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Canada’s Endangered Forests

July 1, 1983 -

Canada's forest products industry is the employer of one-tenth of our labour force, and, generating $23 billion worth of business, is the largest contributor to Canada's trade balance, exceeding the combined earnings of agriculture, fuels, mining and fishing. Yet Canada has neglected its precious forest resources. Last year the Science Council of Canada reviewed the status of Canada's forest sector and in its statement, "Canada's Threatened Forests," confirmed earlier reports of bad management. The Council reported that each year 8,000 sq. km. of forest are cut while only 2,000 are replanted. Unless a great dea] of additional funding is devoted to reforestation over the next 20 years, mill closings and unemployment in some 300 forestry communities are imminent. Fire, insects, disease, and a shortage of qualified personnel are additional problems faced by the ailing industry.

"Fortunately," stated the Science Council, "there are both solutions and a growing realization of the urgent need to act." By 1987 a total of $650 million will be spent by the federal and provincial governments on the forest industry—up from $300 million in 1982. Improved forestry management is not only vital to the industry's survival, but could also create up to 100,000 new jobs, according to the federal government. The sooner the better.

Meanwhile, danger threatens from another source. Sandra Postel, researcher with Worldwatch Institute, reported in the Toronto Star of June 16, 1983 that the spruce trees on Camel's Hump Mountain in Vermont are threatened by the sulphur-spewing smokestacks from Midwest U.S. utilities. In response to charges of killing lakes and fish, industry representatives have so far argued that the high cost of reducing sulphur emissions far outweighs the negative effects to the environment. However, now that some of America's most valuable forests are threatened (a $120 billion industry in the U.S.), this argument is enjoying less acceptance.

The U.S. and Canada, where acid rain is also a problem, should take a hard look at the forest damage inflicted in Europe. Only 40% of the fir trees in Germany survived last year, and the remainder are now threatened with complete destruction. In both Czechoslovakia and Poland 1.2 million acres have been damaged, and environmental scientists predict that by 1990, if Poland proceeds with its planned industrial strategy, there will be only a moonscape where 7 million acres of forests once stood. A disturbing feature is that the first stages of acid rain destruction may go unnoticed, but a threshold is quickly reached beyond which the process is irreversible. Drastic countermeasures are obviously needed.