I was recently discussing with someone on Twitter the forestry industry in Alberta, and we wondered how much is harvested each year, as well as how many seedlings are planted.
So I decided to look into it.
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The good news is that we plant more seedlings now than we used to. Or at least we were as of 2018. It’s hard to say how things have played out over the last 3 years without data.
Here’s what planting looked like on provincial crown land in Alberta during this 28-year period.
In 1990, there were over 42 million seedlings planted. In 2018, that number had risen to over 104 million, a 147% increase.
Now that being said, as you can see, that doesn’t mean there was a lot of growth in seedlings that entire time.
We saw an increase in seedlings planted for about a decade, then we decreased how much we planted for another decade, and finally we increased again for the final 8 years.
But that last increase is still less than the increases of the first decade.
At its peak in 1999, Alberta saw nearly 126 million seedlings planted in the province. That was a 197% increase in just 9 years.
Then we dropped to just under 67 million over the next 10 years, a 47% decline.
Over the final 8 years, we topped out at about 105 million, a 58% increase—certainly not the same rate of increase we saw in the first decade. In fact, if Alberta had continued increasing how many seedlings it planted at a rate of 197% every decade, we’d have seen nearly 500 million seedlings planted by 2020, almost 4 times what we actually saw in 2018.
The vast majority of those plantings were pine or spruce, over 90% actually, and some years, over 99%.
Here’s how the plantings of each played out over the last 28 years:
It looks like spruce plantings followed a similar pattern as seedlings in general, while pine plantings saw a pretty steady rate of increase, notwithstanding the blip in the early 2000s.
So, what about harvesting? How much wood did the Alberta forestry industry extract from public forests during the 3 decades since 1990?
Harvesting didn’t follow the same pattern seen with plantings. Alberta saw a fairly steady increase in harvesting over this 28-year period.
We went from nearly 12 million m3 of wood extracted from provincially owned forests in 1990 to just over double that in 2018: 24.7 million m3. That was a 111.8% increase, which was less pronounced than the rate of increase during the same period for plantings was.
In total, Alberta’s forestry industry harvested over 567 million m3 of wood between 1990 and 2018. By comparison, they planted 2.6 billion trees.
When the number of plantings each year declined between 1999 and 2010, the amount of wood extracted from Alberta forests kept increasing, other than a brief dip during the Great Recession.
Here, let’s compare them.
As you can see, when Alberta saw a massive drop in plantings, we didn’t see a corresponding drop in harvests, other than during the Great Recession.
One thing I find interesting is that every time there is a drop in harvests, there is a similar drop in plantings either the same year or the following year. We don’t see similar pattern with drops is plantings, however.
Now, keep in mind that the harvest numbers are cubic metres of wood, not how many trees were cut down. How many trees are in 24.7 million m3 of wood, for example, can vary widely depending on tree height and circumference.
For example, one cord of wood is about 3.62 m3. You’d need around 50 trees or so, measuring 5 inches in diameter at breast height, to get one cord of wood. Double the diameter and you’d need only about 5 trees.
I’m curious to see what the data will show for the last two years, as well as this year.
Especially considering the changes the government made this past May to the provincial Forestry Act, which will make it even easier to harvest trees.