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A bird eye view of Quebec’s forestry footprint: Or why we need to protect intact forest landscapes


By Pier-Olivier Boudreault, translated by Florence Daviet

I recently discovered a new tool that allows all Canadians to get a view from the sky of the forest industries’ footprint on our landscape. This is not the first tool to attempt this task, but this tool has two advantages:

  • It goes further back in time then most and shows tree cover loss since 1985
  • It distinguishes between harvesting activities and fires.

This new tool and website has been developed by Natural Resource Canada and the University of British Columbia. What it clearly shows is the constant northern expansion of Quebec’s forestry footprint from 1985 to 2011.

A Race to the North

What this tool helps to highlight is the northward shifting forestry footprint in Quebec; which highlights the dependency of Canadian forestry on “primary” forests, that is forests that are being harvested in areas that previously had no large scale harvesting activities. Though the percent of Canada’s total forest cut annually may not seem large, the cumulative impact of such activities, even after only 30 years, is a significant footprint that has had an impact on our ecosystems.

In particular, this impact is demonstrated by the decline of the boreal woodland caribou, a species that is especially vulnerable to the fragmentation of our northern forests. The decline of these caribou across Canada tells scientists that not all is well in the boreal forests and that the species that – like the caribou – need large areas of undisturbed forest to thrive, may also not be doing well. Inversely, caribou is an umbrella species, which is to say that when woodland caribou are doing well, scientists can be sure that the other typical boreal forest species are also doing well.

Moving beyond dependence on primary forests

The idea of keeping the remaining large landscapes free of industrial activity is not currently a common practice or objective in forest management planning in Canada. In fact, [FSC logo] the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is the only forest certification system tackling the question of the ever expanding footprint of forestry in Canada and around the world by including the protection of Intact Forest Landscapes and Intact Cultural Landscapes as one criteria required for certification. The need to maintain, and potentially try to restore, large forest landscapes for ecological purposes was supported by all chambers of the FSC (economic, environment, and social chambers) internationally.

This new tool shows why in Quebec finding ways to implement laws, practices and/or criteria that will limit expansion of industrial activities into these remaining large landscapes will be vital if we want to protect the last primary forests of Canada, thereby protecting the threatened boreal woodland caribou, and ultimately this important ecosystem that provides vital services to all Canadians. In particular, it shows the need to protect those very rare large areas remaining in our more southern forests where caribou currently reside, such as the “Montagnes Blanche”, a region straddling the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean, the Côte-Nord and the north of Quebec. Equally, the Broadback sector, ancestral territory of the Cree near James Bay and with some of the last intact forests around the the Waswanipi community, deserves protection.

Recently the Quebec government vowed to protect the “Montagnes Blanche” area, but to date the government has provided few details of how they will do so. Nor have they detailed how they might meet their promise to protect a 10,000 km2 protected areas for species sensitive to industrial activities and fragmentation, such as caribou.

From a bird’s eye view, and from the view of a woodland caribou, now is the time for these two promises to come together to protect the best boreal woodland caribou habitat in Quebec, the “Montagnes Blanche”!