PUBLISHED: 26 January 2015

Forest Industry

Forestry Industry in Alberta 

Types of Harvesting

 Clearcutting – All trees in an area are removed. This is often done in pine forests and benefits wildlife that eat insects. Clearcutting also enables the growth of plants that require full sunlight. 

Seedtree System – When trees are harvested, a few trees are left to spread seeds onto the landscape. This method also benefits wildlife that rely on old trees for food and shelter. These trees are more prone to damage from wind, lightening and insect attack.

Shelterwood System – Mature trees are removed in a series of harvests over a decade. This allows for the small-medium sized trees to grow and fully develop. This method benefits wildlife that feed on vegetation which grows on the forest floor and prefer tree cover. These trees are susceptible to wind damage and this method requires more roads and results in increased soil disturbance.

Group Selection System – small groups of trees are harvested over a period of 50 years. The harvested trees are of high quality, and the management practice is expensive. This method creates ideal habitats for grouse, deer and songbirds. 

Single Tree Selection System – Only the trees that are ready for harvest are removed. This method works best in small areas because it requires careful management and more roads. This method maintains an old forest habitat which benefits many species such as turkey and squirrels. There is an increase in soil disturbance and compaction. Mechanical and chemical controls must be used to allow the growth of trees that require more sunlight.

Source: North Carolina Forestry Association. (2015). Forest Management Basics. Retrieved from:

In Alberta, the forestry industry employs 47,000 Albertans and contributes $11 billion dollars to the economy [1]. Within the forestry industry, there are five areas that produce forest products, including; forest management, dimensional lumber, panel board, pulp and paper, as well as value added industries. Each area is subject to provincial government policies that do not allow timber harvesting to outpace the growth of forests. Of these different kinds of forest production, Alberta’s seven pulp and paper mills located in the northern region near the Peace and Athabasca Rivers use the most water resources. These mills are licenced to withdraw 1% of annual river flows and return approximately 92% of this flow to the river. Despite this high rate of return, the management of water and wastewater remains a major issue in Alberta’s pulp and paper mills. 

In pulp and paper mills, water is used for a number of process-related activities including; coolant, mixer for the pulp-making process, carrier for transporting pulp, steam generation, diluting chemicals, and for cleaning [2]. To improve water use in the forestry sector, the Water for Life strategy released in 2003 sets a 30% water conservation target for all water-using industries.  In addition to this strategy, the Alberta Water Council developed a guidance document in 2008 for water using industries, such as the forestry industry, to implement water conservation, efficiency and productivity (CEP) plans. From this guidance document, Alberta Forest Products Association (AFPA) produced a CEP in 2011. This CEP identified a 2020 Vision for Water where Alberta’s pulp and paper mills would become world leaders in water-use efficiency and productivity technology.  

Aside from water use, the forestry industry impacts the hydrological cycle more generally through logging practices such as clear cutting, otherwise called deforestation. To produce forest products, trees are cut down and turned into consumer products such as fence posts, treated wood products, livestock bedding, wood chips and bark mulch.

There are several logging methods used in Alberta. For example, clear-cutting is when all trees in a section of a forest are removed. This method of harvesting has the largest impact on the hydrologic cycle. In the absence of trees, rain or snow interception is reduced further causing a greater amount of water to reach the land surface – contributing to runoff and infiltration. Increased runoff leads to higher annual streamflow and potential localized flooding in nearby water bodies such as lakes and rivers. As a result, increased sedimentation build-up and erosion degrade the surrounding environment as well as local fish and wildlife habitat. Deforestation can also lead to degraded water quality which reduces the amount of drinkable water for humans and animals. In Alberta, actions are taken to reduce the impacts of deforestation on the hydrologic process by reforestation and sustainable forestry practices. For example, provincial standards require sawmills such as the Spray Lakes Sawmills located in Southern Alberta to replant forest areas previously cut down. Furthermore, monitoring and survey work is conducted to ensure trees that have been planted can grow successfully.

The biggest log yard in North America by Green Energy Futures - David Dodge 
“The biggest log yard in North America” by Green Energy Futures – David Dodge  is licenced under CC BY 2.0.  


[1] Alberta Forest Products Association. (2011) Alberta’s Forest Sector Water CEP Plan: A Journey Towards sustainable Management. Page 8. Retrieved from

[2] Alberta Forest Products Association. (2011) Alberta’s Forest Sector Water CEP Plan: A Journey Towards sustainable Management. Page 19. Retrieved from