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Managed forests and human-caused greenhouse gas emissions

Trees and sky

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions measure how forest and land management impact climate change. Positive emission scores indicate the forest is a source of GHGs and negative emission scores indicate that the forest is a sink for GHGs. If the forest acts as a GHG sink, forestry management is helping to reduce climate change. If the forest is acting as a source of GHG emissions, it means forests are either over mature or too young, and are not sequestering enough carbon to offset emissions from the disposal of harvested wood products.

What's happening

What's happening

What we are doing

The National Forest Carbon Monitoring, Accounting and Reporting System estimates forest carbon stocks, changes in carbon stocks and emissions of greenhouse gases in managed land and forests. These estimates are based on data from Saskatchewan's forest inventories, growth and yield tables, disturbance monitoring and management activities. The ministry monitors the rate of change in carbon stock and emissions in the forest ecosystem using the federal carbon budget model.

The forest ecosystem contains carbon stock which includes above-ground biomass (i.e. trees), below-ground biomass (i.e. live roots), deadwood, litter and organic soil matter. Carbon quantities change over time due to tree growth, which adds to the carbon stock. Losses from carbon stock occur through decomposition, natural disturbances (e.g. wildfire and insects) and forest harvesting. Forest carbon storage is the total amount of carbon contained in the forest ecosystem at a given time. This the only analysis representative of the managed forests in Saskatchewan and does not include the far northern part of the provincial forest. There are few human activities in the far north and a general lack of information on forest carbon in this area.

Accumulated forest carbon stocks by type - 2022

Saskatchewan greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sinks

Saskatchewan's managed forests have been a relatively small greenhouse gas sink since 2010, with net gains of 0.3 megatonnes of CO2 in 2020. Forest greenhouse gas emissions come from physical disturbances, which include harvesting and land use changes (not a significant factor in Saskatchewan) as well as natural processes such as growth and decay. These figures do not include emissions from natural disturbances such as wildfire, insects and disease. Separating these emissions allows foresters to observe the influence of their management actions, enabling strategies to reduce emissions. This approach aligns with internationally accepted reporting standards.

Harvested wood products, including the use and disposal of products (e.g. paper, lumber, etc.), and forest conversion activities are considered a source of emissions. This is consistent with the reporting criteria established by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. For more information on how greenhouse gas sources and carbon sinks are calculated for forests in Canada, visit the Government of Canada.

Why it matters

A forest is considered a carbon sink if it absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases. The forest stores a significant amount of greenhouse gases in the form of carbon, the building blocks of plants and trees. An increase in stored or sequestered forest carbon can indicate a healthy forest in which the growth exceeds the loss of carbon to human and natural disturbances. Over-mature forests become sources of emissions as they start to die and decay. Managing forest age through sustainable planning and harvest practices is an important part of emissions management.

Carbon in the form of trees provides the raw material for the forest industry. Healthy forests that sequester carbon also provide a sustainable supply for the forest industry. In Saskatchewan, timber harvest levels are currently below the sustainable limit, indicating that this type of disturbance is not significantly impacting carbon stocks.

Sustainable forest management plays a crucial role in balancing GHG emissions, supporting the economy, and creating a healthy, diverse forest. Harvesting is an important tool which influences overall emissions from the forest. The main source of harvesting-related emissions is the disposal and decay of harvested wood products. Climate smart forestry has the potential to reduce these emissions through long-lived wood products, innovative biomass products, and renewable energy. Foresters are also developing new strategies for increasing sequestration in the forest through improved forest management practices, such as planting trees in previously unmanaged areas, increasing tree growth, and utilizing more of the wood in harvested trees. For more information on climate-smart forestry, please visit the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers.

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