Protecting half the boreal forest not good for economy: Dolter

Gary Kean
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CORNER BROOK — Canada may theoretically have the opportunity to do it, but Sean Dolter says it may be impractical to preserve half of the country’s boreal forest from development.

The authors of a paper presented at the International Congress of Conservation Biology in Baltimore, Md. earlier this week said Canada needs to take action to protect about 50 per cent of its vast tract of northern forests in order for the boreal forest to maintain its health.

According to an article on the report by The Canadian Press, that would be significantly higher than the 10 per cent level researchers previously thought was necessary to conserve natural systems.

Dolter, who is currently on sabbatical from his job as general manager of the Model Forest of Newfoundland and Labrador, had not yet read the actual report when contacted by The Western Star. He did say that Canada gets the lion’s share of the pressure to conserve more boreal forest at the global level, likely because the country has the most of it.

Canada, he said, sequesters about twice the carbon as tropical forests do and is considered “a breadbasket” for carbon storage when it comes to global pressure on conserving forests.

Development releases carbon stored in the boreal forest, which aggravates climate change.

“Canada could solve a lot of global issues with respect to carbon and some levels of protection by doing a 50 per cent level of conservation, but we will never be compensated for that,” said Dolter.

By that, Dolter means Canada would have to give up numerous economic opportunities generated from using the forest, if that much of it was to be protected.

Pressure likely to mount

He said the pressure on Canada to act on its potential to institute major conservation measures will likely continue to mount, but the economic value associated with the boreal forest must also be considered.

“You can be as eco-centric as you want, but the fact of the matter is we have a fairly large pulp and paper industry and sawmill industry,” said Dolter.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, there is a little less pressure on the forest resources from industry these days with the shutdown of two paper mills and the downsizing of Corner Brook Pulp and Paper in recent years. Still, the tough times in the forest products industry also means mills have to harvest trees in more concentrated areas.

“It would be nice if we could spread out harvesting all over the province and take a little form here and a little from there, but the costs of doing that are prohibitive,” said Dolter.

The surplus of forest also means there are more opportunities for the boreal forest to be used in the province in other ways.

“The challenge the provincial government now has is to look for ways to best use the forest while still maintaining its uniqueness and conservation and wildlife values,” he said. “It can sometimes be a matrix of competing interests.”

The boreal forest is a huge stretch of green that runs across the northern part of most provinces and the southern tips of the territories. Its 5.8 million square kilometres of forests, taiga, tundra, peatlands, salt marshes, rivers and lakes include the largest blocks of intact forest and wetlands left on Earth — more than half the world’s intact boreal forest and its largest area of surface freshwater.

It’s also home to caribou, grizzlies, wolverines, lynx and wolves as well as to many aboriginal communities that depend on it for food and cultural sustenance.

The report notes increasing industrial activity.

The authors say about 730,000 square kilometres have already been disturbed by oil and gas, mining, forestry and hydro development. Many boreal species from woodland caribou to Atlantic salmon to Canada warblers appear on at-risk lists.

Canada had the world’s largest share of mineral exploration spending in 2011. Much of that probing was in the boreal forest.

Also at risk are “ecological services” such as water quality and marine productivity.

Organizations: International Congress of Conservation Biology, Canadian Press

Geographic location: Canada, CORNER BROOK, Baltimore, Md. Newfoundland and Labrador Western Star

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Recent comments

  • A
    August 01, 2013 - 13:14

    The question is: When forests are clear cut and more than is sustainable is cut down, where will the water go? In Newfoundland especially, where the soil is delicate what happens to the landscape? Trees hold water in the soil as well as store CO2. What about future generations? There's nothing like cutting your nose off to spite your face.

  • Greg Strebel
    July 25, 2013 - 19:58

    We need a careful definition of "over-exploitation" here. The contention that exploitation is automatically overexploitation is not substantiated. It is a clear physical fact that extracting solid wood from a forest and 'sequestering' it for multiple decades in the form of buildings and allowing or causing renewal of the forest will, on balance, constitute a diversion from the carbon cycle. There is no intrinsic reason that exploitation of forests must harm climate cycles, nutrient cycles, wildlife & water resources. In the natural course of events, forests age and become subject to infestation and fire. These natural occurrences result in much greater releases of CO2 and methane than logging. in the absence of conditions allowing the deposition and growth of peat, boreal forests are in long term steady state, neither sequestering nor releasing additional carbon dioxide. To conclude otherwise would require demonstration of a sustained increase or decrease in biomass per unit of area.

  • Bob Diamond
    July 24, 2013 - 22:35

    In the long term preserving 50% of our country's boreal forest would be far more practical than continuing the overexploitation and degradation of the forest and protecting only 12% nationally as is the present situation. The boreal forests hold massive amounts of fresh water and carbon, and are important for wildlife, including more than a billion birds. The authors of the report are correct in warning us that continued overexploitation and degradation of the resources in the boreal region will have great consequences for climate cycles, nutrient cycles and the many life forms and the people who depend on them for support. It is too bad the Model Forest Organization hasn't used more of it's millions of tax payers dollars to actually create a model forest and support the repair and restoration of the forest, which is badly needed due to the damage and destruction caused by over exploitation.