Sierra Club of/du Canada

Tenure Reform and Community Forests
A Sierra Club of Canada Fact Sheet

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Executive Summary


In Canada, 94% of the forests are held in the public trust on crown land—land that is stewarded by provincial (71%) and federal (23%) governments and owned by Canadian citizens.

Forests are part of Canada’s cultural heritage; they provide sustenance for Canada’s Aboriginal peoples and for communities that are dependent on forest timber and non-timber resources. They also provide habitat for forest-dwelling species, including many that rely on mature, intact core forested areas.

Historically, forests in Canada have been managed primarily for resource extraction, often with little regard for community benefits, Aboriginal rights or environmental values.

This pamphlet explores the role that the tenure system has played in Canada’s forest management practices, and the potential of community forests to improve the equitable sharing of forest resources, Aboriginal rights to land, and the ability to utilize forests while maintaining the forest’s ecological structure, function and composition.

I. Forestry tenure in Canada at a glance

Tenure is a system of awarding the holding of property; in the context of forestry in Canada, this property is crown forest land. Tenure can be area based, wherein a lease is awarded for an area of land, or volume based, where a lease dictates the volume of timber that can be harvested from a designated area. There are long term and short term tenures, which both usually come with a rollover mechanism that enables industry to continue the tenure for another term. If the rollover is automatic (so long as provincial preconditions are met), the tenure licence is called a renewable licence. Even if a licence is not called ‘renewable,’ most are renewed on a more or less automatic basis. Typically, forest tenures are granted to industrial licensees such as large, often multi-national companies. In Canada, over 50% of our forests are currently managed under industrial tenure.[1] This grants industry near perpetual control of these forests, although the control is accompanied by provincially legislated responsibilities. In most (but not all) provinces, industry pays the government a fee for each tree that it cuts: this fee is called the stumpage fee.

Tie to mills

Most industrial forestry tenures require the forestry company to process trees they cut through a regionally located timber processing facility that is owned or operated by the company. This agreement is called appurtenancy, and was initiated in the post-war period to try to ensure investment in the forest industry: tenure offered timber rights of huge tracts of forest land to industry in exchange for industry’s obligation to invest in local employment and forestry infrastructure by operating, constructing or expanding processing facilities. [2] Appurtenancy inhibits the success of smaller-scale operations, as most provincial timber is sold by timber extractors to their own mills, non-competitively. This results in an under-valuation of timber.[3]

Determining the Rate of Cut

Governments in most provinces calculate a volume of trees to be harvested in their province for a given period of time. Sometimes the calculation is done by the forestry industry, and overseen by government. This ‘Annual Allowable Cut’ (AAC) process varies from province to province but is collectively based on the concept of ‘sustained yield.’ Sustained yield is a theory in which the volume of timber logged annually is matched by new growth so that a set amount of timber can be logged indefinitely, without depleting the resource. Sustained yeild does not take into account the fact that industrial forestry alters the forest ecosystem. The forest industry takes advantage of something they call the “Allowable Cut Effect,” which allows companies to log primary forests at an accelerated rate based on expectations of high growth rates for second growth trees in the future.

II. What is wrong with industrial tenure — the big picture?

This section explores some of the flaws of canada’s present forest management regime, and the detrimental impacts that forestry practices have on local and Aboriginal communities and the forests themselves.

1. Industrial forest practices do not maintain the composition, function and structure of forest ecosystems.

Industrial forestry practices are changing the face of Canada’s forests, altering their composition, function and structure. Forest ecosystems such as the managed boreal forest are shifting in species composition from softwood to hardwood [4 ] and all across Canada, there is a decline in mature forest ecosystems. While there are some natural causes, the overharvesting of mature forest age classes is one of the main reasons for this decline. In the year 2000, clearcuts made up over 80% of the areas harvested annually in Canada.[5] Clearcuts (and variable retention practices that leave inadequate levels of retention) not only lead in many cases to species and age class composition shifts; they also threaten the ecological services provided by forests, such as carbon sequestration, stream protection and water purification.

2. Rate of cut determinations are flawed and promote overcutting of forests

Although government and industry assert that the rate of cut is a neutral mathematical calculation, the calculations are often based on assumptions that favour high volume extraction. The AAC determination is influenced by political pressure and pressure from mills (owned by forestry companies) to maintain or increase their fiber input. Current methods of AAC calculation lack sufficient emphasis on environmental protection, and regard practices to protect environmental values (such as leaving buffer zones or wildlife trees) as ‘constraints.’ The AAC process rarely takes into account the non-timber values of a forest such as non-timber forest products or tourism/recreation that could come from leaving forested areas intact. As a consequence of overcutting based on the principle of sustained yield, almost every province in Canada right now is facing a future shortage in available wood supply. A report on the state of the forests in Canada in the year 2000 concluded that ‘Under current management practices, harvesting rates appear unsustainable over the long term.’[6]

3. Lack of equitable distribution of forest benefits

Most of the timber that is extracted by industrial corporations in Canada is exported from the harvesting region with little or no value added to the export [7]. For example, it is exported as raw logs, pulp or newsprint. This means that the potential economic gains that can come from turning a log into a table, guitar or cabinet are exported out of the community and often out of the country. In conventional forestry, corporations and their shareholders benefit from timber extraction but forest-based communities are declining as the increased mechanization of forestry practices reduces opportunities for local employment.[8]

4. Forestry-dependent communities lack resiliency

Although the provincial tenure systems were designed to establish community security through infrastructure and long-term commitment, recent studies have illustrated that single resource towns are unstable, as they lack a diverse economic base and are vulnerable in the face of the fluctuating industrial market and industry’s practice of overcutting.[9]

5. Corporations are removed from the communities they are affecting

In the present reality of corporate mergers and acquisitions, an over-riding problem of industrial tenure is that the people making broad-based decisions that affect forest-based communities do not live in the communities themselves, and are far removed from the negative impacts of industrial forestry practices. Ultimately, the awarding of tenure is a transferal of power. Corporations and governments are making management decisions that detrimentally affect our forests, Aboriginal peoples, forest-based communities and forest-dwelling wildlife. In response to this, (and with concerns and hopes for the unallocated forests in Canada), many people in Canada are calling for ‘good forest governance’ in which local people and communities are recognized as legitimate and important actors. [10] Not only in Canada, but throughout the world, community forests are being promoted as an alternative management approach with the potential to redress the trends of industrial forestry illustrated in this pamphlet: practices that fragment forests, fail to maintain forest ecosystem structure, composition and function, cut at unsustainable rates and keep the public at arm’s length from forestry management and benefits.

III. The potential of community forests

COMMUNITY FORESTS ARE FORESTS IN WHICH TENURE IS GRANTED TO communities. Community forests have a high degree of local control over decision making regarding forest management, and take responsibility for the benefits and costs of their decisions. They include and respect the needs and integrity of a holistic community that includes both humans and nature. [11] In a community forest, the ‘stakeholders’ are the community members themselves.[12] The people making the decisions are the same people affected by them. People living adjacent to a forest ecosystem have more incentive to ensure that the forest will be healthy for future generations, and that it is utilized for a multiplicity of values, not just timber extraction. Because communities are diverse and complex, many models of community forest boards have been established that allow for a diversity of opinions yet work towards a common goal.[13]

Community forests have the potential to diversify local economies: they can strive to add more value to each tree before it is exported, utilize the forest for tourism opportunities and educational initiatives, or harvest non-timber forest products (many of which have cultural significance for Aboriginal communities). Alternative tenure options like community forests also have the potential to break the stranglehold of corporate tenure holders over wood supply. If communities band together to put their wood on the marketplace, or sell it to niche markets, they can create a market in which timber prices more accurately reflect the value of trees. This is already happening — the Canadian Eco-Lumber Co-op, a partnership between ecoforestry operations, processors of eco-certified wood and advocates of ecoforestry has been created to assist member ecoforestry operations connect with appreciative markets.[14 ] Lastly, community members participating in the management of a community forest have the opportunity to manage their forest differently; according to local values and principles. Many communities possess a vision of forest management that strives to maintain the integrity of the forest, while providing community benefits. This vision is called ecosystem-based forest management.

Ecosystem-based forest management

The premise of ecosystem based management is that when you manage a forest, you look at maintaining the whole forest ecosystem — everything from the soil microorganisms to wildlife to standing trees to human communities, for the long term. Ecosystem-based management aims to maintain native wildlife at optimal levels, a full range of extant environmental services (water yield and storage, carbon storage and sequestration), natural distribution of tree species and age classes and inclusion and perpetuation of natural forest disturbance mechanisms. [15]

The main difference between ecosystem-based forest management and conventional forestry is that ecosystem-based forest management puts the maintenance of the forest’s ecological integrity, and not fiber targets, at the front of its planning process, and bases fiber output on the ecosystem’s biological limitations.16 Many forest companies and governments claim in publications and promotional material to follow the tenets of ecosystem-based forest management. However, as their practices consistently place timber yields before ecological integrity, their claim misconstrues the very premise of the term.


01 Canada’s Forests at a Crossroads: An Assessment in the Year 2000. Global Forest Watch and World Resources Institute. Washington, p.11.

02 B. Tanchak, from www.forestsolutions.ca/issue3softwood.html

03 Clogg, “Tenure Reform for Ecologically and Socially Responsible Forest Use in British Columbia,” 1997. p. 13. from www.wcel.org

04 Jackson, S.M. et al, “A comparison of pre-European settlement and current forest composition in central Ontario,” 2000. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 30 (4), 605-612.

05 Canada’s Forests at a Crossroads: An Assessment in the Year 2000

06 Ibid, 11.

07 For example, in Canada in 2001, 69.9 million cubic meters of lumber was produced, and 50 million cubic meters were exported, primarily to the US, and approximately two thirds of the wood pulp produced for paper was exported. The State of Canada’s Forests, 2001-2002, Natural Resources Canada, Ottawa.

08 For example, The State of the Forests Report 2001 for Ontario notes that “Inflation combined with few pay increases, and the shift towards lower paying and part-time employment, has reduced the average wage of those working in forest-based resource industries by more than $10,000 between 1985 and 1995.” (3-93) and “Direct employment in the forestry sector has decreased, due to the continues shift from labour to machinery as the basis for productivity.” (3-93). State of the Forests Report, Ministry of Natural Resources, 2002. Queen’s Printer.

09 The State of the Forests Report 2001 for Ontario documents a study that assesses community socio-economic resiliency, and finds an inverse correlation between socio-economic resilience and forest dependency. Ibid.

10 For more information on good governance and forestry, you can read about “The initiative on promoting food forest governance in Asia and the Pacific, c/o The Regional Community Forestry Training Center for Asia and the Pacific, www.recoftc.org.

11 M’Gonigle, Micheal. Living Communities in a Living Forest: Towards an Ecosystem-based Structure of Local Tenure and Management. Discussion Paper. Faculty of Law and School of Environmental Studies, University of Victoria, 1996. p. 10.

12 Clogg, p.8.

13 Ibid., p.5

14 For more information, visit: www.ecolumber.ca

15 Gray, Tim, “Forests are Capital, Wood is Interest: Canadian Forest Campaigning in 2000 and Beyond”. Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Wildlands League Chapter, Toronto, 2000, and Clayoquot Sound Scientific Panel.

end of executive summary

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