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Canada's forest laws

How governance and enforcement protect Canada’s forests

Canada’s forest laws are among the strictest in the world. They protect our forests and ensure that sustainable forest management practices are followed across the country. This means that consumers can be confident that the forest and wood products they buy from Canada were obtained legally and harvested under a system of sustainable forest management.

Rosemary Rock, Jasper National Park.

Provinces and territories lead forest governance

Canada’s  provinces and  territories have jurisdiction over the vast majority of the country’s forests, and develop and enforce laws, regulations and policies related to forests.

Those laws, regulations and policies differ from one jurisdiction to another but they are all:

  • based on sustainable forest management principles
  • developed in consultation with the public, industries and other interested parties
  • grounded in scientific research and analysis

Learn more about forest land ownership in Canada.

Forest laws address environmental, social and economic needs

Provincial and territorial forest laws, regulations and policies govern a range of economic, social and environmental matters. For example, they:

  • require land-use planning
  • require that Aboriginal interests be considered and respected
  • regulate wildlife habitat protection
  • regulate timber harvesting
  • establish practices to ensure forests regrow

By law, forest management plans must be approved before harvesting starts

Provincial and territorial governments grant forest companies rights to harvest timber on public land and stipulate the responsibilities tied to those rights. These arrangements, also known as tenures, don’t automatically give companies the authority to harvest timber. By law, governments must first approve forest management plans and authorize the proposed harvesting before any trees are felled. Learn more about forest management planning in Canada.

Provinces and territories monitor forestry operations and enforce laws

The provinces and territories closely monitor forestry companies operating in publicly owned forests, through several means. Government agencies responsible for monitoring and enforcement:

  • require all forest companies to report formally on their operations
  • carry out audits to ensure the companies comply with laws and regulations
  • carry out more detailed investigations if there is evidence that infractions have occurred
  • issue warnings, fines and other penalties
  • prosecute the most serious infractions through the court system

For example, if a forest company fails to comply with approved forest management plans or with the conditions of a harvesting permit, it may face any of several stiff penalties – from fines or the suspension of harvesting rights to seizure of timber or even imprisonment.

Forestry activities are also monitored to keep track of the royalties that companies must pay to governments for being allowed to harvest timber from public lands. Provinces and territories use many checks and controls to track timber removed from public lands.

Federal laws and international agreements also govern forestry operations

Provincial and territorial laws and regulations also address the requirements of over-arching federal laws that apply to forests, and of international agreements Canada has signed.

Forest laws that apply to federal lands

Forests under federal ownership account for a small portion of Canada’s forested lands. Examples of federal laws that might apply are the Forestry Act and Timber Regulations, Indian Act, First Nations Land Management Act and National Parks Act.

Timber harvesting is permitted on some federal lands, but involves very small volumes of timber.

Provincial and territorial laws generally also apply to timber harvested on land owned by the federal government. This means that forest management plans are required and must address inventory, harvesting, renewal and other activities. As well, before harvesting begins, contracts or permits must be in place. They must set out clearly what areas are to be cut, how wood will be marked and how revenues will be received.

Forest laws that apply to private lands

Some provinces have laws that set standards for forest management practices on private lands. In most cases, however, forestry on private lands is governed by municipal regulations and supported by provincial guidelines or voluntary programs.

To discourage illegal and unsustainable activities on private lands, such as trespass or timber theft, landowners must normally rely on Canadian laws governing property rights. At the same time, efforts to discourage illegal and unsustainable activities on private lands extend beyond  legal actions that may be taken after an infraction has occurred.

Landowners and local communities tend to be diligent about monitoring activities in private forests, because those forests are important sources of income, employment, recreational opportunities and ecological benefits (such as biodiversity and watershed protection).

Certification and international reports show confidence in Canada’s forestry practices

It’s not just Canada’s word on its robust governance and enforcement system. Third-party certification attests to the integrity of our forest management practices. More forest land in Canada is independently certified than anywhere else in the world. As well, several international reports confirm that Canada is considered to be a trusted source of legal and sustainable forest products.

Details about laws in Canada’s provinces and territories

Find more information and fact sheets about laws and governance in Canada’s provinces and territories at the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers website.

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