Our forests are very green, whatever U.S. lobby groups say

It is neither the first nor the last time a well-heeled US lobby group attacks the Canadian softwood lumber and forestry sector.

Benefiting from COP15 and the resulting environmental media coverage, the Natural Resource Defense Council—an American pressure group with a budget of almost $300 million—is again pushing its particularly bleak report on our forestry sector.

According to its authors, our lumber industry would have emitted 75 megatonnes of greenhouse gases in 2020, making it one of the biggest polluters in the country.

In fact, the truth is quite different. Rather than having emitted GHGs, the Canadian forestry industry actually removed 6.5 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent from the atmosphere in 2020, according to the federal government’s official figures.

To put all this in perspective, what the forestry industry did is the equivalent of removing nearly two million vehicles from our roads, on nearly 30% of Quebec’s automotive fleet.

How can we explain such a marked difference between the apocalyptic picture painted by the NRDC and the much greener reality presented by federal regulatory agencies?

The reason for the divergence is that the NRDC is only looking at a part of the data. To arrive at this biased picture, it considers only the repercussions of recent logging, ignoring the lifecycle of forests and the positive effect of replanting.

In contrast, the federal government’s method of calculating the forestry sector’s emissions looks instead at the net results for what are called “managed forests,” or those where there is human activity taking place. This therefore takes into account total emissions and removals stemming from a whole range of activities: harvesting, planting, slash burns, etc.

This method—unlike the one used by the NRDC—is based on years of peer-reviewed studies that are recognized by the scientific community. Indeed, the model used by the federal government works so well that many other countries have emulated it in their own emissions assessments.

It must also be said that whatever American lobby groups like the NRDC think, Canadian forestry is a model to follow.

A number of recent studies show that Canadian forests are in good shape. According to Natural Resources Canada, our forest cover is very stable, shrinking by just 0.01% per year.

Moreover, this infinitesimal decrease—at this rate, it would take 10,000 years to raze our forests—does not even come from our logging companies, but rather from land cleared for agriculture, urban development, or the mining of new mineral deposits, for example.

Indeed, by law, Canadian forests have to be regenerated after harvesting. This involves replanting and tracking of their regrowth, which contributes to the renewal and the vitality of our forests. It’s not a coincidence that 35% of the world’s certified sustainable forests are found right here in Canada.

And it’s not just us saying it. Many academic forestry experts sing the praises of Canadian practices in this sector of activity.

In a scientific article published in 2020 in Forest Policy and Economics, for example, Professors Haris R. Gilani and John L. Innes laud the Canadian model. They state unequivocally that “the forest management and conservation regime in Canada […] incorporates a sophisticated understanding of the global, national and local interests linking economic, environmental and social issues.”

This is, once again, light years away from the grim picture painted by the NRDC.

It would be a terrible idea for our policy-makers to base any reform of the regulations governing our forestry sector on such skewed information. After all, across the country, over 180,000 jobs and $25.2 billion of economic activity are at play.

Instead, this is an industry we should celebrate, whatever American lobby groups may say.

Michel Kelly-Gagnon is President and CEO of the MEI. The views reflected in this opinion piece are his own.

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