest is primarily divided amongst thousands of small family-owned forests or woodlots located across Canada.  Approximately 1/7 of the total volume of logs, bolts and pulpwood harvested in Canada comes from private lands.[1]

Forest management on private lands is supported by both provincial and municipal regulations, guidelines and partnership programs. Many private landowners use forest management plans and take advantage of government programs to guide their stewardship and harvesting activities.  Some provinces have laws that set standards for forest management practices on private lands. Most provinces have regulatory mechanisms in place to track timber harvested from private lands so that it can be differentiated from public timber (for which royalties must be paid). These mechanisms include regulations for timber scaling, timber marking and transportation.

At the border

Canada is the second largest exporter of primary forest products in the world, but it also imports wood and wood products. Most of these imports are associated with cross-border trade with the United States, which is also a low risk jurisdiction for illegal harvesting.  The forest products sector in Canada and the United States is highly integrated with logs and other timber products crossing the border to supply mills in both countries.  Canada also imports relatively small volumes of wood products from other sources.

Under the Customs Act, all goods imported to Canada must be reported to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). Border services officers may examine any goods that are imported or exported, and can detain any goods until they are satisfied that the importation or exportation complies with the Customs Act or any other Act of Parliament.

Preventing imports of illegally harvested forest products

Canada is a party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CITES is an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

As a party to CITES, Canada has enacted legislation for enforcing the Convention.  This legislation is the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act (WAPPRIITA). Environment Canada is the lead federal agency responsible for enforcing WAPPRIITA.

In addition to the trade rules for CITES-regulated tree species, Section 6 (1) of WAPPRIITA states that "no person shall import into Canada any animal or plant that was taken, or any animal or plant, or any part or derivative of an animal or plant, that was possessed, distributed or transported in contravention of any law of any foreign state."

Environment and Climate Change Canada works with a broad range of partners, including the Canada Border Services Agency, to ensure that imports comply with CITES and with relevant legislation and regulations in foreign countries for non-CITES species.  Differentiating between wood products from CITES-listed tree species and other tree species can be technically challenging.

To help address this problem, Canada has created and distributed internationally the CITES Identification Guide – Tropical Woods and is working on means to increase the reliability of species identification on trade permits, customs forms, border declarations and associated documents.  For instance, through the Single Window Initiative, Canada is examining the feasibility of a digital coding system for taxonomic names that international customs and other regulatory authorities could use to better capture electronic trade data for plants and animals. Digital coding would enhance the ability to intercept timber and timber products from protected tree species, and perhaps also those harvested illegally.

[1] Source: National Forestry Database, 2011

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