Deforestation is a global issue and one of the causes of climate change. Canada ranks third in the world in forest area and protecting Canadian forests from deforestation is of global importance. How well is Canada managing its forest and their sustainable use?
In this article, we look at what deforestation looks like in Canada. We have also included key statistics on the level of global deforestation for comparison.
Deforestation Statistics for Canadians
- Canada has almost 362 million hectares of forest.
- In 40 years, 3,3 million hectares of forest have been converted for other purposes in Canada.
- Between 1990 and 2015, 42% of deforestation in Canada occurred because of agriculture.
- Only 0.02% of Canadian forests were affected by deforestation in 2005.
- Canadians produce 14.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person each year.
- 3% of greenhouse gases in Canada come from deforestation.
- 41% of global deforestation is caused by clearing crazing land for beef cattle.
Deforestation in Canada
As we mentioned earlier, Canada has the third largest forested land area in the world. In total, there are almost 362 million hectares of forest, and much of this forest, over 280 million hectares, is in the boreal zone where the forests intersperse with wetlands, lakes, and other types of ecosystems.
What is Meant by Deforestation?
Deforestation is the term used to describe any action that destroys forested land so it can be used for other purposes. These purposes include using the land for urban development, industrial use, and agriculture. One of the most common reasons for deforestation is using the land for cattle grazing, and once the cattle are using the land, the trees cannot come back.
While wildfires can destroy large areas of forests, it is not deforestation. When an area is destroyed by fire, it will grow back after the disaster. This is called forest degradation, while deforestation refers to the permanent destruction of the forested area.
What Are Canada’s Forests Like?
The forests in Canada are a mixture of different ages and types. While young trees growing after harvesting or wildfires dominate some forests, others contain mainly slow-growing old trees. The Canadian forests are among the most biodiverse areas on Earth. However, these ecosystems and the wildlife inhabiting them can sometimes be threatened by human activity.
The Boreal Forests in Canada Are Vital Ecosystems
The boreal forests that grow in Canada can store double the carbon compared to tropical forests. Therefore, these ecosystems are vital for regulating the carbon footprint not just in Canada, but across the globe. The forests in Canada store 27 years’ worth of carbon emissions from the world’s fossil fuel consumption. When the forests are destroyed, not only will they no longer absorb carbon, but they will also emit carbon into the atmosphere.
These boreal forests are also important for the economic stability of the 2.5 million Canadians who live in the region. It has long been important to balance economic drivers with conservation objectives and as a result, the deforestation in the area is low. Between 1990 and 2008, it was just 0.3%.
How Much Forest is Lost to Deforestation in Canada?
Canada has a National Deforestation Monitoring System that monitors the use of forests in the country. In Canada, 3.3 million hectares of forested areas have been converted to alternative uses, including urbanisation, paper production, and livestock use. While this may sound like a lot, it means that less than 0.5% of the forests have been lost to deforestation in Canada since 1990. This means Canada’s forests are stable.
According to Natural Resources Canada, in 2005, around 56,000 hectares of forest were lost to deforestation in Canada. In general, the annual rate of deforestation in Canada has been decreasing and in 2005, only 0.02% of forests in Canada were affected by deforestation. While Canada has 10% of the world’s forests, the country’s share of global deforestation is only around 0.4%.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Deforestation in Canada
It is estimated that in Canada, deforestation causes less than 3% of the country’s total greenhouse emissions while globally, 20% of greenhouse emissions are caused by deforestation. Most of the greenhouse emissions from deforestation occur in developing countries. Canada’s share of global greenhouse emissions from deforestation is 2%.
Canadians’ Carbon Footprint
Since 2019, Canadians have produced approximately 14.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person in a year. Carbon dioxide is produced by vehicles running on fossil fuels, air travel, farming, as well as deforestation. At 14.2 tonnes, Canada’s carbon footprint is higher than in many other industrialised nations. For example, the UK produces 8.5 tonnes and China 5 tonnes per person.
Causes of Deforestation in Canada
One of the main causes of deforestation across the globe is agriculture, and the same applies in Canada where 42% of deforestation was caused by agriculture between 1990 and 2015. The forests were destroyed to be used by livestock or to grow crops.
Another main cause of deforestation is the extraction of natural resources such as gas, minerals, and oil. While these natural resources are vital for the economy of Canada, it has a big impact on the forests. Between 1990 and 2015, 24% of deforestation in Canada occurred because of resource extraction.
Deforestation Caused By Logging Scars
Logging scars have a big impact on deforestation figures in Canada. This is deforestation caused by logging activities. This activity removes trees to create temporary worksites and roads that are needed by the logging industry. It also leaves the ground hard-packed, which makes it harder for seedlings to grow.
Logging scars in Ontario alone make up 21,700 hectares of deforested areas in Canada. It is estimated that by 2030, logging scars will have reduced the Canadian forests’ ability to absorb carbon dioxide by 41 megatonnes. In comparison, that is the same amount as a whole year’s emissions from Canadian passenger vehicles.
While Canada is managing its forests carefully to minimise deforestation, unfortunately, the picture across the globe is not as positive, and large areas of forested land are lost every day. There are different estimates of how much forest is lost to deforestation each year, with some sources saying the global loss is ten million acres per year while others say it is much higher at 18 million acres per year.
History of Global Deforestation
People have been cutting down forests for thousands of years. As the human population on the planet grew, more forested lands were needed for agriculture, building materials, and heating up homes. However, when the human population was smaller, the impact on the forests was less significant.
As the population grew and industrialised, the need to cut down forests intensified. Since the 1900s, the world has lost the same amount of forests as in the 9000 years before that. Most of this is because of the continued need for more land for agriculture.
Often, people think that we have lost forests and other ecosystems because of ever-expanding cities. While some land has been lost to build and expand towns and cities, urbanisation only accounts for 1% of habitable land across the world.
How Much Forest is Lost to Deforestation?
Globally, just over a quarter (27%) of forest loss occurs because of deforestation. The other 73% is forest degradation caused by the logging industry at 26%, shifting local agriculture at 24%, and wildfires at 23%. Degradation means the loss of the forest is not permanent.
95% of global deforestation takes place in the tropics and especially in Southeast Asia and Latin America. Much of this is to grow crops such as soy and palm oil or to provide pasture for beef cattle.
Most of the forest degradation, in contrast, takes place in temperate countries. While in Europe and North America, forested land was lost to agriculture in the past, this is no longer happening. In these areas, temporary forest loss now occurs because of sustainable harvesting or wildfires.
How Much Carbon Dioxide is Caused by Global Deforestation?
Global deforestation results in around 4.8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere per year. This is equal to almost 10% of the total annual human carbon dioxide emissions.
Globally, Beef Production is Responsible For 41% of Deforestation
The global demand for beef has meant that the farming industry has needed to clear new pasture lands for beef cattle. 80% of all deforestation for creating crazing lands for beef cattle occurs in the Amazon. However, this is driven by growing beef for export, with the US and China being the largest beef consumers in the world.
Almost Half of Tropical Deforestation Occurs in Brazil And Indonesia
Around 1.7 million hectares of tropical rainforest are lost in Brazil every year. That is one-third of the global deforestation of tropical rainforests, while deforestation in Indonesia represents about a fifth of total rainforest loss. This is not only bad news for climate change but has also resulted in a 68% decline in animal populations in these forests.
Global Deforestation Has Slowed Down Since The 1980s
While large amounts of forests are still lost every day in some countries, the total rate of deforestation has slowed down since its peak in the 1980s when 150 million hectares, which is half the size of India, were lost. In the 1990s, 78 million hectares were deforested, 52 million in the first decade of 2000, and 47 million in the 2010s.
The slowing down is partly because the yield from crops per capita has improved and therefore reduced the demand for new agricultural land. Since 1961, the use of agricultural land per person has more than halved: it is now 0.63 hectares per person compared to 1.45 hectares per person in 1961.
While deforestation has slowed down and many countries are now increasing rather than decreasing the number of forests, deforestation is still a major problem. And even though richer countries may have stopped deforestation at home, the demands of the customers from these countries are a major driver of global deforestation. Until the demand for products such as soy, palm oil, and beef decreases, deforestation will continue.
With 362 million hectares of forest, Canada has 10% of the world’s forests. Deforestation in Canada has been very minimal in recent decades and represents only around 0.4% of global deforestation.
The biggest driver, both in Canada and globally, behind deforestation is agriculture with forests being cut down to provide more grazing land for cattle, especially beef cattle, or to grow crops such as palm oil and soy.
While the rate of global deforestation has slowed down, it continues at an alarming rate in countries such as Brazil and Indonesia and is not likely to stop until the demand for products such as beef, soy, and palm oil decreases.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much of Canadian forest is lost to deforestation?
The deforestation rate in Canada is very low. In 2005, only 0.02% of the country’s forests were affected by deforestation.
What is the difference between deforestation and forest degradation?
Deforestation is used to describe the permanent loss of forest land for other purposes, for example, human habitation or farming. Forest degradation refers to the temporary loss of the forest due to human activities such as logging or extraction of natural resources or natural causes such as forest fires or insect infestations.
What causes deforestation in Canada?
The reasons for deforestation in Canada are similar to those across the globe, with agriculture being the main cause. Other causes include urbanization, logging, and mining.