Forests here threatened says European expert
The Edmonton Journal, February 16, 1999.

Alberta is devoting too much of its land to forestry, says a prominent Swedish forestry expert.

The province would do well to set aside forest reserves, or "reference areas" to protects its diversity of plants and wildlife, says Per Angelstam, who applies knowledge of ecology in practical land use management.

Land set aside in its natural state can serve as a reference point during environmental change, such as from global warming or emissions from oil sands plants, Angelstam said Monday.

"It’s important to have a kind of buffer going on."

He said the province has gone too far with its forest management areas, which are devoted mainly to pulp and paper production.

The researcher is a specialist in conservation biology with the forest faculty at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. As part of his work, he trains forest and land use managers in ecological landscape planning, which tries to imitate the natural life of different ecosystems.

He made his comments after telling an international forestry conference in Edmonton how Europe’s forests have shrunk over time and become less diverse.

"Most of the forest has gone," he told the sustainable Forest Management Network Conference. He said some areas in Sweden have been cut repeatedly over the past 300 to 400 years, with the result there’s so little ecological diversity that it’s wrong to call them forests.

He says Canada faces the same possible future, depending if it learns from Europe’s mistakes.

John Spence, a biological sciences professor at the University of Alberta, said later that many experts originally saw Alberta’s Special Places as the kind of reference areas Angelstam favours.

That was before it became evident the provincial government was allowing industrial activity in the Special Places. "Now with the way they have been changed, they won’t function in that way anymore."

Jari Niemelä, an ecology professor at Finland’s University of Helsinki, agreed on the need for reference areas. He said Europe’s experience serves as a warning to Canada.

The public in Europe is demanding changes from traditional forestry practices to protect the environment, Niemelä said. He said it’s backing up the demand by not buying from companies that fail to improve.

He predicted market pressures will hit Canadian companies in the next few years, unless they change.

Senator Nick Taylor, attending the conference as chairperson of the Senate committee on boreal forests, questioned what effects acidity from Alberta’s oilsands projects will have on boreal forests downwind.

Angelstam said airborne acid from oilsands projects near Fort McMurray will damage the soil over time, judging by what has happened in Europe.

The forestry conference continues until Wednesday, involving representative of government, industry and universities. It follows a similar conference in Edmonton three years ago.