Ecosystem Services in our Forests

Canadian forests are a source of significant beauty, resources and biodiversity. We are fortunate that our country is dominated by this rich landscape. In fact, according to Nature Conservancy of Canada, “More than 1/3 of Canadian land-base is covered with trees, and forests occur in every province and territory.” (Putting a Value on Ecosystem Services Provided by Forests, Nature Conservancy of Canada, 2017). In addition to providing us with the wood and paper products that we use on a day-to-day basis, these forests provide a significant range of ecosystem services that support surrounding communities and the well-being of Canadians as a whole.

Here’s a glance at some of the important ecosystem services our forests provide us:

1. Carbon Storage

Forests play an important role in maintaining the earth’s carbon balance. Forests can act as either a Carbon Sink or a Carbon Source depending on whether or not they absorb more carbon or release more carbon into the atmosphere. According to Natural Resources Canada, “For the past century, Canada's managed forests have been a significant carbon sink, steadily adding carbon to that already stored.” Although natural disturbances (e.g. fires) can result in forests releasing CO2 into the atmosphere, forest management practices can contribute to increased carbon storage, decreasing CO2 emissions and supporting cleaner air.

2. Water Quality + Flood Control

Forests serve an important role in managing water quantity and quality by catching water, filtering it and slowly releasing it into surrounding rivers. Forest elements such as soil and vegetation help to store water when precipitation is high, and then slowly release it as conditions dry, managing the flow of water and controlling floods.

3. Species Habitat

Forest landscapes play a very large role in maintaining functioning ecosystems, by providing habitat for a variety of animal, bird, insect and plant species. The boreal forest, for example, as a relatively intact ecosystem, helps to preserve biodiversity and maintain the variety of life on our planet. In fact, the forest is home to more than 85 species of mammals, and the Candian Wildlife Federation indicates, “It is estimated that at least three billion land birds, water birds and shorebirds breed in the Boreal forest each year, representing more than 300 species.” Not to mention the insects, fish species and plant species.

4. Recreational + Cultural Practices

Hunting, camping or hiking are just a few of the activities we partake in for our cultural and recreational benefit. We might overlook it at first, but the high quality of environmental attributes provided by our forests largely determines our ability to enjoy these activities in our day-to-day lives.

The forest Industry is aware of how these various services benefit our society and incorporate ecosystem services into their forest management plans. The EcoServices Network works closely with partners like Silvacom to better understand how market based approaches can enhance ecosystem services and provide benefits and economic opportunities to Albertans.