The science and provincial leadership behind ecosystem-based forestry

By February 2, 2016Blog, CBFA News

A significant step has been taken to increase the similarity between natural and managed forest landscapes —in essence ensuring forest management practices better take their cue from nature. Earlier this month forestry companies belonging to the Forest Products Association of Canada, in collaboration with leading environmental groups, announced their commitment to a new approach aimed at improving ecological management of Canada’s largest ecosystem, the boreal forest. These “Forestry Requirements for Natural Range of Variation (NRV) Analysis and Target Setting” represent a voluntary and deepened commitment by FPAC member forest companies and others to manage the boreal forest using knowledge of natural patterns of ecosystem structure and composition to guide forest management activities.

The idea of using the NRV of a forest emerged almost 20 years ago from the science of conservation biology, and it is the conceptual foundation for an ecosystem-based management (EBM) approach to forestry.  As part of work initiated under the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (CBFA), an extensive review of the evolving science underpinning NRV was commissioned: “Towards a Natural Range of Variation (NRV) Strategy for the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement”.

Much of the science of NRV and the thinking on its applications have emerged in recent years from Canada’s provincial government science departments.  The CBFA signatories commissioned a detailed review of how the concepts of EBM, and NRV in particular, were being applied in Canada’s boreal forests: “Status Report on Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM): Policy Barriers & Opportunities for EBM in Canada”.

Some conclusions from these reports reveal the extent of provincial leadership on this issue and the need for forest sector voluntary leadership to advance the concept.

Many provinces are already applying EBM concepts through policy.   The EBM report notes, for example, that the province of Ontario “has developed the most comprehensive approach to implementing forest planning guidelines that emulate natural species compositions, patters and structures across the landscape”.

British Columbia and Quebec have also done significant work.  Again by way of example, the same report points to Quebec “ensuring the preservation of the biodiversity and viability of ecosystems by reducing the gaps between managed forests and natural forests.”

At the same time, there are also differences in how provinces have approached EBM and the stage of implementation they have achieved. In particular, most provinces are still working to develop clear standards for operationalizing EBM in forest management practices.

As a result of these conclusions CBFA signatories have undertaken activity to advance and deepen the application of this fundamental management approach, in many cases building on the path laid by twenty years of scientific and technical visioning forged by Canada’s provincial governments. This work on harvest practices complements other work being done under the CBFA, such as planning for protected areas as well as for the recovery of species such as caribou.


Diane Roddy is the co-ordinator for the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement’s Goal 1 National Working Group.