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Canada’s forest carbon reporting system

The National Forest Carbon Monitoring, Accounting and Reporting System (NFCMARS) is Canada’s forest carbon reporting system. Its purpose is to estimate forest carbon stocks, changes in carbon stocks, and emissions of non-CO2 greenhouse gases in Canada’s managed forests.

NFCMARS is designed to:

  • estimate past changes in forest carbon stocks, such as from 1990 to the present (monitoring)
  • predict changes in carbon stocks, based on scenarios of future disturbance rates and management actions, in the next 2 to 3 decades (projection)

The system integrates information into a modelling framework incorporating the best available scientific understanding of the ecological processes involved in forest carbon cycling. Information includes:

  • forest inventories
  • temporary and permanent sample plots
  • statistics on fires, insects and forest management activities
  • systems quantifying forest growth and yield
  • harvested wood product (HWP) production and trade
The National Forest Carbon Monitoring, Accounting and Reporting System.
Diagram of the National Forest Carbon Monitoring, Accounting and Reporting System.
Text version

Diagram of the National Forest Carbon Monitoring, Accounting and Reporting System (NFCMARS) showing input elements to the Carbon Budget Model of the Canadian Forest Sector (CBM-CFS3). Results from the ensuing database are exported for use in the NFCMARS-Harvested Wood Products (HWP) model.

Inputs to the CBM-CFS3 include:

  1. Disturbance events
    • Harvesting
    • Deforestation
    • Afforestation
    • Natural disturbances
  2. Growth and yield curves
  3. Land-use changes
  4. Detailed forest inventory

Key elements of the NFCMARS include:

  • Carbon budget model of the Canadian Forest Sector (CBM-CFS3)

    The Carbon Budget Model of the Canadian Forest Sector (CBM-CFS3) is an aspatial, stand- and landscape-level modelling framework used for international reporting of the forest carbon balance of Canada’s managed forest. It is the central component of Canada’s National Forest Carbon Monitoring, Accounting and Reporting System (NFCMARS).

    Stylized identifier of the Carbon Budget Model of the Canadian Forest Sector.
    The CBM-CFS3 and self-guided training (in English only) are available for free download.

    The CBM-CFS3 uses forest management information provided by users, to calculate forest carbon stocks and stock changes for monitoring or projection purposes. Tools in the model assist with importing required data from user-developed data files specifically formatted for the CBM-CFS3, or from common timber supply models such as the Remsoft® Spatial Planning System™. Users of the model can create, simulate and compare various forest management scenarios to assess impacts on carbon. By considering the effects of planned activities on forest carbon stocks and stock changes, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and increases in carbon sequestration and storage are possible.

    The CBM-CFS3 simulates the dynamics of all forest carbon stocks required by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change:

    • aboveground biomass
    • belowground biomass
    • litter
    • dead wood
    • soil organic carbon

    The CBM-CFS3 complies with carbon estimation methods outlined in the 2003 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Good Practice Guidance For Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry, and the 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories.

    CBM-CFS3 results

    Forest managers can use the CBM-CFS3 to:

    • create different forest management options, compare carbon results and select the plan that best meets their objectives
    • observe the carbon results of forest management actions in individual stands and decide whether to apply those actions to an entire management area
    • assess potential future changes to ecological conditions in forest management areas by modifying ecological parameters and climate data

    CBM-CFS3 results can be used for various types of forest ecosystem carbon reporting requirements. In Canada, forest managers can use this computer model to report on forest carbon contributions to global cycles to comply with sustainable forest management guidelines. Additionally, results can be used to report on forest carbon when applying for / or maintaining forest certification or for determining forest carbon offset project baselines and future carbon stocks or stock changes. While the CBM-CFS3 does not track the fate of carbon in harvested wood products (HWP), it does track the amount of carbon harvested annually in a forest products pool. These results can be exported for further analyses in HWP carbon models.

    Download the CBM-CFS3 and self-guided training

    The CBM-CFS3, supporting documentation and self-guided training package (in English only), are available free for download from the Canada’s National Forest Information System (NFIS) website.

    If you have a NFIS account:

    1. Select your jurisdiction and enter your account username and password
    2. After logging in, select a link on the Canadian Forest Service Carbon Accounting Tools page:
      • CBM-CFS3 version 1.2 is the latest version of the model, documentation and self-guided training
      • CBM-CFS3 Archived Versions are obsolete versions of the model and documentation
    3. Click on the names of any file of interest to download

    If you do not have a NFIS account:

    1. click on the “Account Registration” button under the “New to NFIS” section
    2. create an account and profile
    3. login using your new account information
      • your login authorization and language selection will be stored using cookies

    About the CBM-CFS3

    Development of the CBM-CFS started as a science project in 1989. In 2002, the forest carbon accounting team, in partnership with the Canadian Model Forest Network, responded to the need for a user-friendly operational-scale forest carbon accounting tool. The tool helped:

    • the forest industry meet the criteria and indicator reporting requirements of sustainable forest management
    • the forest industry meet reporting requirements for forest certification
    • forest managers understand how their actions affect the net carbon balance of their forest estate

    Two model forests, the Lake Abitibi Model Forest and the Western Newfoundland Model Forest, were pilot sites for developing and testing the CBM-CFS3. As development proceeded, other model forests and their partners from across Canada contributed to development through the testing of a beta-version.

    In 2005, a release version was made available free of charge to the forestry community along with a user’s guide and tutorials.

    Supplemented with information from national ecological parameter databases, the CBM-CFS3 uses much the same information as is required for forest management planning:

    • forest inventory
    • tree species
    • growth curves
    • yield curves
    • natural disturbance information
    • human-induced disturbance information
    • forest harvest schedule
    • land-use change information

    Ecological parameters appropriate for Canada are the default; however, they can be modified, thus enabling the use of the CBM-CFS3 in other countries.

    To help users prepare data, define scenarios, perform analyses, and examine results, the CBM-CFS3 contains graphic user interfaces in

    • English
    • French
    • Polish
    • Spanish
    • Russian

    Have questions?

    Please contact Stephen Kull if you:

    • have questions about the CBM-CFS3
    • require technical support for the computer model
    • want to be notified about software releases or updates, training, webinars, new publications, etc.
  • The Abstract Network Simulation Engine (ANSE) and NFCMARS-HWP model
  • Forest management and disturbance monitoring

    Forest management and natural disturbances, such as forest fires and severe insect outbreaks, influence the carbon stocks in forest ecosystems. Canada’s National Forest Carbon Monitoring, Accounting and Reporting System (NFCMARS) uses the best available statistics on forest management and natural disturbances, obtained from the National Forestry Database, the Canadian Wildland Fire Information System (CWFIS), and provincial and territorial resource management agencies.

    Canada’s provinces and territories report forest management activities, including clearcut harvesting and thinning, to the National Forestry Database or directly to the carbon accounting team of the Canadian Forest Service, which incorporates the annual impact of these activities into the NFCMARS.

    Provincial and territorial agencies usually monitor burned and insect-infested areas. The National Burned Area Composite (NBAC) integrates burned areas mapped by Natural Resources Canada from satellite remote sensing and agency data that have been used to annually map forest fires in Canada since 2004. NBAC is a component of the Fire Monitoring, Accounting and Reporting System (FireMARS), a system that has been created to track and quantify effects of wildland fire. FireMARS serves as a framework that integrates three models for estimating the contribution of forest fires to carbon emissions. The three models include predictions of carbon emissions from the CanFIRE model that are combined with the Carbon Budget Model of the Canadian Forest Sector (CBM-CFS3) and the CWFIS.

    Estimates of the area affected annually by insect outbreaks are obtained primarily from provincial and territorial agencies. Entomologists provide expertise on the impact of different insects on carbon stocks. The carbon dynamics are then simulated with the CBM-CFS3 in the NFCMARS.

  • Forest inventory
  • NFCMARS spatial framework

    Canada’s National Forest Carbon Monitoring, Accounting and Reporting System (NFCMARS) was developed to meet requirements under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). NFCMARS reports estimates of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and removals at the spatial scale of reporting zones.

    NFCMARS uses a hierarchical ecological framework, consisting of 18 reporting zones based on the terrestrial ecozones of Canada. 60 reconciliation units, 48 of which include Canada’s managed forest, are included within these zones.  Reconciliation units are further subdivided into over 500 analysis units defined by the boundaries of forest management units, parks and ecological zones, representing the finest level of geographic resolution. The compilation of land and activity data, as well as the calculation of estimates, occurs at the analysis unit level, whereas the reconciliation of land-use changes between land sectors occurs at the reconciliation unit level, and reporting of emissions estimates occurs at the reporting zone level.

    Reporting zones

    Small-scale map outlining the boundaries of the 18 national reporting zones of the NFCMARS in relation to the terrestrial ecozones of Canada.

    Reporting zones of the NFCMARS.

    Larger image [135 Kb]

    The hierarchical ecological framework of the NFCMARS include the following reporting zones:

    1. Arctic Cordillera
    2. Northern Arctic
    3. Southern Arctic
    4. Taiga Shield East
    5. Boreal Shield East
    6. Atlantic Maritime
    7. Mixed wood Plains
    8. Hudson Plains
    9. Boreal Shield West
    10. Boreal Plains
    11. Subhumid Prairies
    12. Semiarid Prairies
    13. Taiga Plains
    14. Montane Cordillera
    15. Pacific Maritime
    16. Boreal Cordillera
    17. Taiga Cordillera
    18. Taiga Shield West

    Reconciliation units

    Small-scale map outlining the boundaries of the 60 reconciliation units used in the NFCMARS in relation to the terrestrial ecozones of Canada.

    Reconciliation units of the NFCMARS. Units falling outside the bounds of reporting (i.e., those without forests) are not displayed.

    Reconciliation units for the NFCMARS are geographic entities formed by combining reporting zones with provincial and territorial boundaries. They ensure data from multiple agencies are consistent during estimate development.

    Annual reporting

    The purpose of the annual reporting of GHG emissions and removal estimates to the UNFCCC is to:

    • quantify the impacts of human activities on the atmosphere
    • understand the main drivers of these emissions
    • inform mitigation policies
    • quantify the changes resulting from climate change mitigation activities

    In the land use, land-use change, and forestry (LULUCF) sector, the net balance of emissions and removals is strongly affected by humans and nature. However, their relative contribution to totals are difficult to quantify. Current Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) guidelines for LULUCF national GHG inventories are based on the assumption that all emissions and removals in managed lands are caused by humans. In Canada, natural disturbances can result in large and highly variable emissions and subsequent removals that disguise the impacts of forest management activities.

  • NFCMARS outputs

    The major outputs of the National Forest Carbon Monitoring, Accounting and Reporting System (NFCMARS) include the National greenhouse gases (GHG) inventory report and policy development support. The Canadian Forest Service uses NFCMARS to contribute estimates of forest carbon emissions and removals in Canada’s managed forests. These estimates include emissions and removals associated with land conversion to and from forests.

    National GHG Inventory report

    To fulfill its reporting obligations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Canada must prepare an annual national inventory report detailing the country’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and removals. Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) is responsible for the development and publication of this report. The report covers emissions and removals in all sectors of Canada’s economy including Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Uses.

    Diagram of contributions to Canada’s official greenhouse gas inventory.

    Institutional arrangements for production of the National Greenhouse Gases Inventory Report.

    Text version

    1. Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada work together to exchange data about land-use change, afforestation, reforestation and deforestation.

    2. LULUCF data from NFCMARS and Agriculture Data from CanAgMARS, in addition to data for energy, solvents, industrial processes and waste are sent to ECCC for the annual National GHG Inventory Report.

    LULUCF = Land-Use, Land Use Change and Forestry
    GHG = Greenhouse gas
    C = Carbon
    LUC = Land use change
    ARD = Afforestation, reforestation, deforestation


    Policy development support

    Climate change and GHG emission reduction targets create challenges for the forest sector. However, unlike other sectors, the forest sector can provide carbon “sinks” to offset GHG emissions from other sectors. Forest carbon sinks are difficult to measure and developing policies that encourage good carbon management while reinforcing the sustainability and competitiveness of the forest sector is challenging. A good understanding of forest carbon dynamics and the factors that control the forest carbon cycle is required.

    Our forest carbon accounting team works in close collaboration with federal, provincial and territorial government policy makers to ensure that systematic, reliable and verifiable science supports forest policy development. We provide relevant and timely scientific information to ensure that complex scientific issues are synthesized and considered during the policy development process.

    For more information contact: Mark Hafer

  • NFCMARS partners

    Developing the framework for a National Forest Carbon Monitoring, Accounting, and Reporting System (NFCMARS) and developing the operational-scale Carbon Budget Model of the Canadian Forest Sector (CBM-CFS3), will continue to involve consultation with federal departments, provinces, territories, the forest industry, universities, and other Canadian and international stakeholders.

    The carbon accounting team of the Canadian Forest Service collaborates with many organizations to determine the annual forest sector contributions to Canada’s National Inventory Report, through the NFCMARS, including:

    Federal agencies

    Provincial and territorial agencies

    International agencies and programs

  • Inventory and land-use change

    Forest inventory

    Most people can agree that forests include trees. Beyond that, there are many different ideas of what forests are depending on the point of view, past experience and the purpose being addressed.

    For reporting under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Government of Canada defines forests as lands having:

    • minimum tree crown cover = 25 percent
    • minimum land area = 1 hectare
    • minimum tree height = 5 metres
    • minimum width = 20 metres (distance between trunks)

    Also included are lands that have the potential to achieve these thresholds, such as recently burned or harvested areas where new trees have not yet grown to 5 meters in height. Some treed areas in Canada are excluded under this definition. For example sparse open grasslands with the occasional trees; trees planted within roadway medians or urban lots; high elevation or high latitude trees which have limited height.

    Canada’s forests fall under a wide spectrum of different management intensities, ranging from tightly managed forest plantations to remote wilderness forests with little or no human access. Under the UNFCCC, Canada must report annually on greenhouse gas emissions and removals from the “managed forest,” which represents a subset of the total forest area in Canada.

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Good Practice Guidance for Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (Section defines forest management as “the process of planning and implementing practices for stewardship and use of the forest aimed at fulfilling relevant ecological (including biological diversity), economic and social functions of the forest in a sustainable manner.” The IPCC instructs that the definition of forest management at the national level should be applied consistently over time and cover all forests subject to periodic or ongoing human interventions, including the full range of management practices from commercial timber production to stewardship for non-commercial purposes.

    Managed and unmanaged forest lands in Canada

    A map showing managed and unmanaged forest lands in Canada.

    Area of managed forest: 232 million hectares
    Area of unmanaged forest: 115 million hectares
    Total area of forest: 347 million hectares

    Canada has chosen to take an area-based approach to defining the managed forest, whereby a set of criteria are used to define the boundaries within which all forest lands are considered to be part of the managed forest by virtue of the systems of practices in that area (or that have been in that area since 1990). The map shows where these forests are located in Canada.

    Sources and information:

    For more information, contact Mark Hafer.

    Tracking land-use change events

    The National Forest Carbon Monitoring, Accounting, and Reporting System tracks changes in carbon stocks that result from afforestation, reforestation, or deforestation activities in Canada. Under the Kyoto Protocol, Canada is required to monitor changes in carbon stocks that result from afforestation, reforestation, and deforestation activities that have occurred since 1990.

    How much does land-use change in Canada contribute to carbon emissions?

    In Canada, the establishment of new forests (or afforestation) does not occur on a large scale—around 9,000 hectares annually. This limited afforestation results in the removal from the atmosphere of around 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, and this will slowly increase over time as new trees grow. Deforestation has a bigger impact, but this is still quite small on a global scale. The area deforested annually in Canada has fallen from just over 64,000 hectares in 1990 to 45,000 hectares in 2009. Consequently, immediate emissions from forest conversion have decreased from 26 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents (Mt CO2 eq) in 1990 to 18 Mt in 2009. Deforestation in Canada is caused mainly by the conversion of forest land for agriculture, industrial development, resource extraction and urban expansion.

    The Deforestation Monitoring Group is ensuring that the methods and databases fit into the Carbon Budget Model of the Canadian Forest Sector (CBM-CFS3), and that they are useful for other reporting and analysis requirements.

    For more information, contact Andrew Dyk.

  • Uncertainty and sensitivity analysis

Find out more

Canadian Forest Service Publications

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