Unit 4 - Sustainable Forest Management

Lesson 3: Practical Applications of SFM

In order to be effective, the principles of Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) must be translated into practical strategies that can be used by industries operating in Canada's forests.

Below are two examples of strategies currently being used to minimize negative environmental effects.

Working together to reduce fragmentation.

In Alberta, the oil and gas industry and the forestry industry both operate on the same land base. The combined or "cumulative" effects of these two industries have resulted in negative ecological consequences for Alberta's forests. One of these cumulative effects is a significant degree of forest fragmentation. Forest fragmentation is the breaking up of large patches of forest into smaller pieces. This happens when the forest is cleared to make way for roads and development.
Although some roads are required for resource extraction, the problem of fragmentation increases when there is a lack of coordination between different industries. For example, in the past, rather than sharing one road into a forest, forestry companies and oil and gas companies have typically built their own roads, often in close proximity to one another.
Practices such as this have resulted in needless duplication of road networks. This has led to a substantial fragmentation, which poses huge problems for species that rely on large tracts of undisturbed forest habitat in order to thrive. For example, the woodland caribou hide in the forest to escape detection by predators. However, when this same forest is crisscrossed by roads, wolves can easily use these access routes to hunt the caribou.

Today, in Alberta, efforts are being made to reduce forest fragmentation through the implementation of Integrated Land Management. This approach seeks to co-ordinate the activities of the energy industry and the forestry industry to reduce environmental impact on forests. For example, imagine that an oil and gas company needs to build a road to access resources. An integrated land management approach would involve the oil/gas company contacting the forestry company that has permission to harvest the trees in the area. The forestry company could go in first to harvest the trees, building a road that both companies could share.

Tree harvesting practices that mimic the effects of forest fire.

In Canada, clearcutting is the most common tree harvesting technique. In conventional clearcutting, the entire stand of trees is harvested from an area at one time, leaving behind blocks or strips that are virtually devoid of any remaining trees. It was widely believed that this method was best because it closely approximates what happens during naturally-occurring forest fires.

Generally speaking, however, forest fires do not destroy everything in their path. Rather, they tend to leave patches of forest behind. Recent research has shown that these residual patches appear to play a very important role in preserving the biodiversity of species within the forest. This is because the mosaic of plant communities left behind after a fire provides the variety of trees and plants to sustain various species of wildlife.

With this in mind, many forest companies operating in the boreal forest have moved away from clearcutting and are opting instead for harvesting methods that more closely mimic wildfire. In other words, they harvest areas of variable shapes and sizes, and purposefully leave behind areas of standing timber, downed woody debris, and snags. This helps conserve species diversity and promotes forest regeneration.