In Canada, the boreal region stretches across the top of the country from Newfoundland and Labrador to British Columbia and the Yukon. This remote region began to form after the retreat of the glaciers approximately 10,000 years ago and accounts for almost one third of the country's land mass and close to three-quarters of its wooded land.
Worldwide, the boreal region makes up 10% of the earth's land, and almost one third of its forests. It produces oxygen, filters air and water, stores carbon and offers a biological reservoir with plant, animal and other life often unique to the region.
The Canadian boreal forest began to form after the retreat of the glaciers approximately 10,000 years ago. Natural disturbances such as fire and insects have played, and continue to play, a major role in the boreal forest's development and renewal.
While parts of Canada’s boreal region contain significant amounts of relatively undisturbed forest, most stands are replaced naturally by fire, insects, diseases and wind or ice storms every 100 years or so. The oldest trees and stands are those that have escaped the natural catastrophic disturbances that renew forests.
Trees in the boreal forest generally live 100 years, with the oldest trees living up to 300 years. Balsam fir stands often show old-growth characteristics at 70 to 80 years, while the old-growth onset for black spruce is closer to 110 to 160 years. Averages change depending on site conditions.
The actual age, quantity of dead wood, and other old-growth attributes vary depending on the species composition and environmental conditions of a particular forest. Although the range of species and general soil conditions across Canada’s vast boreal region do not change dramatically, there are substantial differences in the landscape patterns and their succession .
The boreal region is integral to Canada's history, culture, economy and natural environment. It is home to half of Canada's 450 bird species - as many as five billion birds migrate south and return north each year. While parts of Canada’s boreal region contain significant amounts of relatively undisturbed forest, most stands are replaced naturally by fire, insects, diseases and wind or ice storms every 100 years or so.
Wildfire is critical to the health, renewal and survival of the boreal forest, turning the leaves, logs and conifer needles on the forest floor into nutrient-rich ash to nourish new plant growth, and opening up the canopy to sunlight. The oldest trees and stands are those which have escaped the natural catastrophic disturbances that renew forests.
The Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement
On May 18, 2010, the 21 member companies of the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) and nine leading environmental non-governmental organizations announced the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement. The private agreement covers about 25% of the 307 million hectares of boreal forest across Canada and outlines the relationship between the parties.
The Agreement recognizes that the provincial and territorial governments have the responsibility and ultimate authority for forest management, land and resource decisions. It also recognizes that aboriginal peoples have constitutionally protected rights that must be respected in order for the Agreement to fulfil, as applicable, its objectives. Provincial and territorial governments, including First Nation governments, may choose to use any outcomes from the Agreement to inform their decision-making.
The majority (93%) of Canada’s forest lands are publicly-owned. Under Canada’s Constitution, forest management and land-use decisions are the responsibility of the provincial and territorial governments, and each jurisdiction has its own legislation which defines their vision of sustainable forest management. Independent studies have confirmed that Canada is a world leader in sustainable forest management.
Experience has shown that land and resource agreements are more durable and provide a better balance of social, economic and environmental values when they address the land base as a whole and have the support of all levels of government and private parties who have significant rights or interests over the areas.
Sustainable forest management has always been a cooperative effort between many stakeholders in Canada. The Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (CBFA) is yet another example of this collaborative spirit between two non-government parties.