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Sustainably managed lands and forests

Long-term goal

Lands and forests support biodiversity and provide a variety of ecosystem services for generations to come

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Why is this issue important

Canada's natural spaces, including forests, wetlands, grasslands, peatlands, and tundra, as well as agricultural lands, provide habitat that wildlife populations need to thrive. They also provide ecosystem services that are essential for our well-being, such as filtering our air and water and storing carbon dioxide, an important greenhouse gas.

Forests are fundamental to the cultural and spiritual values of Indigenous peoples. Lands and forests also contribute to Canada's economy. In 2017, the forest sector contributed about $23 billion to Canada's economy and directly supported about 209 940 jobs across the country.

While Canada enjoys large tracts of forest land and other wilderness areas, we cannot take them for granted. Protecting and sustainably using lands and forests is necessary to ensure they provide benefits for the long term. Canada's world-class national park system includes 46 national parks and 1 national urban park that protect over 328 198 square kilometres of land to pass on unimpaired to future generations.

Protecting forested areas also helps to protect and sustain lands of cultural importance to Indigenous peoples and maintain traditional uses of the land and resources.

Canada's Nature Legacy

Funding through Canada's Nature Legacy supports our Sustainably Managed Lands and Forests goal. For example:

  • through the new Challenge Fund, we are providing support for projects that help meet Canada's target of conserving at least 17% of land and inland waters by 2020
  • we have announced early funding for 28 Indigenous projects under the Indigenous Guardians Pilot Program
  • we are supporting the establishment of at least 20 Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas, making significant progress towards our target and contributing meaningfully to reconciliation—beginning with Edéhzhíe Protected Area in the Northwest Territories which was designated in October 2018
  • we continue to work with partners to establish new protected areas in Canada and manage existing ones

Grasslands conservation in Canada

Canada's grasslands extend from Ontario, through the Prairies, and into British Columbia. They provide habitat for species, conserve soil and water, and provide valuable grazing land for cattle. However, today, temperate grasslands are the most endangered biome on the planet. In Canada, about 70% of native grasslands have been lost.

Grasslands National Park, located in southwestern Saskatchewan, was established in 1981 to protect mixed-grass prairie. Since then we have worked to restore and enhance ecosystems within the park through actions such as implementing a multi-species at risk action plan for Grasslands National Park, enhancing regional connectivity, utilizing beneficial cattle grazing and re-vegetating previously cultivated fields with native grasses and wildflowers. We have also reintroduced the Plains Bison, used fire to promote the growth of native plants and control invasive species, and enhanced the habitat of multiple species at risk including the endangered Greater Sage Grouse.

Nature Champions Summit: Call to Action

Canada is taking action through historic investments in conservation and is doubling the amount of nature we protect across our lands and oceans. In April 2019, Canada hosted the Nature Champions Summit, in Montréal. A coalition of Nature Champions - including international leaders from philanthropy, industry, non-governmental organizations, United Nations agencies, Indigenous peoples and governments at all levels from around the world - came together and issued a Call to Action. The global call to action recognizes that protecting nature has important intrinsic value, supports strong economies and communities, and is a critical tool for fighting climate change and adapting to its impacts. It includes commitments to increase the amount of nature protected worldwide and mobilize new resources to support that goal; address the root causes of biodiversity loss; and ensure global economic, cultural, political, and social decision-making reflect the critical need to protect nature.

Canada in the world

Conserving lands and managing forests sustainably supports the 2030 Agenda and its global Sustainable Development Goals—in particular SDG 8, Decent Work and Economic Growth; SDG 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities; and SDG 15, Life on Land. It also supports specific SDG targets, as well as other international agreements and initiatives.

Work under this goal supports progress toward the 2020 Biodiversity Goals and Targets for Canada and the global conservation objectives of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity—in particular, by supporting our commitment to conserve at least 17% of Canada's terrestrial areas and inland waters by 2020, and by helping to ensure continued progress on sustainable forest management.

For details on how this goal supports international action, see Annex 3.

Connections with other FSDS areas

Conserving lands and managing forests sustainably support FSDS targets related to climate action, protecting plants and animals, sustainable food, clean growth, clean energy and helping Canadians connect with nature:

  • actions related to forests and other ecosystems can provide natural solutions to climate change and protect communities from climate change impacts and extreme weather
  • healthy lands and forests provide habitat that species at risk need to recover and thrive as well as increasing the biodiversity of our agricultural working landscapes
  • national parks and other protected areas provide opportunities for Canadians to connect with nature and help build sustainable communities
  • making energy exploration more sustainable includes reducing its impact on the land, helping to protect natural spaces and biodiversity
  • investments in clean technology and innovation directly contribute to sustainable practices in the forest sector and increase economic benefits
  • management and conservation of wetlands can help protect drinking water supplies from contamination

Our partners

Provinces, territories, municipalities, Indigenous peoples, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and individual landowners all play a role in conserving natural spaces. For example:

  • provinces and territories establish and manage provincial and territorial parks, and support conservation by providing information, assistance and incentives
  • Indigenous peoples play a key role in the establishment, protection and management of protected areas in traditionally used lands and waters in a variety of jurisdictions
  • non-governmental organizations help landowners and businesses implement conservation on private lands through conservation easements, covenants and other measures

As the order of government responsible for natural resources management, provinces and territories develop and enforce legislation, set standards and implement programs to ensure their forest resources are managed sustainably. Indigenous peoples also control and manage a growing portion of Canada's forest land and are important partners in achieving conservation and management goals.

Canada leads the world in forest area certified by third parties, which provides further assurance that a company is operating legally, sustainably, and in compliance with globally recognized standards. Certification complements Canada's already comprehensive forest management regulations.

Partners taking action - Ecosystem research supporting sustainable forest management

Ecosystem-Based Management Emulating Natural Disturbance (EMEND) is a large-scale, long-term, landscape-level project that allows researchers to conduct studies in a working industrial forest. EMEND is improving our understanding of how the western boreal forest ecosystem responds to disturbances—both natural and human-caused. This knowledge is helping the forest sector improve and adapt operational practices, make informed management decisions, and maintain market access. It is also teaching us about the best approaches to maintain healthy, sustainable forest ecosystems in Canada's boreal regions.

Responsible ministers/Key departments and agencies

Minister of Environment and Climate Change; Minister of Natural Resources / Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency; Canadian Food Inspection Agency; Department of Finance Canada; Environment and Climate Change Canada; Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Incorporated; Natural Resources Canada; Parks Canada; Statistics Canada

Canada's starting point

  • To measure our success in conserving lands and inland waters, we track area conserved as a proportion of total land and freshwater. As of the end of 2018, 11.2% had been conserved through networks of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures. Reflecting ongoing increases in conserved area, in April 2019 the Minister of Environment and Climate Change announced that 11.8% of Canada's land and fresh water has now been conserved.
  • Tracking the ecological integrity of our national parks helps us to understand how effectively we are managing these areas. We assess ecological integrity by regularly monitoring parks ecosystems such as forests, grasslands, freshwater and wetlands. As of March 2018, the ecological integrity of 88% of Canada's national park ecosystems was either stable or improving.
  • To measure our progress on managing our forests sustainably, we track how they are changing over time. In 2015, Canada had 347 million hectares of forest land—the third-largest forest area in the world. Annually, less than 0.02% of that land is deforested (that is, permanently converted to another land use type).
  • We also track the amount of timber harvested annually relative to the wood supply (the maximum volume that can be harvested from an area over a specified period of time while meeting environmental, economic and social objectives). In 2016, 157 million cubic metres of timber was harvested, while the estimated wood supply was 223 million cubic metres.
  • Going forward, to measure how human activity is transforming the landscape and affecting wildlife and the environment, we will track changes in land use over time—for example, from agriculture to settlements and forest land to agriculture.