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  • Letter from Scientists to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Regarding the Protection of Canada’s Primary Forests

    Evergreen Alliance Staff

    Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,

    As more than 90 scientists working at the intersection of ecosystems and climate change, we are deeply concerned by the evidence of continued deforestation and degradation of primary forests globally and in Canada because of the resulting impact on greenhouse gas emissions and the biodiversity crisisi. Canada’s primary boreal and temperate forests have a vital role to play as natural climate solutions, and it is important that their protection is central to Canada’s climate and biodiversity policies.

    The climate and biodiversity crises are inextricably linked and require solutions that address them in tandemii. Among the most urgent, critical solutions at the intersection of these crises is the protection of the world’s primary forests (those that have never been industrially disturbed and where natural processes prevail) and older forests, which have unique and irreplaceable ecological values and provide among the most effective, large-scale climate mitigation benefitsiii. Addressing the threat of climate change requires both the elimination of our dependence on fossil fuels and the preservation of the world’s primary and older (old growth and mature) forestsiv. In short, these forests are a critical lifeline to a safe climate as they sequester and store massive amounts of carbon, provide essential habitats, and often have high levels of biodiversity that provide unique natural solutions to both crises.

    With the release of Canada’s 2030 Emission Reduction Plan this spring, we strongly recommend the Government of Canada use this opportunity to advance measures to protect primary forests and older forests, and to make their protection a key pillar of its natural climate solutions commitments. We further recommend that the Government of Canada commit to improve the accuracy and transparency of its national greenhouse gas emissions accounting for and reporting of emissions from its logging sectorv.

    Primary forests have unique values and provide significant benefits for addressing the climate and biodiversity crises. These increasingly rare forests, which account for between approximately one- quartervi and one-thirdvii of forests globally, hold 30-50% more carbon per hectare than logged forests, and provide a continuing sink for carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gasesviii, while also providing critical habitat for at-risk speciesix. Canada is the steward of a substantial proportion (~16%x) of the world’s remaining primary forests, with some of the last large stretches of these irreplaceable ecosystems found in its boreal forest, which contains globally significant stocks of ecosystem carbon.

    When primary forests, whether in Canada or elsewhere, are logged they release significant amounts of carbon dioxide, exacerbating climate changexi. Because primary forest ecosystems store more carbon than secondary forests, replacing primary forests with younger stands, as Canada is doing, ultimately reduces the forest ecosystem’s overall carbon stocks, contributing to atmospheric greenhouse gas levels.

    Even if a clearcut forest eventually regrows, it can take over a decade to return to being a net absorber of carbonxii, and the overall carbon debt in carbon stocks that were removed from older forests can take centuries to repay, a luxury we simply no longer havexiii. Recent studies also indicate that soil disturbance associated with logging results in large emissions of methane (CH4)xiv, a powerful greenhouse gas second only to CO2 in its climate forcing effects. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently concluded, we have under a decade to significantly reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in order to avoid exceeding 1.5 degrees C of warming, meaning any continued loss of primary forests erodes our remaining atmospheric carbon budget. Responding to the latest climate projections, UN Secretary General António Guterres’ issued a “code red emergency”xv. Importantly, the Glasgow Climate Pact (paragraph 38) emphasizes the importance of protecting, conserving and restoring nature and ecosystems to achieve the Paris Agreement temperature goal, including through forests acting as sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases and by protecting biodiversityxvi.

    Primary forests are also generally more resilient than logged forests to wildfiresxvii and other natural disturbances likely to worsen with the climate crisis. Notably, clearcutting and other intensive logging practices are often associated with more intense wildfiresxviii. Thus, achieving the most stable, resilient possible forest carbon stores requires protecting primary forests from industrial logging.

    While we commend Canada for its commitment to natural climate solutions as a climate priority, we are concerned by the rate of continued industrial logging in primary forests from the boreal to coastal rainforests and the absence of a comprehensive primary forest protection policy. Replacement of these carbon-dense, biodiverse forests with lower-carbon, less biodiverse secondary forests is undermining global climate progress and contributing to the biodiversity crisis. In Canada, only 15 of 51 boreal caribou herds, which rely on primary and older forests, have sufficient habitat left to survive long-termxix. Additionally, only about a quarter of forests in British Columbia are old-growth and of these, only about 3% are highly productive with large treesxx.

    We strongly encourage Canada to adopt policies that will incentivize protection of primary and older forests, particularly under the leadership of Indigenous Peoples and in accordance with Indigenous Peoples’ internationally recognized rights. Where Indigenous land rights are strong, ecosystems’ climate and biodiversity values tend to be better protected, and Indigenous Peoples’ meaningful participation and leadership is foundational to equitable and effective forest protection policies. We also encourage Canada to undertake a comprehensive review of its forest carbon accounting and quantification practices. Recent global studies have shown significant disparities between national greenhouse gas inventories and actual atmospheric emissions, most egregiously in the land sectorxxi. Given Canada’s large forest area and high logging rates, accurate forest emissions accounting is essential to ensuring the integrity of Canada’s overall climate goals. More accurate accounting and reporting will help ensure that Canada is properly valuing the climate benefit of its primary forests and the environmental costs of industrial logging.

    The decisions Canada makes regarding its primary forests over the next few years will have profound ramifications for the global climate and biodiversity crises. Canada’s primary and older forests have a key role to play in preserving a safe and livable world, and the Government can make a significant contribution by prioritizing keeping these vital and irreplaceable ecosystems standing.


    Note: Institutional affiliations listed for identification purposes only.

    Dr. William Anderson
    Professor Emeritus, College of Charleston

    Dr. William L. Baker
    Professor Emeritus of Geography, Program in Ecology, University of Wyoming

    Dr. Bruce Baldwin
    Professor, Department of Integrative Biology, University of California - Berkeley

    Dr. Jennifer Baltzer
    Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Forests and Global Change, Department of Biology, Wilfred Laurier University

    Shannon Barber-Meyer, PhD

    Linda Sue Barnes
    Professor Emeritus, Methodist University

    Dr. Diana Beresford-Kroeger Independent Scientist

    Scott Black
    Executive Director, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation

    Dr. Mary S. Booth
    Director, Partnership for Policy Integrity

    Dr. Richard Bradley
    Associate Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

    Eric Burr
    National Park Ranger (retired), Methow Conservancy

    Dr. Philip Cafaro
    Professor, Colorado State University

    John Cannon
    Director, Conservation Biology Institute

    Maxine Cannon
    Director of Field Research, Conservation Biology Institute

    Dr. Kai Chan
    Professor and Canada Research Chair, University of British Columbia

    Dr. Terry Chapin
    Professor Emeritus of Ecology, University of Alaska Fairbanks

    Dr. Donald Charles
    Senior Scientist, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

    Michelle Connolly
    Director, Conservation North

    Dr. Kieran Cox
    Liber Ero and NSERC Postdoctoral Fellow, Simon Fraser University

    Dave Daust Independent Forester

    Dr. Catherine de Rivera
    Professor, Portland State University

    Dr. Dominick Della Sala Chief Scientist, Wild Heritage

    Craig Downer
    Wildlife Ecologist, Andean Tapir Fund

    Jérôme Dupras
    Titulaire, Chaire de recherche du Canada en économie écologique, Université de Québec en Outaouais

    Jerry Freilich
    Research Coordinator (retired), National Park Service

    Dr. Lee Frelich
    Director of the Center for Forest Ecology, University of Minnesota

    John Gerwin
    Research Curator - Ornithology, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

    Steven Green
    Professor Emeritus (Biology), University of Miami

    Dr. Jon Grinnell
    Uhler Chair in Biology, Gustavus Adolphus College

    Dr. Charles Halpern
    Research Professor, Emeritus, University of Washington

    Dr. Kenneth Helms
    Research Associate, University of Vermont

    Trevor Hesselink
    Director, Policy and Research, Wildlands League

    Dr. Eric Higgs
    Professor at the School of Environmental Studies, University of Victoria

    Dr. Bill Hilton Jr
    Executive Director, Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History

    Dr. Rachel F. Holt
    Director, Veridian Ecological Consulting

    Dr. Elizabeth Horvath
    Associate Professor, Biology, Westmont College

    Mrill Ingram
    Participatory Action Research Scientist, Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, University of Wisconsin-Madison

    Mitchell Johns
    Professor Emeritus of Soil and Plant Science, California State University - Chico

    Dr. Jay Jones
    Professor Emeritus of Biology and Biochemistry, University of La Verne

    Dr. James R. Karr
    Professor Emertius, University of Washington

    Dr. Keith Kisselle
    Associate Professor of Biology & Environmental Science, Austin College

    Dr. Richard Kool
    Professor at the School of Environment and Sustainability, Royal Roads University

    Dr. Brian Linkhart
    Professor of Biology, Colorado College

    Dr. Brendan Mackey
    Director - Climate Action Beacon, Griffith University

    Andy Mackinnon
    Adjunct Professor, Simon Fraser University

    Dr. Jay Malcolm
    Associate Professor, University of Toronto

    Travis Marsico
    Professor of Botany and Curator, STAR Herbarium, Arkansas State University

    Dr. Tara Martin
    Professor and Liber Ero Conservation Chair, University of British Columbia

    Dr. Faisal Moola
    Associate Professor - Geography, Environment and Geomatics, University of Guelph

    Rob Mrowka
    Senior Scientist (retired)

    John Mull
    Professor of Zoology, Weber State University

    William Newmark
    Research Curator, Natural History Museum of Utah, University of Utah

    Dr. Katarzyna Nowak
    Assistant Professor, Białowieża Geobotanical Station

    Dr. Sarah Otto
    Professor, Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia

    Dr. Paul Paquet
    Senior Scientist, Raincoast Conservation Foundation

    Dr. Timothy Pearce
    Curator of Collections, Mollusks, Carnegie Museum of Natural History

    Dr. Stuart Pimm
    Professor of Conservation Biology, Duke University

    Dr. Jim Pojar
    Trustee, Skeena Wild Conservation Trust

    Dr. Roger Powell
    Professor Emeritus, North Carolina State University

    Thomas Power
    Professor Emeritus of Economics, University of Montana

    Dr. Karen Price
    Member of BC Old Growth Technical Advisory Panel

    Robert Pyle, Ph.D. and Hon. FRES Independent Scholar

    Dr. Peter Quinby
    Chair and Chief Scientist, Ancient Forest Exploration & Research

    Dr. James Quinn
    Professor Emeritus, Rutgers University

    Dr. Jennifer Riddell University of California

    Dr. George Robinson
    Emeritus Professor of Biological Sciences, University at Albany-SUNY

    Dr. Holmes Rolston
    Professor of Philosophy, University Distinguished Professor at Colorado State University

    Matthew Rubino
    Research Scholar, North Carolina State University

    Nicanor Saliendra Ecologist, USDA ARS

    Dr. Melissa Savage
    Emerita Associate Professor, University of California Los Angeles

    Dr. Hanno Schaefer
    Professor, Technical University of Munich

    Paul Schaeffer
    Associate Professor, Miami University

    Dr. Paula Schiffman
    Professor of Biology, California State University – Northridge

    Peter C. Schulze, PhD
    Professor of Biology & Environmental Science, Austin College Center for Environmental Studies Director, Center for Environmental Studies
    Director, Sneed Prairie Restoration

    Dr. Suzanne Simard
    Professor, Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences at the University of British Columbia

    Dr. Tom Sisk
    Professor Emeritus, Northern Arizona University

    Dr. Risa Smith
    Co-Chair, Protected Areas Climate Change Specialist Group at the World Commission on Protected Areas, International Union for the Conservation of Nature

    Dr. Oliver Sonnentag
    Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair, Université de Montréal

    Dan Spencer, PhD
    Professor, Environmental Studies, The University of Montana

    Dr. Timothy Spira
    Emeritus Professor of Ecology/Botany, Clemson University

    Dr. James Strittholt
    President and Executive Director, Conservation Biology Institute

    Dr. Michael Swift
    Assistant Professor Emeritus, St. Olaf College

    John Talberth, PhD
    President and Senior Economist, Center for Sustainable Economy Co-Director, Forest Carbon Coalition

    Dr. Sean Thomas
    Professor and Canada Research Chair, Forests and Environmental Change at the University of Toronto

    Dr. Edward Thornton University of Pennsylvania

    Dr. Mathilde Tissier
    Liber Ero Fellow, Bishop's University

    Pepper Trail
    Ornithologist (retired), US Fish and Wildlife Service

    Dr. Vicki Tripoli
    Science Advisory Board, Geos Institute

    Dr. Walter Tschinkel
    Professor Emeritus of Biological Science, Florida State University

    Rick Van de Poll
    Principal, Ecosystem Management Consultants

    Greg Walker
    Professor Emeritus, University of California, Riverside

    Donald Waller
    J.T. Curtis Professor (retired), University of Wisconsin - Madison

    Dr. Glenn Walsberg
    Professor Emeritus, School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University

    Dr. Vicki Watson
    Professor Emeritus , University of Montana

    Dr. Judith Weis
    Professor Emerita, Rutgers University

    Jeffrey Wells, PhD
    Vice-President of Boreal Conservation, National Audubon Society

    Peter Wood, PhD
    Senior Corporate Campaigner, Canopy

    CC: Minister Jonathan Wilkinson & Minister Steven Guilbeault


    i Purvis, Andy., “A Million Threatened Species? Thirteen Questions and Answers,” IPBES, https://ipbes.net/news/million-threatened-species-thirteen-questions-answers.

    ii W. Ripple et al., “The Climate Emergency: 2020 In Review,” Scientific American, 2021, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-climate-emergency-2020-in-review/. C.V. Barber et al., The Nexus Report: Nature Based Solutions to the Biodiversity and Climate Crisis, F20 Foundations, Campaign for Nature and SEE Foundation, https://www.foundations-20.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/The-Nexus-Report.pdf.

    iii B. Mackey et al., “Policy Options for the World’s Primary Forests in Multilateral Environmental Agreements,” Conservation Letters, 8, 139-147, 2014, https://primaryforest.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Mackey-et-al-2014- Policy-Options-for-Worlds-Primary-Forests.pdf.

    iv D.A. DellaSala et al. “Primary forests are undervalued in the climate emergency.” Bioscience 70, no. 6, 2020, https://scientists.forestry.oregonstate.edu/sites/sw/files/biaa030.pdf.

    v T.W. Hudiburg et al., “Meeting GHG Reduction Targets Requires Accounting for All Forest Sector Emissions,” Enviro. Res. Letters, 2019, https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab28bb.

    vi D. Morales-Hidalgo et al., “Status and Trends in Global Primary Forest, Protected Areas, and Areas Designated for Conservation of Biodiversity from the Global Forest Resources Assessment,” Forest Ecology and Management, 352, 68-77, 2015, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378112715003370.

    vii B. Mackey et al., “Policy Options for the World’s Primary Forests in Multilateral Environmental Agreements,” Conservation Letters, 8, 139-147, 2014, https://primaryforest.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Mackey-et-al-2014-Policy-Options-for-Worlds-Primary-Forests.pdf.

    viii S. Luyssaert et al. “Old-growth forests as global carbon sinks,” Nature, 455(7210), 213-215, 2008. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature07276


    ix D.A. DellaSala et al., “Primary Forests Are Undervalued in the Climate Emergency,” BioScience 70, no. 6, 2020, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/341277924_Primary_Forests_Are_Undervalued_in_the_Climate_Emergency.

    x Morales-Hidalgo, et al., “Status and Trends in Global Primary Forest, Protected Areas, and Areas Designated for Conservation of Biodiversity from the Global Forest Resources Assessment,” Forest Ecology and Management, 352, 68-77, 2015, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378112715003370.

    xi T.W. Hudiburg et al., “Meeting GHG Reduction Targets Requires Accounting for All Forest Sector Emissions,” Enviro. Res. Letters, 2019, https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab28bb.

    xii C. Coursolle et al., “Influence of stand age on the magnitude and seasonality of carbon fluxes in Canadian forests,” Agricultural and Forest Meteorology 165, no 15, 2012, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0168192312002109; W.A. Kurz et al., “Carbon in Canada’s Boreal Forest—A Synthesis, ” Environmental Review 21, no. 4, 2013, https://cdnsciencepub.com/doi/10.1139/er- 2013-0041.

    xiii B. Mackey et al., “Untangling the Confusion Around Land Carbon Science and Climate Change Mitigation Policy,” Nature Climate Change, June 2013, www.nature.com/natureclimatechange.

    xiv J. Vantellingen and S.C. Thomas. “Skid trail effects on soil methane and carbon dioxide flux in a selection- managed northern hardwood forest”. Ecosystems, 24, 1402-1421, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-020-00591- 8. J. Vantellingen and S.C. Thomas, S.C. “Log Landings Are Methane Emission Hotspots in Managed Forests,” Canadian Journal of Forest Research, 51, 1916-1925, 2021, https://doi.org/10.1139/cjfr-2021-0109.

    xv United Nations, “Secretary-General Calls Latest IPCC Climate Report ‘Code Red for Humanity’, Stressing ‘Irrefutable’ Evidence of Human Influence, press release, Aug. 9, 2021, https://www.un.org/press/en/2021/sgsm20847.doc.htm.

    xvi Glasgow Climate Pact https://unfccc.int/documents/310497.

    xvii C.M. Bradley et al., “Does Increased Forest Protection Correspond to Higher Fire Severity in Frequent-Fire Forests of the Western United States?” Ecosphere 7:1-13, 2016, https://esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ecs2.1492#:~:text=We%20found%20no%20evidence% 20to,linear%20mixed%2Deffects%20modeling%20approaches.

    xviii C. Stone et al, “Forest Harvest Can Increase Subsequent Forest Fire Severity,” Proceedings of the Second International Symposium on Fire Economics, Planning, and Policy: A Global View, 2004,

    https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1198&context=usdafsfacpub. J.R. Thompson, et al,, “Reburn Severity in Managed and Unmanaged Vegetation in a Large Wildfire,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104, no. 25, 20746, June 19, 2007, https://www.pnas.org/content/104/25/10743.

    xix ECCC, Amended Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), Boreal Population, in Canada 2020, Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series, 2020, https://wildlife-species.canada.ca/species-risk- registry/virtual_sara/files/plans/Rs-CaribouBorealeAmdMod-v01- 2020Dec-Eng.pdf.

    xx K. Price et al., “Conflicting Portrayals of Remaining Old Growth: The British Columbia Case,” Canadian Journal of Forest Research, 2021, https://cdnsciencepub.com/doi/full/10.1139/cjfr-2020-0453.

    xxi G. Grassi et al., “Critical Adjustment of Land Mitigation Pathways for Assessing Countries’ Climate Progress,” Nature 11, 2021, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-021-01033-6. C. Mooney et al., “Countries’ Climate Pledges Built on Flawed Data, Post Investigation Finds,” The Washington Post, Nov. 7, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/interactive/2021/greenhouse-gas-emissions-pledges-data/.

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