Leading ENGOs call on Canada to address forest degradation


Biodiversity and climate crises deeply entwined 

TORONTO | TRADITIONAL TERRITORY OF THE MISSISSAUGAS OF THE CREDIT, ANISHNABEG, CHIPPEWA, HAUDENSOAUNEE AND WENDAT PEOPLES (DECEMBER 14, 2023) – Canada cannot deliver on its global commitments to halt and reverse land degradation by 2030 unless it first accurately defines forest degradation, a coalition of leading environmental organizations working in Canada says. Today seven organizations released a science-based definition to spur urgently needed action.

Canada’s commitment to halt and reverse the degradation of forest ecosystems by 2030 is an important part of the global effort to address the biodiversity and climate crises. However, while forest degradation is a scientifically grounded and internationally recognized issue, Canada has yet to articulate a credible framework to identify and eliminate the degradation that continues to occur not only in what remains of primary, old-growth and other high-integrity forests, but also within the wider managed forest.

At present, Canada tracks rates of deforestation — the conversion of natural forests to another use — but does not track domestic forest degradation, of which industrial logging practices are a leading cause. As scientists have articulated, when a forest is degraded, its ability to provide critical ecosystem services such as climate mitigation, wildlife habitat and water filtration, diminishes.

There is clear evidence that industrial logging degrades forests in Canada. For example, boreal woodland caribou, which require large expanses of mature and interconnected intact forests to survive, are currently threatened with extinction across the country due, primarily, to a legacy of disturbance from industrial activities including logging. Logging has so significantly degraded old-growth forests in British Columbia that the spotted owls that used to live there are now considered functionally extinct.

Natural Resources Canada has engaged the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers to co-lead the development of a forest degradation definition, but provinces and territories are unlikely to accept a definition that challenges the industrial activities from which they financially benefit.

Canada’s previous opposition to policies from California, New York and the European Union that limit or prevent sourcing wood from degraded forests have the groups concerned that this current process could result in a definition from Canada that neglects to recognize that degradation is happening here.

The seven ENGOs’ proposed definition of forest degradation employs the best available western science and recommends equal consideration of Indigenous knowledge inputs. This provides a way of assessing whether forest degradation is occurring, and to what extent, using a series of indicators that can measure elements of ecosystems that are crucial to healthy, resilient and functioning forests.

Quotes from representatives of participating organizations:   

“Industrial logging fundamentally alters forest structure, composition and function,” said Janet Sumner, Executive Director for Wildlands League. “When trees grow back after being logged, they are typically put back on the chopping block to be cut down again before they can become old growth. It can leave a lasting legacy of loss, including the roads and landings that remain barren 30 years post logging.”

“Forest degradation is Canada’s best–and most willfully kept– secret” said Rachel Plotkin, Boreal Project Manager of the David Suzuki Foundation. “Logging and logging roads fragment habitat and drive wildlife decline. Without tracking the cumulative impact of forest degradation caused by logging, year after year, we lose sight of the bigger picture.”

“We urge the Canadian government and forest industry to take immediate action to minimize forest degradation including not harvesting in areas where severe or irreversible degradation will occur, implementing practices that reduce new degradation, and restoring already degraded areas to benefit Indigenous and local communities, biodiversity and the climate” says Karen Saunders, R.P.F., Vice President of Wildlife and Industry, WWF-Canada

“Industrial logging has left forests in Canada severely degraded. Forests are more vulnerable to devastating wildfires as a result, and many forest dwelling species are now at risk of extinction,” said Richard Robertson, Forest Campaigner at Stand.earth. “A shared definition of forest degradation is essential if we are to preserve forests’ natural ability to capture and store carbon and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Industrial activity in primary or old growth forests inflicts irreversible damage.”

“It has been two years since Canada signed the Glasgow Declaration, committing to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030,” said Dr. Julee Boan, Boreal Partnership Manager at NRDC. “Acknowledging and addressing forest degradation caused by industrial development, including logging, is imperative if we are to effectively solve the twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change.”

“Defining forest degradation through science is crucial for tackling the damage caused by massive clear-cut logging in vital old-growth forests,” said Dr. Michael Polanyi, Campaign and Policy Manager at Nature Canada. “In the face of climate change and rampant species loss, we can’t ignore the devastating impact of industrial logging any longer. It’s time to act.”

“A science-based definition of forest degradation is essential to maintaining and protecting biodiversity” said Mathieu Béland, Forest Politics Analyst at Nature Québec. “We need to acknowledge that forests in Canada are being degraded and that some species are at risk, because their habitat is being degraded faster than they can recover. Preserving the natural processes and ecological services originating from forests is essential to increase ecosystem resilience in this era of global changes.”

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Rebecca Spring, Senior Communications Manager, WWF-Canada[email protected]647-264-7099

Dave Pearce, Senior Forest Conservation Manager, Wildlands League [email protected]  416-807-8340

Kate Kourtsidis, Communications Specialist, David Suzuki Foundation [email protected]613-806-8184

Margie Kelly, Strategic Communications Manager, NRDC [email protected]541-222-9699

Kathryn Semogas, Canada Communications Specialist, Stand.earth[email protected] 778-653-2303