Although most people think of Saskatchewan as a land of prairies and wheat fields, more than half the province is covered by Boreal forest.
On the Canadian Shield, large-scale commercial forestry is just beginning. In the mixedwood region further south, much of the land is under Forest Management Licensing Agreements (FLMA), concessions granted to pulp and timber comapnies by the provincial government. The forest fringe, a mix of farmland and woodland, is an increasingly important supplier of pulpwood and timber.
Each of these forest regions faces challenges and threats.
In the mixedwood forests, the timber harvest has been increased under new Forest Management Licensing Agreements. The challenge is to ensure that commercial forestry is ecologically sustainable.
Under the Forest Resource Management Act, Saskatchewan is committed to integrated forest management. FLMA applicants must prepare a 20-year sustainable management plan and an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). All FLMA's must be renewed every 10 years.
While industry and Saskatchewan Environment are satisfied that approved harvest levels are sustainable, both independent experts and conservation groups, such as CPAWS and Nature Saskatchewan, are critical of the new FLMA's.
Underfunding of the forest inventory process and lack of a comprehensive ecological assessment of resources make it difficult to access the full impact of the harvest. Doubts have been raised that harvest levels in the most heavily exploited parts of the commercial forest are truely sustainable.
Saskatchewan does not have a good record for regenerating forests after harvest. According to the 1998-1999 State of Canada's Forest Report, 66% of the forested land harvested since 1975 remains "not satisfactorily restocked". This compares with a national average of only 17%.
On the Canadian Shield, expansion of commercial forestry is in the planning stage. The challenge is to ensure that fragile ecosystems in which regeneration is slow will be protected.
Saskatchewan Environment has posted new land-use plans to guide commercial development on the Shield. Planning includes public involvement, and has been welcomed by both northern residents and environmentalists. But concerns have been raised about the process. Critics believe that the proposed land-use plans are too general. There are fears that local interests, including ecotourism and traditional ways of life, will be sacrified to commercial forestry in one of the last true wildernesses of North America.
On the forest fringe, increasing demand for wood has spurred destructive harvesting of woodlots on private lands.
Conservation groups fear that a crisis of deforestation is overtaking forest fringe woodlands. Land-use planning on the fringe has been delayed by lack of funding.