Caring for Alberta’s Forests

Responsibly managing the province’s forests ensures they continue to thrive for generations to come.

Forested lands make up more than 60 percent of Alberta, and these forests help people, plants and animals in innumerable ways. Forests capture carbon, maintain important watersheds and are home to thousands of wildlife species. They connect us to nature and history, and hold a significant importance for Indigenous peoples in Alberta.

Alberta’s forest industry employs more than 30,000 Albertans, and provides lumber and plywood to build the homes and buildings we live and work in, as well as pulp and paper products for the books we love, medical supplies we need, and even the HDTV screens we watch.

“Alberta’s forests affect the province’s quality of life in so many ways that people may not even think about,” says Aspen Dudzic, director of communications for the Alberta Forest Products Association. “Air quality, clean drinking water, biodiversity, flood and fire control all depend on the health of our forest ecosystems. In addition, forests provide economic, social and cultural benefits for many communities across the province. We have such a healthy abundance of forest today because of Alberta forest companies’ decades-long commitments to sustainable forest management practices.”

Effective forest management

Ensuring the sustainable harvesting and regeneration of Alberta forests is critical to the environmental, economic, social and cultural health of the province.

That’s why, before harvesting a single tree, Alberta forestry companies create 200-year forest management plans that must be approved by the provincial government. These comprehensive plans dictate how ecological functions will be protected and how operations will result in a healthy forest in the future. Factors like vegetation, wildlife, water sources, soil quality and climate change are all factored in along with input from Indigenous communities.

Strategic plans that cover such a long duration ensure that Alberta’s forests remain healthy for generations to come. “Under the very best conditions, most of our native tree species can live up to 120 years. That’s the kind of timescale forest management planners have to consider to maintain the long-term health of our forests. Forests beyond that age are at risk of wildfire and pest infestation,” affirms Dudzic.

Strategic regeneration

Following a harvest, companies are required by law to regenerate harvest areas — this can be done by planting with a similar mix of trees, or by creating optimal conditions for forests to regenerate themselves naturally. Alberta forest companies grow three trees for every one harvested — this translated into more than 100 million coniferous trees in 2021 alone. Over the past 20 years, Alberta forestry companies have regrown nearly two billion trees. And, they are required to monitor their replanted forest ecosystems for at least 14 years to ensure they remain healthy and viable.

Growing back bio-diverse, healthy forests that provide multiple benefits for Albertans requires tools like strategic harvesting, which mimics the benefits of fire without the risks. Unlike fires, harvesting is carefully planned and controlled — the size, shape and location of harvest areas are chosen for maximum benefit and minimum risk. Taking care to ensure companies cut less forest than what is grown each year results in less than one percent of Alberta’s forest being harvested each year.

Strategic harvesting also means leaving buffer zones around important features like wetlands, rivers, sensitive wildlife habitat and sites of cultural importance. The harvested areas help the forest, too — creating spaces between stands of mature forest can slow the spread of fire and disease, making mature forests less vulnerable. The outcome is that Alberta has a natural distribution of young and mature forests, rather than a disproportionate area of mature and over-mature forests.

Plus, since trees take in carbon from the atmosphere, the carbon in the harvested trees stays locked in the products and materials produced by the forest sector. When trees burn due to wildfires or decay following insect infestation, carbon is released back into the atmosphere.

Through effective forest management, Alberta maximizes a number of benefits: fire and insect risks are mitigated, carbon stays sequestered in wood products, newly replanted areas absorb more carbon and a natural distribution of young and old forests.

Such thoughtful planning continues to evolve as the forest industry develops innovative ways to carry out sustainable forest management (SFM). That means Alberta forests will continue to thrive, now and in the future.

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This content was produced for the advertiser by RedPoint Media for commercial purposes. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Avenue staff.

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