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
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
National Park Ranger (retired), Methow Conservancy
Dr. Philip Cafaro
Professor, Colorado State University
Director, Conservation Biology Institute
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
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
Wildlife Ecologist, Andean Tapir Fund
Titulaire, Chaire de recherche du Canada en économie écologique, Université de Québec en Outaouais
Research Coordinator (retired), National Park Service
Dr. Lee Frelich
Director of the Center for Forest Ecology, University of Minnesota
Research Curator - Ornithology, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
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
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
Participatory Action Research Scientist, Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, University of Wisconsin-Madison
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
Adjunct Professor, Simon Fraser University
Dr. Jay Malcolm
Associate Professor, University of Toronto
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
Senior Scientist (retired)
Professor of Zoology, Weber State University
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
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
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
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
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
Professor Emeritus, University of California, Riverside
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
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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.
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