Archive for deforestation

The Facts about Sustainable Forestry and the Canadian Paper-Based Packaging Industry

Sustainable forest management is essential to the Canadian paper-based packaging industry and its circular economy. And yet, misconceptions surrounding forestry and paper packaging persist when it comes to how paper packaging is made.
With today’s International Day of Forests, the Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC) would like to clear up some of the misconceptions by providing the facts about what is actually harvested, the causes of deforestation, and how the major paper packaging grades are made in Canada.
FACT: The Canadian paper packaging industry does not harvest much of Canada’s forests (and what is harvested must be regenerated)
While most paper packaging made in Canada is produced with recycled content, the paper fibres it was originally made from came from a tree. However, the Canadian paper packaging industry doesn’t use much in the way of freshly cut trees, and the little that is harvested must be successfully regenerated by Canadian law.
According to the latest data from Natural Resources Canada’s State of Canada’s Forests Annual Report, in 2020, the total forest harvest (for lumber and all paper grades including packaging) represented 0.2% of Canada’s forest land, while 600 million seedlings were planted, up from 440 million in 2018.
FACT: The paper packaging industry is not a major cause of deforestation in Canada
Deforestation is when forest land is permanently cleared and converted to make way for new, non-forest land use. And according to Canada’s National Deforestation Monitoring System, Canada’s 347 million hectares of forest area is stable, with less than half of 1% deforested since 1990.
In 2020, deforestation accounted for 49,352 hectares of area permanently changed, primarily by the agriculture, mining, oil and gas, and built-up (new homes, ski hills, and golf courses) sectors, which together represent 96% of deforestation in Canada.
FACT: Insects are the number one cause of forests disturbances in Canada
Canadian forests are most affected by natural disturbances such as insect infestations, diseases, and fires.
In 2020, insects represented the largest cause of disturbance with 17.7 million hectares of area defoliated. The second largest cause was fires with 4.3 million hectares of area burned in 2021 (the largest on record since 1990).
FACT: Most paper-based packaging products made in Canada are made from recycled content
Most domestic shipments of the three major paper packaging grades made in Canada – containerboard (used to make corrugated boxes), boxboard (used to make boxboard cartons), and kraft paper (used to make paper bags) – are made from recycled content (81.7%).
Mills also use sawmill residues – such as wood chips, shavings and sawdust left over from sawmill operations – and some supplement their pulp with virgin fibres from trees.
The mixture of using primarily recycled content, along with some new fibres from sustainably managed forests, is an important component to paper packaging’s circular economy.
Existing research shows that paper can be recycled up to seven times, while corrugated box fibres can be recycled up to ten times, and we believe that number could be even higher in Canada given its recycling infrastructure and long-standing residential and business recycling programs. But over time, recycled fibres do weaken, which means a small amount of new virgin fibre needs to be introduced now and again.
It is through that important act of recycling that allows paper packaging to be continually collected so it can be reused and remade into new paper-based packaging products again and again.
FACT: Canadian mills use independent certification to verify their paper fibres are responsibly sourced
All paper fibres used are verified to be responsibly sourced by independent, third-party certification bodies. In Canada, there are three internationally recognized forest certification organizations: Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and the Canadian Standards Association (CSA Z809). These organizations assess forestry operations against standards for sustainable forest management, and complements Canada’s rigorous forest management laws and regulations.
FACT: Paper packaging is made from a renewable resource that is sustainably managed, responsibly sourced, and actively recycled 
On International Day of Forests, and every day, it is important to remember that Canada’s forests are stable and sustainably managed.
When we use and recycle paper-based packaging, we all play a part in protecting and replenishing our renewable resources, contributing to the sustainable management of Canada’s forests, and supporting the circular economy of the paper-based packaging industry.

Rachel Kagan

Executive Director Paper & Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council (PPEC)

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False claims and sloppy journalism add to the public confusion about deforestation in Canada

Most Canadians find it hard to believe that the forest industry is responsible for only a tiny fraction of Canada’s deforestation. And that Canada has one of the lowest deforestation rates in the world (0.01%).

The widespread public confusion springs partly from the definition of the word itself in international agreements. Chopping down a tree or a section of forest, for example, does not equal deforestation when its harvest is followed by the regrowth of that forest.

In Canadian law, logging companies must replenish or restock the resource they have harvested either through natural or artificial regeneration (tree planting and seeding). Because they do this, replacing the forest they have harvested earlier, the net deforestation they are responsible for, is minimal. In fact, the industry’s deforestation rate is near zero (0.0004%)*, primarily because of the creation of new permanent access roads that the industry needs to get into the harvest areas, rather than the harvest itself.

Forestry’s tiny contribution to deforestation is not a guess. It is generated by a very sophisticated National Deforestation Monitoring System (NDMS) set up by Natural Resources Canada and the Canadian Forest Service that employs aerial photography and satellites in the sky (remote sensing) and direct, on-the-ground personal observations by qualified forest scientists. Its findings on deforestation are published every year in a report on the State of Canada’s Forests to the federal government.


So, let’s get to the false claims. Toronto-based environmental group, the Wildlands League, recently claimed that the annual deforestation caused by the Ontario forest industry was more than seven times higher than the reported rate of forestry-incurred deforestation in Canada as a whole.

It based this claim on a study of what are called “landing areas” in 27 sites in northwestern Ontario, extrapolating its findings to the rest of the province. What are landing areas? Basically, they are smallish areas where full trees are sometimes dragged from the stump to the roadside so that merchantable logs can be separated from waste wood. This harvest residue is then burned or just left to rot, says the league. The soil becomes compacted over time, and little new regeneration of forest takes place.

From a statistical and accuracy point of view, extrapolating estimates from 27 study sites in one region to the total harvest area of Ontario is problematic. Most of these study sites were harvested using “full-tree” harvesting two or even three decades ago, and it is uncertain to what extent those logging methods are still applied today. And not all harvested areas in Ontario are forests that have never been harvested before. The forest losses claimed in the study, then, should not be extrapolated to the whole of Ontario, and especially not to those areas that already have an existing road network.

It is true, however, that many of these landing areas in Ontario are not in great shape, as the league points out. Current estimates for carbon emissions and removals from the atmosphere do not adequately represent this.

But the key issue about the landing areas is that they are not included in deforestation estimates, as much as the league would like them to be. The landing areas are still on forest land. They have not been converted to non-forest purposes such as agriculture, oil and gas projects, hydro reservoirs, mining extraction,  residential subdivisions, ski hills or golf courses.

This definition of deforestation (conversion of forest land to non-forest land) is not made up by Canada. It is broadly accepted by the United Nations and other international institutions such as the Food and Agriculture Organization, and applies equally to land converted the other way: from non-forest land to forest land (afforestation). Any change “events” that are less than one hectare in size (including landings) are excluded under these definitions. A few smaller European countries have chosen to adopt smaller minimal areas (0.5 hectare) but this level of detail is not economically or practically feasible in a country the size of Canada.

The league may very well want to change international definitions of deforestation (good luck with that one!) but its real target is the failure to regenerate the forest that the landing areas are in. And that is squarely the responsibility of individual provinces. They should be enforcing the regeneration requirements of the forest licences they have granted on provincial (crown) land. 

despite false claims and sloppy journalism this chart is shows the real causes of deforestation

Successful regeneration of forest is clearly very important, but promoting a false definition of deforestation (an emotive word at the best of times) just adds to public confusion. Worse, it distracts attention from doing something about the main causes of deforestation in Canada (the conversion of forest land to agriculture, oil and gas development, new hydro lines and reservoir flooding, mining minerals and peat, and municipal urban development). 


Now for the sloppy journalism part. The Wildlands League took its study to the Globe and Mail newspaper which then put together a front-page lead and an extensive two-page feature inside with appropriate charts and photographs. The study disagrees with the definition of deforestation used by the NDMS and is critical of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) for its lack of action on landing sites.

But according to staff at the Canadian Forest Service, Globe reporter, Ivan Semeniuk, never interviewed anybody representing the NDMS prior to publication. Nor is there any indication in the article itself that the Ontario ministry was contacted either. No one from the Ontario MNRF is quoted in the article. But the Wildlands League and another environmental group, the US-based Natural Resources Defense Council, were interviewed. And both are quoted in the text.

So here we have a major feature on “deforestation” and forest regeneration in this country, and the reporter doesn’t go to the people most closely responsible for tracking and dealing with these issues. Is this balanced reporting? Looking at all sides of an issue? Gotcha journalism? 

There were also obvious clues of potential bias in the study document. Some of the field expenses for the study were paid for by an outspoken critic of Canada’s forest industry (the Natural Resources Defense Council) and here’s a surprise, the Cement Association of Canada. What’s cement got to do with forestry issues? It just happens that the Cement Association is lobbying against the greater use of engineered wood, a substitute for more emissions-intensive cement products in the building sector. Hmmm.

And then there’s this piece: “The findings are particularly troubling because much of Canada’s old-growth forest continues to be harvested for single-use, throw away products such as tissues, or for pulp – products for which alternative sources exist.”  This is an interesting claim in itself but it’s got nothing to do with regenerating landing areas. Nothing. The landing areas would exist whatever the product of the forest. Whether it’s the lumber used to build the reporter’s home, his office, his children’s school, the local hospital, or the pulp used to make printing and writing paper and tissue.

If the Globe wants to be serious about deforestation in Canada it should focus on the main cause (the conversion of forest land to agriculture). Farmers are good people, providing us with local food, scratching to make a living. But they also happen to be, as a group, the largest body of people removing Canadian forest for good. Eight times more, in fact, than the frequently vilified forest and paper industries.

And since Semeniuk is a “science” writer, how about informing Canadians about some of the really exciting things going on today with forest products: addressing climate change through taller mass-timber buildings; new uses for lignin; nanocrystalline cellulose; cellulose filaments; bio-composites.   

So, there you have it. False claims. Sloppy journalism. And a confused public as a result. The only good that’s come out of this story is that it has focused more attention on the state of those landing areas. Why not create jobs by getting them cleaned up? Plant some of Justin Trudeau’s two billion trees there. Get something done, and soon.

* Canada’s forest lands in 2016 amounted to 347 million hectares. Of this, some 1,368 hectares (0.0004%) was allocated by the National Deforestation Monitoring System to forestry-related deforestation, primarily new access roads.

P.S. I will be speaking on the subject of Deforestation in Canada and Other Fake News (the title of my recent book) at the Environment Session of Canada’s Annual Paper Week in Montreal on 4 February.