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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.

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