Climate Change and Sustainable Forest Management in Canada: A Guidebook for Assessing Vulnerability and Mainstreaming Adaptation in to Decision Making

Submitted by Climate Risk Institute | published 13th Sep 2022 | last updated 28th Sep 2022
Climate Change and Sustainable Forest Management in Canada

Adapting to Climate Change: The Need and the Challenge

This resource was submitted by the Climate Risk Institute for use by the CanAdapt Climate Change Adaptation Community of Practice.

This article is an abridged version of the original text, which can be downloaded from the right-hand column. Please access the original text for more detail, research purposes, full references, or to quote text.

Depending on the region, climate change may result in productivity changes, maladaptation of trees, changes in forest land cover or species composition, increases in the frequency and intensity of biotic and abiotic disturbances, and a host of other biophysical effects. In some cases, forest productivity will be enhanced by climate change. However, it is expected that the overall net effect of climate change on Canada’s forest will be negative, particularly in the absence of early adaptation (Johnston et al. 2009). 

The potential effects of climate change on forests will likely have important implications for Canada’s ability to achieve sustainable forest management (SFM) objectives and goals as currently defined. Consequently, climate change was identified as one of two strategic issues of national importance for Canadian forest management, and the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers (CCFM) has recommended that consideration of both climate change and future climatic variability is needed in all aspects of SFM (CCFM 2008). 

The CCFM has identified six defining criteria that must be met for forests in Canada to be considered as being managed sustainably (see sidebar What is Sustainable Forest Management?). SFM is a moving target to which many managers aspire but which they often find difficult to achieve because of dynamic environmental, economic, cultural, and social conditions. As a consequence, SFM demands continuous monitoring, improvement, and adjustment. With the additional stresses and pressures caused by changing climate conditions, it is now widely acknowledged that forest managers may face unprecedented challenges in reaching this common goal of sustainability.

Currently, SFM policies and practices are often based on an assumption that future environmental processes and conditions shaping forests will be within the range of variability that shaped the current forest. Under a changing climate, however, this assumption may no longer be valid. Recognition that future climate (and hence growing conditions, the rate and severity of natural disturbances, conditions for forest harvest operations, etc.) will be different from the climate of the recent past and that of the present calls for a fundamental rethinking about approaches and assumptions used in forest management. Failure to acknowledge the new reality of climate change may result in widespread impacts, many of which could be reduced or avoided if appropriate adaptation actions were identified, planned, and implemented today. Information about the vulnerability of forest management systems is needed to determine how best to incorporate climate change considerations into definitions of SFM and into the norms, standards, practices, and policies that are used to implement and monitor SFM.

Adaptation offers a path forward for forestry practitioners to meet the demands of the forest sector within the context of complex socioecological systems and a rapidly changing climate. Adaptation seeks to ensure that the breadth of ecosystem services provided by forests and underpinning the competitiveness of Canada’s forest sector is maintained under future climates. In other words, the purpose of adaptation is to identify and implement the measures necessary to reduce vulnerability to climate change and thus to increase the likelihood that SFM objectives will be achieved. Therefore, the fundamental goals of adaptation and SFM are the same. 

Adaptation is often implemented at a local or regional scale, and it can be enabled by institutions and policies that support adaptation actions. The need for adaptation within forest management varies across ecosystems and is related to the vulnerability of SFM systems relative to their ability to achieve SFM objectives under a changing climate. Tools and knowledge that allow forest resource professionals operating at various scales to understand climate change and to effectively and efficiently adapt to potential impacts are required. The CCFM has addressed this need, in part, through its “Adapting Sustainable Forest Management to Climate Change” report series (see Edwards and Hirsch 2012), which outlines a comprehensive approach to understanding and adapting SFM to climate change. The current guidebook is part of the series and provides a “how to” tool for applying the CCFM adaptation framework described by Williamson et al. (2012). 

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