Old-Growth Forests

“Old-growth” forests are forests that have reached maturity without having their growing cycles disturbed. Such forests contain very old trees, but also younger ones that have replaced trees that have died. Old-growth forests are complex ecosystems, which also contain a variety of tree species. A typical old growth forest will have old trees, young trees, as well as dead and dying trees of several different species. The world’s remaining old-growth forests are those few that have not been impacted by industrial logging. Ontario has several varieties of old-growth trees.

Old-growth forests have a high level of biodiversity. Because they have different types of trees, a wide variety of animal species can live in them. Old, dying and dead trees in particular make good dens for animals, and are an important food source for them. Many animal species, such as the pine marten and woodland caribou, actually require intact old-growth forests to survive.

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Old-growth forests also create ideal conditions for the regeneration of important plant species. When dead and dying trees are left to rot on the forest floor, they provide enough nutrients to sustain a diversity of plant life. When we destroy old-growth forests we also destroy, sometimes to extinction, the animals and plants that live in them. Finally, old-growth forests provide a series of invaluable ecological services that help make life on this planet possible.

Ontario is home to some of the world’ most important old-growth forests. Over 50% of the world’s old-growth red and white pine is located in Temagami. The Niagara Escarpment is home to ancient cedars, some of which are nearly 1000 years old.  Ontario also has a large swath of intact Boreal Forest, the world’s largest remaining old-growth forest. Old-growth forests have inherent ecological value. But they are also important for the people of Ontario. These forests are not only important for the livelihood of the province’s First Nations communities, but also for recreationalists and nature-lovers.

Old-growth forests are forests the way nature intended. Mature forests once covered most of the globe. However, these precious forests are now endangered. More than 80% of the world’s original forests have been decimated by industrial logging. If this trend continues, all remaining old-growth forests, and the creatures that live in them, will be gone by the end of the century. 25% of the world’s remaining old-growth forest is in Canada – we have a responsibility to protect it from industrial exploitation.

Unfortunately, the Ontario government’s policy for conserving old growth is inadequate. The government has not set quantitative targets for old growth protection. It is up to forestry companies to determine what they think is a suitable amount of old growth to spare from logging. To make matters worse, forestry companies can count the old growth trees that are protected in provincial parks toward their objectives. This means that if there is a lot of old growth in surrounding parks, all the old growth in the managed crown forest can be cut down.  The province’s recommendations about old growth do not apply to the far north which means that a large proportion of the Boreal Forest is not included.