In the last 50 years, people have learned more about forests than ever before. We now know, for example, how important it is to maintain a healthy ecosystem and biodiversity. We also recognize what an important part forest products play in our lives today. This knowledge forms the foundation on which forest stewardship rests.
What does forest stewardship mean?
Forest stewardship means taking responsibility for our role in forest management. Resolute Forest Products’ approach to stewardship relies on “sustainable forest management”. It includes a number of important elements. Foresters are professionals who have the necessary knowledge and tools to implement these elements.
Detailed plans are developed in collaboration with First Nations, stakeholders and the government who owns the land. These plans describe the forest and the locations where harvesting is proposed. Although over 40% of the boreal forest in Quebec and Ontario is already off limits to the forest products industry, we limit our activities to the portions of what we call the “managed forest” to areas that respect very strict conditions. In this way, we minimize our impact on the environment and the forest’s natural evolution. By taking into account these protections and restrictions as well as the natural constraints involved in harvesting, only about a third of the continuous boreal forest is actually open to harvesting.
Choosing sites with care
Foresters consult with First Nations and local communities as the first step in coordinating use of any territory. They use detailed maps, aerial photography and satellite images, exhaustive studies of fauna, and data gathered over decades to select the right areas where harvesting and other management activities can be carried out. This planning and all of our operations are carried out in accordance with the criteria and indicators of Sustainable Forest Management in Canada, to ensure that:
1. Biological diversity is maintained;
2. The conditions and productivity levels of ecosystems are maintained;
3. The soil and water are protected;
4. Contribution to global ecological cycles is maintained;
5. Long term social and economic benefits are maintained or improved;
6. Society’s responsibility is met.
When an area is selected for harvesting, a thorough analysis of local conditions is carried out to ensure that our activities result in minimal disturbance.
The number of trees harvested each year is limited to the forest’s capacity to produce new wood each year is regularly reviewed in order to account for new knowledge or decisions that have been made about the area, such as the establishment of protected areas. In other words, the volume harvested each year can be considered the ‘interest’ on the total forest ‘capital’ available for harvest.
All of the forest lands under Resolute’s stewardship are certified to at least one of the three internationally recognized standards for sustainable forest management.
Inspired by nature
Is forest sustainability measured by the number of trees planted? Certainly not in the boreal forest! While the idea of planting trees provides a reassuring image, natural regeneration is recognized as the most ecologically sound approach to sustainable forest management in the boreal. We believe it should be prioritized wherever possible.
The boreal forest is a vast and unique ecosystem, and its renewal is mostly driven by natural disturbances like wildfires, windstorms, and insect infestations. Fortunately, most boreal species are well adapted to these disturbances. This is called “resilience”. For example, jack pine and black spruce produce cones that resist very high temperatures like those reached during a forest fire. In the days and weeks following a fire, the cones slowly open up and release their seeds, which sprout quickly on the mineral soil exposed after the burning of the humus (organic matter on the forest floor).
Balsam fir and black spruce also grow well under a mature canopy. The young trees can also benefit from a sudden opening of the canopy resulting from insect outbreaks or windstorms. Black spruce, by far the dominant species in the boreal forest, has two different but very effective regeneration mechanisms: there’s the sexual form (through seed germination), and the vegetative form through “layering” (low-hanging branches touching the ground in a thick layer of moss and, over time, developing their own system of roots).
Professional foresters have taken advantage of these natural regeneration processes for decades. In fact, our experience shows that by emulating natural disturbances through harvesting techniques, natural regeneration benefits about 75% of the areas harvested annually. Planting becomes necessary only for the remaining 25%, where natural regeneration was insufficient or not present under the mature canopy (for example, jack pine specifically needs fire to regenerate).
Techniques known as “careful logging” or “cuts with protection of regeneration and soil” (CPRS) were developed and improved starting in the late 1980s to maximize natural regeneration already present at the time of harvesting. These techniques are so effective that we sometimes need to “space” the growing trees after 10 to 15 years of growth.
From a biodiversity perspective, seedlings that establish themselves naturally are best adapted to the environment and soil of a particular area. Natural regeneration means site-specific genes are perpetuated in the next generation of trees – for example, black spruce “layers” are referred to as “natural clones” of the harvested trees!
Planting remains an important tool in sustainable forest management, even in the boreal forest. Planting is not only necessary where natural regeneration needs helps; it also improves forest yield, which means more land elsewhere can be set aside for conservation.
Reforestation begins each year at the end of May and runs through to early September. Teams of between 12 and 60 people take to the forest, with each planter planting around 2,000 trees a day. In 2012, Resolute planted 60 million trees in Quebec and Ontario, and also celebrated the planting of our billionth tree in Ontario!
Natural regeneration saved during logging operation in Quebec Lac St-Jean region
Abundance of natural regeneration will often result in the necessity to perform a “spacing” operation at age 10 to 15.
Returning regularly to ensure regeneration
Over several years following a harvest, we return regularly to the area to ensure that regeneration is progressing well, and to perform corrective measures if needed.