Forest cover in Canada & the US

Global Forest Watch: The Loss of US & Canadian Forests

By Roy L Hales

Screen shot 2014-03-18 at 3.43.47 PMThere have been 150,000 visits to the Global Forest Watch website since it went online Thursday and for good reason. The interactive map is an an  online forest monitoring system, created by the World Resources Institute and more than 40 partners, that allows you to examine changes in the forest cover anywhere in the World. They drew upon many databases, including Google Maps , data from the University of Maryland and satellite imagery. Global Forest Watch has already shown that the World lost 2.3 million kilometres of tree covering between 2000 and 2012. My concerns were more specific, I wanted to know if the forests in Canada and the US are presently emitting, or storing, carbon.

“We don’t have that data yet,” said Forests Communication Officer James Anderson, who then proceeded to show me some of the data the site does have.

In one of the articles on his site, two parts of North America were identified among the World’s deforestation trouble-spots: the Southeast and my native British Columbia.

The map on the top of this page shows where much of North America’s tree covering is. In the deep green areas it covers from 75% to 100% of the land and in the lighter areas the coverage falls below 50%.

Zooming in on the East Coast. Note the amount of Pink (lost) areas in the South and, to a lesser degree, in Maine, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia - Courtesy online map at Global Forest Watch
Zooming in on the East Coast. Note the amount of Pink (lost) areas in the South and, to a lesser degree, in Maine, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia – Courtesy online map at Global Forest Watch

Between 2000 and 2012, the US lost 12.5 million hectares of its tree cover. Much of this, though not all,  was as a result of logging There were 1.11 forestry workers in 2006 and most of the logs they took were on private land.

Canada has lost 17.2 million hectares during the same time period. There were 275,000 people working in the forestry sector in 2006 and, unlike the US more than 90% of the trees they felled were on public lands.

Though the extent of the forest cover’s gains and losses are displayed using tabs in the drop box under “Forest Change,” causes are not.

Looking at losses only - Courtesy Global Forest Watch
Looking at losses only – Courtesy Global Forest Watch

There has been considerable loss on the East coast. The pink patches (loss) are especially strong in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Maine, in the North, as well as the deep South.

The extent to which the South has been stripped of it forest cover becomes even plainer when you turn off the gains (above). Anderson told me this was the result of the extensive harvesting for pulp and timber throughout this region. Nearly a third of the forest cover was cut, or planted, between 2000 and 2012.

Deforestation Northeast of Fort McMurray - Courtesy of Global Forest Watch
Deforestation North and East of Fort McMurray – Courtesy of Global Forest Watch

Another hot spot is in the Northern Canadian prairies. The image above is mostly North and East of For McMurray. Notice how large the pink (lost) areas are compared to the gains (blue).

The image below is further north.  I zoomed in and switched to a satellite view, with existing forests in green, to try find some clues as to what happened to the forest.

Courtesy Global Forest Watch
Courtesy Global Forest Watch

My next stop is BC, whose situation prompted this article. According to a blog on Global Forest Watch, “British Columbia’s Intact Forest Landscapes, depicted in light green, are increasingly threatened (by) … logging, fires, and disease.

Jens Weiting, a Forest and Climate Campaigner with the Sierra Club, told me that the intact areas were inaccessible and difficult to log. The government of BC admits the  forests have been emitting, rather than storing carbon, since 2003.

Lost and remaining forests on the West Coast - Courtesy Global Forest Watch
Lost and Remaining forests on the West Coast – Courtesy Global Forest Watch

In his study Carbon at Risk, BC’s Unprotected Old-Growth Rainforest, Weiting wrote that, “Old-growth forests on Vancouver Island and the South Coast have been reduced to less than 42 per cent of the original forest cover, primarily due to logging. The most productive types of forests have less than 10 per cent old- growth forest remaining.”

“A healthy undisturbed rainforest can store over 1,000 tons of carbon within a single hectare of land, but research shows that half of that is released into the atmosphere when trees are clear cut,” Wieting said. “If coastal rainforest ecosystems fall below 30% remaining old-growth forest, there is a high ecological risk of species loss because of lack of habitat for animals and plants that are now also under increasing stress due to global warming. ”

The loses seem to primarily be along the coast, where the pink welt stretches from Vancouver Island to Oregon, and in a vast strip of British Columbia’s interior.

Clearing near Black Creek - Courtesy Global Forest Watch
Clearing near Black Creek – Courtesy Global Forest Watch

As Weiting had specifically mentioned Vancouver Island, I decided to zoom in on one of its pink areas. A thick spot in Black Creek, just South of Campbell River, seemed ideal.  Switching to satellite view, I noticed some clearings in the trees and zoomed in to look for a clue as to  what made them. Instead, I found evidence of how fast the forest is disappearing. No sooner had I clicked “loss,” than most of the trees surrounding those clearings were pinked out.  They must have been cut down recently.

Most of the trees "pinked out" - Courtesy Global G=Forest Watch
Most of the trees “pinked out” – Courtesy Global Forest Watch

After I posted this David Shipway, who has been involved with BC’s forest politics for 30 years (both from within the industry and as a small woodlot owner), emailed me:

“The irony Roy is that we are now getting better data on forest cover from WRI and the University of Maryland than from our own BC govt, and we need to point that out quite publicly.”

“When the BC govt declared a Zero Net Deforestation (ZND) policy in 2011 and invited public input, I became a bit of a nuisance by pointing out that the big flaw in this policy was that they only intended to measure area, not depth. In other words, any area growing some sort of trees was good enough for the bean counters, meaning they were considering juvenile plantations to be the equivalent of mature forests. This is useless, because the reality is that we have consistently reduced the age and amount of biomass in BC forests since the invention of the chainsaw. The only realistic gauge of net deforestation, afforestation, or whether we are winning or losing at carbon sequestration, is in measuring change in biomass per hectare over time. We now also know from recent studies that more mature and complex forests accumulate biomass across a wider range of species at a greater rate than young monoculture plantations, in spite of the industrial greenspeak which claims otherwise.”

“But then the BC govt has also been getting further and further behind in subsidizing clearcuts (with treeplanting), mostly because of the beetle situation in the interior. And even there, they’re still planting pine monocultures which are probably just a setup for annihilation with the next wave of pine beetles.”

I came to the Global Forest Watch hoping to see if it could throw additional light onto what people like Jens Weiting and David Shipway are saying.  To some extent it has and, as this site develops, there will undoubtedly be even more of value in the future.

I will be back.

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