Intensive Forest Management


Over the past few decades, forest managers across Canada have been using a variety of Intensive Forest Management (IFM) silviculture treatments to achieve different goals and objectives in forest stands and estates.

Over the past few decades, forest managers across Canada have been using a variety of Intensive Forest Management (IFM) silviculture treatments to achieve different goals and objectives in forest stands and estates. Within the context of the 2003-2008 National Forest Strategy, a national Working Group of forest managers, researchers, and practitioners was established to report to the public and forest stakeholders on the advantages and disadvantages of IFM. This IFM evaluation was completed as part of the Ecosystem- based Management Theme of the National Forest Strategy (see sidebar), and is based on the National Forest Strategy principles, objectives, and action items.

IFM and its use is a highly debated issue within the Canadian forest sector and there have been numerous questions on whether or not IFM treatments are appropriate at all. The Working Group considered it self-evident that as long as forest managers are being given mandates to guide forest development in order to achieve ecological, social, or economic objectives, IFM intervention on a stand level will be required. This discussion of the use of IFM today is perhaps more critical, because forest products are renewable and sustainable. It is also becoming evident that their dust-to-dust footprint remains the most virtuous lifecycle of all of the materials options available for human well-being.

The definition of IFM has been debated for many years by foresters across Canada and there has been no consensus on a clear definition. After lengthy discussions, for the purpose of the evaluation the Working Group has chosen the following definition of IFM:

A set of interventions arising from the theory and practice of modifying the flow of change within a set of natural forest stands in an ecosystem or forestland jurisdiction, in order to achieve ecological, economic, or social objectives of management.

For the purpose of this definition the term "natural" refers to forest stands where the natural ecosystem characteristics are maintained during stand disturbances. Natural forests describe most Crown forest stands in Canada since management is obliged to attempt to maintain or restore the natural ecosystem characteristics during or after disturbances.

The Working Group evaluation of IFM is focused on forest management on public lands where the public and stakeholders have a greater say in management. Even though private landowners do not have the same obligations to include public and stakeholder input and values in forest management decisions, due to increasing public accountability, they may find these discussions useful.

The Working Group considered the most commonly used silvicultural interventions in the natural process of change in forest stands in Canada (see sidebar). The evaluation assessed the ecological and economic advantages and disadvantages within the broad spectrum of considerations forest managers face, reflected on how to reduce ecological effects and enhance economic benefits, and included comments on social considerations. Forest management interventions (i.e. IFM treatments) vary across Canada and their application is dependent on local goals, objectives, and conditions. Some interventions that only occur in specific regions may not have been discussed in the evaluation report, but similar principles may be applied when considering them. The evaluation did not take into consideration the varying range of ecosystems to which the treatments may be applied. The advantages and disadvantages of treatments will vary depending on site characteristics.



IFM Treatments Evaluated:


  • Harvesting
  • Site Preparation
  • Tree Improvement
  • Regeneration
  • Inter-specific Competition Control
  • Intra-specific Competition Control-Stand Density Management
  • Pruning
  • Fertilization
  • Pest & Disease Control
  • Fire Management

    Over the course of this evaluation, the Working Group developed the following recommendations regarding IFM in Canada:

    • Given the challenge of change (climate, social values, markets, large scale pest and disease outbreaks, and invasive species), there is an increasing demand for forest managers to practice IFM. The Working Group reminds managers that treatments can achieve an integrated combination of benefits. It is necessary that managers respond continuously to the changes in our knowledge of forest science, community values, and resource management. Ongoing research is required to support this dynamic.

    • The Working Group recommends that an adaptive management approach be used. Many of the advantages and disadvantages in the evaluation are based on professional opinions or results of short-term small plot research. The Working Group recommends that many treatments will require validation through a local ecosystem-based, adaptive management program with a strong monitoring component.

    • One of the foundations of ecosystem-based management is integrated landscape management (ILM) planning, land use planning, or explicit area-based management planning that is ecozone or ecosystem classification-based and has gone through a consultative public review process. The Working Group recommends that ILM planning be completed for all landbases prior to forest management interventions. The ILM planning process is essential for developing a clear set of goals and objectives for the forest area or forest estate.

    • Once ILM or explicit area-based management planning is completed, and clear goals and objectives for the forest area are established, the Working Group recommends that forest managers complete Local Area Based Planning. Local level planning will aid managers in determining the appropriate level of natural disturbances and options for silviculture or IFM treatments at the stand level. During this planning process, forest managers must take into account and acknowledge all values (ecological, economic, and social) on the landbase, particularly sensitive local issues, and consider the full range of tools and interventions available in their portfolio of management options.

    Through the completion of the IFM evaluation, the Working Group brought this action commitment back to the Coalition for the Implementation of the National Forest Strategy for their consideration and approval. The group provided this report for the evaluation of the National Forest Strategy 2003-2008, and made some recommendations to the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers.

    During the IFM evaluation process the Working Group considered changing their name to the Adaptive Management Working Group. In practice, forest managers use adaptive management to respond to changes in social values, ecological knowledge, global markets, and now, climatic conditions. The increased value society puts on non-timber forest ecosystem services like carbon sets new goals for future forests. Ecosystem-based forest management includes a shift from single purpose treatments to integrated purpose treatments, and recognizes that forest conditions and social priorities change. Of course, integrated purpose treatments, within changing forest conditions and changing public priorities, often result in the requirement for stand level treatments that are historically a part of the activity described as IFM.

    The National Forest Strategy Report on Action Item 1.7 - a full evaluation of the advantages and disadvantages of IFM is available AppendixTwoof the evaluation report includes the references for numerous reports and documents on IFM that were used in the development of this evaluation.

    The scope, format, and content of the IFM evaluation report reflects the consensus of the participants on these sometimes very complex issues, but not necessarily unanimous agreement.


    Theme One of the National Forest Strategy, representing some of the next steps in continuous development towards sustainable forest management, is Ecosystem-based Management (EBM), and EBM's objectives are:

    Manage Canada's natural forest using an ecosystem-based approach that maintains forest health, structure, functions, composition, and biodiversity, and includes, but is not limited to:


    1. Using integrated land-use planning, especially before tenure allocation;
    2. Maintaining natural forested ecosystems;
    3. Completing a system of representative protected areas;
    4. On a national basis, maintaining carbon reservoirs and managing the forest to be a net carbon sink, over the long term; and
    5. Conserving old-growth forests and threatened forest ecosystems.


    Each Theme also includes defined action items identified to realize the objective. In Theme One, Action Item 1.7 states:

    Evaluate the full range of advantages and disadvantages of Intensive Forest Management across Canada.