Benefits of the forest harvest

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Non Timber Forest Products and Non-Wood Forest Products are the two terms most often used to describe the various foods, medicines and other products that make up the forest’s ecosystem. The value of recorded international trade in NWFP was estimated at $11 billion USD in 1993 (1). In Canada, historically, it was these products that sustained and nourished Aboriginal people for thousands of years. In Eastern Canada, over 170 plant species have been documented as food sources and over 50 species were used as beverages (2). In Northwestern North America over 500 species have been identified. Today in B.C. more than 200 non-timber forest products are commercially harvested from the wild areas and forests, employing tens of thousands of people on a seasonal and part-time basis. The two major non-timber forest products in British Columbia are floral greenery and wild mushrooms with a combined average wholesale value estimated at $72 million (3). Total NTFPs in B.C. alone are contributing at least $600 million per year to the economy (4).

“Non-Wood Forest Products (NWFPs) consist of goods of biological origin other than wood, derived from forests, other wooded land and trees outside forests” (5).

Non-timber forest products (NTFPs) are:
“all of the botanical and mycological resources of the forest and their derived products, excluding conventional wood products such as timber, pulpwood and shakes. Examples of NTFPs include wild foods, craft and art products, floral greenery, medicinal and personal care products, as well as services such as ethnobotanical education and forest based tourism” (6). 

Why Sustainable Food harvesting is Important

“Not since the 1970s have we seen rises in food prices like those of the last few years. The FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations) Food Price Index rose by 8% in 2006 and by a further 24% in 2007. The index average for the first three months of 2008 was 53% higher than for the same period in 2007: the price of vegetable oils rose by 97%, grains by 87%, dairy products by 58% and rice by 46% (7).” It is clear that any country that depends on the importation of food is going to experience increases in food costs. With corn and other crops being diverted to fuel, fewer surpluses of food will be available. Northern Ontario has a wealth of various foods whose harvest can be seen as a positive step towards food security and food sovereignty. And surpluses can be sold in the south that can provide important cash income. Now that there is an acknowledged need to consume local, regional and ‘nordic’ foods, it is an opportune time to make available indigenous foods.

The benefits to the physical environment

All northerners have seen the results of a forest policy based on clear cutting. Elimination of habitat for many species, top soil erosion caused by heavy run off, streams choked with dirt and litter preventing fish from spawning. Whole river systems polluted from mercury and other forest mill discharges. Many northerners have seen the effects of mining and smelting where vast areas are polluted with acid rain, and streams, rivers systems and lakes are poisoned. And once these industries exhaust the resource, they leave behind the mess and the communities without an economic base to survive.
Forest and freshwater foods can be harvested from healthy forests, rivers and lakes. And if harvested sustainably, they can provide food and employment which is based on protecting the environment. A healthy forest is a biodiverse forest with many species able to flourish without human engineering. Rivers and lakes that are fed by steams from healthy forests provide habitat for many species of fish, which provide important protein and income to communities.

The benefits to other species

The northern forests, rivers and lakes have evolved over the last 10,000 years. This evolution has created the conditions for a diverse, rich and vibrant habitat for many species. By protecting existing forests from shoddy cutting practices, and by allowing cut over forest lands to regenerate naturally, remediation may be slow, but it allows for the establishment of a more diverse environment. Although fibre farms of single species may be good for the forest industry, way in the future, it does not benefit the many species that rely on a healthy biodiverse environment.

The benefits to communities

Having access to healthy populations of game and fish provides communities with food security that does not exist with the boom and bust of northern resource industries and the reliance on expensive food shipped in, often by air, from the south. Having access to fresh water ensures that the fish populations and the communities that eat them are not subject to the devastating effects of mercury poisoning such as the disaster created along the English-Wabagoon river system. Decades later and these communities are still reeling from the effects. Having access to many plant and mushroom species from a healthy forest can provide communities with fresh foods as well as income from foods sold locally, regionally or to the south.

1. Non-Wood Forest Products are vital for the future of forest dwellers, FAO poster, 2008
2. NON-WOOD NEWS, Jan. 2008, pg.16
3. Seeing the forest beneath the trees, Royal Roads University, Centre for Non-Timber Resources.
4. The Agricultural and Agri-food sector, B.C. Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, Buy Bcwild, pg 5.2008-2009, Centre for Non-Timber Resources.
5. NON-WOOD NEWS, July 2008,  FAO’s working definition pg.12, Forest Products Service of the FAO Forest Products and Industries Division, United Nations
6. NTFPs and Healthy Communities
7. NON-WOOD NEWS, JULY 2008, Editorial, Forest Products Service of the FAO Forest Products and Industries Division, United Nations



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