Canada's Intact Forest Landscapes

Jan 5, 2018 (Last modified Dec 15, 2020)
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Global Forest Watch Canada updates data to 2013

Intact Forest Landscapes (IFLs) are the last remaining areas of forest and non-forest ecosystems that are at least 500 km2 in size and untouched by roads or other significant human activity. Canada, together with Russia and Brazil, contain 65% of all the world’s IFLs. But these pristine forests are becoming increasingly disturbed, and research shows that even without deforestation this degradation and fragmentation is enough to threaten biodiversity around the world. Global Forest Watch Canada (GFWC) updated its IFL data to 2013, using the best available data, including Landsat satellite imagery and Environment Canada disturbance data. GFWC found that:

• Almost 5% (216,199 km2) of Canada’s IFLs were degraded or fragmented by human activity between 2000 and 2013. IFLs covered 4.5 million km2 of Canada in 2000 compared to 4.3 million km2 in 2013.

• Four provinces—Quebec, Alberta, Ontario, and British Columbia—accounted for 71% of the 216,199 km2 of human disturbances.

• 11.7% (just over 500,000 km2) of IFLs were located within forestry tenures as of 2013.

• 25.5% of Canada’s forestry tenures were covered by IFLs in 2013.

• 17.5% (750,851 km2) of 2013 IFLs were located within interim and permanent protected areas.

With respect to drivers of change:

• 60% (129,487 km2) of IFL degradation occurred within forest tenures.

• 6% (13,344 km2) of IFL reduction was located within Petroleum and natural gas (PNG) development (oil/gas facilities, pipelines, wells, and seismic lines) concessions.

The areas of IFL degradation were important in terms of species at risk habitat:

• 92% of the IFL degradation coincided with the presence of species at risk.

• 14% of the IFL degradation coincided with the presence of at least 5 or more species at risk.

• Alberta and British Columbia had the most IFL degradation within their boreal woodland caribou ranges (43% and 78%, respectively), while Quebec’s boreal caribou ranges had a decline of 7%.

IFLs provide habitat for many birds:

• In 2000, more than 3.2 million km2 of IFLs overlapped with areas identified as having the presence of at least 100 bird species.

• By 2013, over 6% (202,174 km2) of this area had been degraded by industrial activity so it was no longer intact.

GFWC’s update to Canada’s Intact Forest Landscapes illustrates that monitoring is important to protecting our forests and their biodiversity. Accurate data can help assess the impact of major industries like logging, energy and transportation on Canada’s forests. While 5% of Canada’s IFLs were degraded and fragmented between 2000 and 2013, significant areas in Canada remain intact, or roadless and undisturbed by industrial development. These offer important opportunities for landscape level planning for conservation and sustainable development.

Intact forest landscape mapping was the “anchor” for much of Global Forest Watch Canada’s work; creating a national IFL data layer was GFWC’s first major mapping project. The IFL data was updated multiple times over GFWC’s operation and the results accompanying the latest version looked at the trends and causes of IFL degradation.

The IFL data provides a “broad stroke” look at what is left of Canada’s forests. It was used to help delineate study areas for many GFWC analyses, and was also used as a key metric in assessing conservation value. In some areas, mapping was performed at smaller scales to identify smaller landscape fragments which also have important ecological value.

*Written by Global Forest Watch Canada

Conservation Biology Institute. 2018. Canada's Intact Forest Landscapes. In: Data Basin. [First published in Data Basin on Jan 5, 2018; Last Modified on Dec 15, 2020; Retrieved on Jul 14, 2024] <>

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