Forests play a critical role in biodiversity conservation and provide ecosystem goods and services, including water, food, timber, shelter, and nutrient cycling, among others. According to the Forest Resources Assessment report, forests cover nearly 30 percent of the Earth’s land area [1
]. The concept of sustainable forest management (SFM) has evolved over the past two decades. As a result, it has become increasingly difficult to evaluate whether forest management is indeed sustainable [2
]. Forest management encompasses a range of aspects related to sustainability and requires the use of a range of indicators, bundled into a framework [3
]. The criteria and indicators (C and I) framework is by far the most widely used approach of evaluating forest management at national, regional or forest management unit (FMU) scales [4
]. In many jurisdictions, a number of SFM frameworks are being implemented that are based on key criteria and indicators in order to monitor and assess the status of, or progress towards, SFM objectives. These frameworks have allowed jurisdictions to improve their monitoring and information reporting frameworks, most commonly demonstrated through regular ‘State of the Forest’ reporting [5
British Columbia is Canada’s western-most province. British Columbia is a unique forest jurisdiction, in that it contains vast and diverse forests and rangelands and 95% of its land base comprises public land [6
]. Much of this ecological diversity is a result of its northwest-southeast mountain topography, that has a significant influence on climate and vegetation. Most of B.C.′s forests (83%) are dominated by conifers: lodgepole pine, spruce, fir, hemlock, redcedar, and Douglas-fir are the most common trees [7
]. Forestry is one of the major economic engines of B.C.’s economy and supports many B.C. communities. The B.C. forest industry consists of over 7000 businesses and employed 59,942 people in 2016 [8
]. In 2016/17, the B.C. forest sector generated a revenue of $
860 million, that supported public services in other sectors such as health, education, infrastructure and transportation. Over 90% of B.C.’s forestry output is exported. In 2017, the B.C. forest industry exported $
9.7 billion in wood products and $
4.4 billion in pulp and paper products [9
Sustainable forest management is a priority for the government of British Columbia, and to achieve this, B.C.’s forests are managed to sustain the multiple economic, social and environmental benefits they provide to society and to minimize the environmental impacts of forest operations [10
]. British Columbia’s Forest and Range Practices Act is the main legislative framework that provides results-based regulations to ensure crown lands provide a mix of economic, social and environmental benefits. B.C. has adopted criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management, to monitor and assess the provincial performance in achieving its sustainable forest management objectives. These set out a range of environmental, economic and social indicators. Sustainable forest management criteria and indicators provide a framework for describing and measuring the state of B.C.’s forests, forest management practices and progress in sustainability. Criteria and indicators provide guidelines to track changes and serve as a valuable tool for targeting research and developing sustainable forest management policies. The B.C. State of the Forests reporting process makes a significant contribution to the knowledge required for informed management and ensuring the right decisions are made about how these important natural assets are sustainably managed. However, there is a significant gap in reporting, as the most recent report for B.C. was published in 2010.
While State of the Forests reports provide critical information to monitor the progress towards sustainable forest management, the reporting system varies from country to country due to a lack of harmonization and differences in approach [11
]. In most cases, reporting frameworks are based on the Montreal Process Criteria and Indicators, a set of seven criteria and 54 indicators. As the reporting of criteria and indicators is inconsistent among countries, it is difficult to assess how countries compare on key sustainable forest management parameters using State of the Forests reports. Extensive country-level forest data are available through the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015. However, comparative studies among various jurisdictions are critically lacking. This research fills this gap by comparing B.C. with seven jurisdictions using key forest variables. The study analyzes and compares trends in key sustainable forest management parameters that are important globally. Such evidence-based information on the status and trends in forests and forest management could provide vital input to further discussions on the management of B.C.’s forest resources, covering a broad array of topics, including forest policy, wood supply, biodiversity conservation, climate change and forest products. By presenting a sub-set of data relevant to sustainable forest management derived from the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015 and B.C. data from various sources, the relevant stakeholders, including governments, academia, industry and international organizations are provided with information that can help determine how B.C. compares globally for key sustainable forest management parameters.
Following MacDicken et al., we adopted a broad approach by performing a comparative analysis on four key domains, which included sustainable forest management parameters that are also included in the Montréal Process Criteria and Indicators [12
]. The four domains were: biophysical indicators and legal framework, management plans, data collection and management, and stakeholder involvement. The rationale for selecting these four key domains was to examine the information that is needed to provide support for long-term sustainable forest management. These four domains provide analyses of key parameters for the enabling environment to gain a global insight into progress in implementing enabling and implementing SFM at national and operational levels. Comparison across these four domains therefore provides critical information that can help determine where and how much progress is being made towards establishing and maintaining the enabling conditions for sustainable forest management.
Biophysical indicators and legal framework-related data were collected on a number of key forest parameters, such as the area of forest and other woodlands, changes in forest area, deforestation trends, primary forests, and policies and legislation supporting sustainable forest management. At the operational level, our analysis was based on forest area under forest management plans (FMP), including forests designated for multiple-use, forests available for wood supply, and trends in wood removals. Data collection and management were measured by the types of forest resource monitoring information and progress reporting available. To assess progress in reporting, we examined the latest country reports from six jurisdictions participating in the Montréal Process initiative, to analyze if the reports are based on the agreed Montréal Process Criteria and Indicators. The main source for the State of Forest Country Reports was the Montréal Process website. Some reports are directly accessible from the website, but for others, site links provide access to reports stored on national websites. The B.C. report is accessible through a link to the B.C. government website, where the latest version (2010) of State of British Columbia’s Forest is available. As the European Union is not a signatory to the Montréal Process, we used the State of Europe’s Forests 2015 report, which was launched at the seventh FOREST EUROPE Ministerial Conference, held in Madrid, Spain, in October 2015 [13
]. Finally, stakeholder involvement was measured by the presence of a national stakeholder platform in selected jurisdictions.
The selected jurisdictions represent a subset of countries from amongst the Montréal Process signatory countries. B.C. was compared against Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, Russia and the United States. The European Union was included to enhance regional representation. This sample was based on factors such as global and regional significance in terms of forest extent and forest trade and availability of information. The rationale for selected jurisdictions was based on forest area comparable to BC, as well as relatively similar socio-economic conditions. Although our sample mostly included jurisdictions that are developed economies with social conditions similar to B.C, for broad representation, we also included one jurisdiction from economies in transition, i.e. Russia, as well as a developing economy, China [14
Data specific to B.C. were sourced primarily from Canada’s National Forest Inventory and the National Forestry Database. However, where data for some parameters were unavailable from these sources, other sources were consulted, including the State of British Columbia’s Forests report and previous research reports published by the Government of British Columbia.
Country specific data were extracted from the FAO’s Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015 (FRAs), which offers opportunities to collate and analyze data on these parameters across a long time period at a global scale. FRAs contain information on the global state of forests that drive policy and resource flows at global, regional and national levels. Hence, over the past decades, FRA data have supported decision making by various international bodies including FAO itself, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Convention on Biological Diversity, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, and the UN Forum on Forests [15
In this paper, we provided a comparison of British Columbia’s forest against seven other jurisdictions of the world, using key sustainable forest management parameters. The trend in forest area over time is one of the most basic measures of forest health [16
]. Governments, non-governmental organizations, international agencies and the industry could use reliable information on global trends in forest area to make sound decisions on policies and investments. The academic community could also greatly benefit from this information [15
]. B.C. has one of the highest proportions of land covered with forests (57%) among all jurisdictions. The total forest area in B.C. has remained stable, at around 55 million ha. FRA reports the change in natural forest area between any two time periods, which is the net effect of forest clearance and conversion to another land use (or deforestation) in some areas, as well as natural forest losses, through processes such as fire or drought and natural forest expansion elsewhere. However, this may vary between jurisdictions; for instance, in 2017 and 2018, more than 2.5 million ha of forest in B.C. was burnt, but B.C. does not report a forest loss unless the land use has changed. This contrasts with Australia, where forest killed by drought was reported as a loss of forest. Disturbance regimes in forests due to climate change are a major challenge for sustainable forest management. Seidl et al. (2018) conducted a global synthesis of climate change effects on important abiotic (fire, drought, wind, snow and ice) and biotic (insects and pathogens) disturbance agents [17
]. The synthesis found that disturbances from fire, insects and pathogens may increase in a warming world (regardless of changes in water availability) and these agents and their interactions currently dominate disturbance regimes in many jurisdictions. In B.C.’s old growth forests, for instance, the adoption of forest harvesting practices that closely emulate natural disturbance processes must be accompanied by a reduction in annual allowable cut, in order to avoid highly fragmented landscapes [18
The main drivers of deforestation in B.C. are agricultural expansion, urban expansion and settlement, infrastructure development associated with oil and gas extraction, forestry, industry, and transportation. Construction of hydroelectric projects caused a spike in deforestation in the 1970s, with a loss of 30,000 ha per year. Hydroelectric development is currently not a major contributor to deforestation in British Columbia, although the Site C project involved the clearance of 6956 ha of forest. In 2010, the B.C. government passed the Zero Net Deforestation Act, to ensure that when trees from forest land are removed, to convert the forest land permanently to a different use, new trees will be planted elsewhere. This act stipulates that the government must reach the goal of zero net deforestation by December 2015 and authorize the development of regulations and required biannual progress reports, starting in 2012 [19
]. However, the Act has not yet been brought into force by regulations, so the government has taken no direct actions to pursue the goals described in the act [20
Tracking primary forest area is one of the methods of capturing changes in forests that are considered particularly important ecologically, and the global FRA serves as a unique instrument for tracking changes in areas where countries self-report their area of primary forest [21
]. However, the results of this research indicate that data on primary forests from different countries are difficult to compare, as they are collected in very different ways. For instance, a particular forest type might be reported as primary forest in one country, but not in another. Hence, due to reporting differences, caution is needed in assessing global and regional trends in primary forests.
The practice of sustainable forest management has no meaning without the presence and effective application of legal, policy and institutional frameworks at national, regional, provincial/state and/or local levels. The Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015 collected data from countries regarding forest policy and regulatory frameworks that exist within jurisdictions, to support the implementation of sustainable forest management. According to FRA (2015), at the global level, countries that had either policies and/or legislation supporting sustainable forest management cover 99% of the global forest area in 2015, a major increase over the area reported in FRA 2010 (70%) [12
B.C. forest land is managed through a highly complex system of tenures, in which the government delegates certain forest management responsibilities to private companies, organizations or individuals, in exchange for guarantees of timber supply [22
]. Research conducted prior to the implementation of the Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA) has suggested that forest practice regulations in Canada, particularly in British Columbia, are among the toughest globally [23
]. In British Columbia, FRPA came into effect in January 2004 for regulating forest practices. This represented a major change from a prescriptive approach (epitomized by the Forest Practices Code) to a result-based approach. The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development is the main agency responsible for assessing compliance with forest law, using site inspections and patrols. In addition, the independent Forest Practices Board, set up in 1995, audits forest practices and the appropriateness of government enforcement. It also investigates complaints and participates in administrative appeals.
Almost 1.2 billion ha of the world’s forest area (or 30 per cent of the total forested area) is currently designated primarily for the production of wood and NTFPs [1
]. In the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015, data on forest area designated for production varied greatly from one jurisdiction to another. This makes comparisons challenging and means that interpretations on the forest area designated for production must be made with great care. For instance, Canada reports production forest area as privately owned and non-protected forest, which is only a small proportion (6%) of the total forest area [24
]. Other countries, such as the Russian Federation, use public forest for estimation of forest area designated for production. This invalidates any comparisons.
Forest resources management generally includes measurements of key forest attributes, such as species composition, age class, area, volume per hectare growth rates and site class. Once collected, these data provide critical information for national scale planning and the support of sustainable forest management policies and practices. At the global level, a significant increase has occurred in the area of forest covered by National Forest Inventories (NFI). In 2010, less than 50 countries reported having an NFI. As of 2014, 112 countries were conducting forest inventories that cover 3.2 m ha or 81% of the total global forest area [12
]. In many jurisdictions, State of the Forest reports (SFR) have become a tool for the government to communicate information about the status and development of their country’s forests to their citizens and the general public. As a result, many government, sub-national governments and even communities have produced such reports. State of the Forest reports are essentially progress reports for each jurisdiction in achieving sustainable forest management. Every country member of Montréal Process has committed to using the criteria and indicator approach to report on sustainable forest management issues in their jurisdiction. However, inconsistencies among the countries’ reports are challenging the assessment of progress towards sustainable forest management [11
National stakeholder platforms (NSP) are defined as the “presence of a recognized procedure that a broad range of stakeholders can use to inform the national policy process through their opinions, suggestions and analysis” [1
]. The Montréal Process, as well as most other criteria and indicator schemes for sustainable forest management, require countries to incorporate stakeholder inputs into operational decision making for public forests [25
]. While stakeholder consultation processes can be complex, their main aim is to improve communication and cooperation across stakeholder groups, resolve conflicts, improve the quality of forest operations and contribute to nation forest policy [26
]. Over the past two decades, significant progress has been made in many countries in allowing or encouraging stakeholder inputs into forest policy processes.
Stakeholder involvement is an essential component of B.C.’s sustainable forest management of public forest lands through public involvement in the strategic land use plans, as well as in operational plans of forest companies. B.C. has developed an evolving process for engaging local communities and other stakeholders to articulate a vision for the intensity, type, and location of land-use activities [16
]. Our results suggest that stakeholders are allowed to be involved in the planning, operations and review of almost all the forest area in our selected jurisdictions. While the functionality of reported NSPs was not clear, their presence is a positive starting point for most countries. The extent to which these opportunities are used by stakeholders is not easily measured and was not measured in FRA 2015 [12
]. In addition, the existence of a stakeholder consultation process does not mean that stakeholder inputs are actually incorporated into decision-making.
In British Columbia, sustainable forest management is a clear priority and central policy focus of the provincial government. criteria and indicators provide a framework for describing and measuring the state of British Columbia’s forests, forest management practices and progress in sustainability. In 2003, the Province of British Columbia responded to the international challenge of sustainable forest management by developing a results-based, Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA), which is supported by a compliance and enforcement regime.
This research provides analyses of key sustainable forest management parameters under four key domains; biophysical indicators and legal framework, management plans, data management, and stakeholder involvement, in order to gain insight into how B.C. compares against selected jurisdictions around the world. In this research, we integrated B.C. specific information from Canada’s National Inventory and National Forestry Database, with information from the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015 for seven other jurisdictions—Australia, China, European Union, Japan, the Russian Federation, New Zealand, and the U.S.A. Our findings suggest that B.C. has the second-highest proportion of land covered with forests (57%) after Japan (68%). Forest cover has remained stable over the past few decades, at around 55 million ha, with one of the lowest deforestation rates among all jurisdictions.
Data on primary forests in B.C. are not available. However, B.C. has large areas of old growth forest, covering 22.6 million ha. B.C. has established over 6482 old growth management areas for biodiversity conservation, as well as many other legally protected areas. Over 85% of the province’s forest land has been designated for multiple uses. B.C. is one of the leading forest producers, with approximately 11 billion m3 of standing timber and total annual roundwood production volume, which has remained relatively stable since 1990, represents only a small fraction of the total forest resources available for harvesting. The state of British Columbia’s forest reports provided comprehensive information up to 2010, based on 24 topic areas. However, despite the substantial databases already assembled for sustainable forest management indicators in B.C., information needs for assessing sustainable forest management in some areas are being only partially met. B.C. has implemented broad scale strategic land use planning, that identifies stakeholder involvement processes prior to development. Forest companies are required to consult the relevant stakeholder to address public views, before any harvesting or other forestry interventions are approved by the government.
Overall, significant efforts have been made in British Columbia to achieve the goal of sustainable forest management. Our findings, which are based on data compiled and published by state and national level forest agencies, suggest that these efforts have been largely successful, with B.C. ranking high in key sustainable forest management parameters. Hence, the prospects of sustainability of B.C.’s forest remain positive. Through this research, we presented BC as a unique and best practice model for sustainable forest management. However, currently there is a lack of data on primary forests in B.C. Future research should focus on performing a comparison of B.C.’s old-growth management strategies with selected jurisdictions around the world.