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Derek Nighbor is the president and CEO of the Forest Products Association of Canada. Susan Yurkovich is the president and CEO of the Council of BC Forest Industries. Denis Lebel is president of the Quebec Forest Industries Association (Conseil de l’industrie forestiere du Quebec).

Climate change and the environment are now among the top issues for Canadians during a federal election campaign. The Angus Reid Institute recently reported that nearly 70 per cent of Canadians say climate change should be a top priority for the next federal government.

Shortly before the election period began, the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers (CCFM) met in Saskatchewan, and launched A Shared Vision for Canada’s Forests: Toward 2030 – a forestry road map that should be mandatory reading for decision makers across the country. The CCFM report promotes the important role that forests, forestry workers and forest products play in our shared fight against climate change. It also reminds us of the work we must do together to reduce the risk of wildfires to families living in communities surrounded by forests.

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Those who live and work near Canada’s forests have seen ecosystems change as our climate changes. Devastating pest outbreaks from the spruce budworm in the east to the mountain pine beetle in the west (and now the spruce bark and Douglas-fir bark beetles), coupled with worsening fire seasons means that nearly 25 times the number of trees that we sustainably harvest are being damaged or destroyed by pests and fires annually.

In Canada’s forestry communities, we see this as an important call to action.

Canada is already a global leader in sustainable forest management and reforestation. We are home to multipurpose “working forests,” we plant some 600 million seedlings a year, and the Canadian approach to forest management is deeply rooted in collaboration and finding balance.

Ninety-four per cent of the forests managed in Canada sit on lands under the purview of provincial governments. To meet the high standards that come with operating on public lands, Canada’s forestry workers assume important environmental responsibilities to manage for biodiversity, wetlands preservation, watershed protection and other values.

Social and community values are also top of mind as we build roads that support recreational activities, and develop harvesting plans that are informed by engagement with Indigenous peoples and local communities.

People who live in forested communities know that fire is part of the natural cycle for forest renewal. In fact, Canada’s registered professional foresters and technologists look to emulate these natural disturbance patterns in how they plan their harvests. But recent modelling by Natural Resources Canada shows that these natural disturbances are expected to worsen beyond historical levels as we approach the year 2100.

With wildfires emitting mass volumes of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere every year, we know this is an issue we need to address head on and quickly to mitigate further negative effects on forest health, community safety and stability and access to timber for harvesting.

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Trees do not live forever. In the boreal forest, trees only live for about 100 years. As trees get older they become more susceptible to pests or fires, or they simply die and decay over time, turning into carbon and methane emitters. By harvesting these trees before they reach this state, and turning them into wood products that store carbon, we create a win-win for the environment and the economy.

Natural Resources Canada’s 2018 State of the Forests Report confirms that sustainably harvesting trees and turning them into carbon-storing products, and replanting younger seedlings, provides a carbon sink of 20 million tonnes.

The recent commitment by the federal Liberals to plant two billion trees over the next 10 years is welcome news, but planting trees is just the first step. We need to ensure that we are monitoring and managing them to keep our forests healthy for generations. Through a uniquely Canadian approach to forest management, we can promote biodiversity while simultaneously continuing to provide direct jobs to some 230,000 Canadians across the country.

We have a huge opportunity to do more, but it will require a shift in how governments approach forest management in Canada. It is critical that Canadians collectively embrace a more comprehensive land-based approach that allows us to manage our forests with greater certainty, so we can reduce carbon emissions and renew these forests – keeping them as forests forever.

We need governments to enable a more adaptive approach to the management of Canada’s forests, support increased investment in more regionally-based climate vulnerability assessments and look to pest and fire risk mitigation as a primary consideration when it comes to landscape planning.

The CCFM’s road map sets out the vision, the goals and the ways we can get there. We now need our country’s leaders to step up and empower us to do more – for the environment and to provide greater certainty to forestry workers and local economies in the more than 600 forestry communities across Canada.

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