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Quebec doubts its timber harvest ambitions long term | Wildfires 2023

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2023 wildfires forced Chief Forester of Quebec to revise downwards the allowable forestry for the period 2023-2028. (Archive photo)

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If Quebec planned to almost double its wood harvest by 2080, the targets are now called into question due to forest fires, climate disruption and of the province's commitments to protect the territory. What's more, Quebec plantations intended for exploitation are less productive than expected.

Only three years ago, the Legault government had big ambitions for the forestry industry. The National Wood Production Strategy, presented in December 2020, forecast an increase in the annual harvest from 29 million m3 to 53 million m3 in 60 years.

The former Minister of Forests, Pierre Dufour, then spoke of an underexploited Quebec forest.

However, these targets may no longer be realistic, admits the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests (MRNF). The targets were evaluated considering the situation at the time. Analyzes are underway to reassess the ability to achieve these targets considering the new realities that we must take into account, indicates Quebec at the request of Radio-Canada.

Among the factors involved, the MRNF mentions forest fires and Quebec's commitments in terms of protected areas. The province wants to reach the plateau of 30% protected areas on its territory by 2030.

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Current forecasts from the National Wood Production Strategy predict an increase from 59,000 to 75,000 in the number of jobs linked to this sector of activity, in addition to inflating the share of GDP generated by wood. x27;industry from $6.3 billion to $12 billion per year. It also plans to increase annual exports to $19 billion, again by 2080.

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Quebec is reevaluating its wood production targets. (File photo)

Concerning forest fires, Quebec has already suffered a reduction in its forestry allowance for the period 2023-2028, under the recommendation of the Office of the Chief Forester.

Some 1.3 million hectares of forests burned in 2023, including 920,000 hectares subject to allowable cut calculations in public forests .

Considering the severity of certain blazes, which caused regeneration accidents on certain burned areas, the Chief Forester subtracted 2% from his new calculations, updated in the fall. This represents a reduction of 619,000 m3 of wood per year. The measure, which will have significant economic impacts in Nord-du-Québec, will come into force on April 1.

Forest possibilities< /strong>represent the volume of wood that can be harvested annually without compromising the sustainability of the resource. The forest capacity in Quebec, in public forests, is estimated at nearly 35 million m3 of wood per year. By adding private forests, this possibility is estimated at 49.5 million m3.

Source : Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry

The objective of this review is to protect the resource and ensure that volumes of wood will be available to the industry in the long term. The greatest obligation is to maintain a forest for future generations, said chief forester Louis Pelletier.

If fires continue to burn large areas, the Office of the Chief Forester risks removing volumes of timber again, once again limiting the base of logging companies. The federal government also expects another difficult season in terms of forest fires in 2024.

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The 2023 forest fires in Quebec have raised concerns for the future of the forestry industry. (Archive photo)

In its National Wood Production Strategy, Quebec planned to increase its forest capacity on public lands to 51 million m3 in 2080, after optimization of investments in forestry.

In addition to increasing the volume of wood available for harvest, the Quebec government planned to harvest a larger proportion of these trees. Currently, the industry harvests on average 68% of the volumes made available to them annually on public lands. The harvest rate envisaged by Quebec is 80% in 2080.

In addition to the doubts expressed by the government on its own targets, a new study produced by the MRNF demonstrates that Quebec plantations do not offer the expected yields.

According to a scientific article published in February in the Canadian Journal of Forest Research, plantations of softwoods such as white spruce, #x27;black spruce and jack pine, species widely favored for reforestation by industry, have not grown at the anticipated rate despite silvicultural interventions.

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A reforester digs a hole of hand in order to plant the seedling with the other.

Our objective was to evaluate the yield of forest plantations of these species over an area of ​​416,000 km2 which was representative of the forests of northeastern North America, we can read in the document signed by the Forestry Research Directorate of the Ministry. Plantation yield was systematically lower than expected.

Human plantations, more productive than natural regeneration, can in theory support global demand for wood, enable the protection of other forest areas and act as a carbon sink. But if the yield of the plantations is not as high as expected, their use could then generate significant sustainable development issues.

In other words, if the industry cuts a volume of wood in anticipation of higher yields from plantations, there will necessarily be a shortfall and fewer trees to cut in the future.

The results, according to the researchers, should support a strategy for adapting wood harvesting. In a context of uncertainty about the yield achieved from operational plantations, we emphasize the need to rely on adaptive management to determine harvest levels compatible with sustainable management of management objectives.

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