Canadians of all political stripes and from all regions support greater protection for the country’s forests but are concerned about what that could mean for the economy, according to a new survey.
The survey, commissioned by three environmental groups days before Ottawa released yesterday’s Emissions Reduction Plan, indicates that 83% of Canadians agreed the federal government should do more to protect forests and wildlife, The Canadian Press reports. The support reached 89% in Quebec. On the Prairies, where support was lowest, almost three-quarters of the respondents agreed.
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Two-thirds of Conservatives wanted to see more protections, a number that grew to 91 and 95% among Liberals and New Democrats.
“The breadth of support across regions and political affiliations was a little bit surprising,” said Michael Polanyi, policy and campaign manager at Nature Canada, which commissioned the Ekos poll along with the Natural Resources Defense Council and Nature Québec.
But the same poll found 67% were at least slightly concerned about the economic impact of those protections—a figure that balloons to 86% among Conservatives.
“There’s some concern,” Polanyi acknowledged, although he pointed out that more than a quarter of respondents to that question rated their concern as slight.
The poll, which surveyed 1,036 Canadians between March 11-18, came days before the federal government revealed its Emissions Reduction Pathway, its formal plan to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Polanyi said if those goals are to be met, forestry will need a harder look.
“It has lacked attention.”
While the national greenhouse gas inventory says forestry released 140 megatonnes of carbon dioxide a year, Polanyi said that’s too low. In October, Nature Canada published research suggesting that’s an 80-megatonne underestimate.
Replanting harvested trees doesn’t make the industry carbon-neutral, Polanyi stressed. It takes a decade for a seedling to even start sequestering carbon, while the carbon stored in a mature tree all eventually goes into the atmosphere no matter how it’s used.
For that reason, he said companies burning wood pellets for energy should have to pay the same carbon tax as those burning coal or gas. The poll suggests three-quarters of Canadians agree.
“Canadians want a level playing field.”
Industry spokespeople say carbon releases are fully accounted for through methods developed by federal scientists. Canada’s accounting methods have been adopted by 25 countries and approved by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, they say.
The Forest Products Association of Canada says forest management already mimics natural processes such as fire losses in an attempt to keep ecosystems functioning normally.
Still, the survey suggests strong support for more forest protection.
Almost two-thirds said conserving old-growth is important. Nearly three-quarters said it was important for Canada to lead the world “by protecting its remaining intact boreal forests”—an opinion shared by almost half of Conservative respondents.
Polanyi said the Liberals’ plan to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions must include measures for the forestry sector if it’s going to work. “Coming up with actions to incentivize a lower-carbon logging sector is an opportunity to make sure all sectors are contributing.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 27, 2022
Unfortunately, forests management in Canada are mostly the responsibility of provincial governments. As an example, in Quebec, the provincial government announced last year that the province had reach its goal of protecting 17% of its territory. It obtained that result by protecting a vast territory up north where harvesting the forest is prohibited, But even in the so called protected areas in the south part of the province, forests can be harvested for industrial transformation.
Over the last 12 years, a consensus between the government, municipalities, environmental groups and other citizens groups interested in preserving the environment was reached. It was supposed to create over 80 new protected areas in southern Quebec. It was blocked by the ministry of Natural Ressources, Parks and Recreation without any explanations.
People were shocked but could do anything about it. The forest lobby has won. Only a small part of the planned protected areas was created which ended up (including the other areas already protected) covering around 4% of the territory in southern Quebec where the forest industry still can operate (the forest industry in Quebec is planning to double their activities in the next 60 years).
In other parts of the country, we have seen the same kind of battles between the forest industry and people who want to preserve forests and its ecological diversity. In Ontario, and similarly in other parts of the country, the pressure imposed by governments and the industry to open mines in the north looking for those “rare earth” minerals (that will bring us prosperity and enable Canada to be at the “avant-garde” of what they call the “fourth industrial revolution”) will result in more destruction and desolation particularly in the more sensitive boreal forest area.
People are fighting back, but if we want things to change and preserve our forests, Canadians have to pressure their respective provincial governments to act, or vote for those who are ready to protect our forests against the voracious appetite of the industry.