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Year : 2015  |  Volume : 13  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 84-94

A Framework for Integrating Transboundary Values, Landscape Connectivity, and 'Protected Areas' Values Within a Forest Management Area in Northern Alberta

1 Daishowa-Marubeni International (DMI), Peace River Pulp Division, Peace River, AB, Canada
2 Department of Biology, Memorial University, St. John's, NL, Canada

Correspondence Address:
Yolanda F Wiersma
Department of Biology, Memorial University, St. John's, NL
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0972-4923.161226

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Date of Web Publication20-Jul-2015


Daishowa-Marubeni International (DMI) is an integrated forest products company with operations in northern Alberta, Canada. As part of its sustainable forestry practices, it has embarked on a comprehensive plan to maintain biodiversity and landscape connectivity values within its area of operation. In addition to identification of High Conservation Value Forests (HCVF) as part of an internal forest planning system and to assist forest certification interests, DMI has developed a plan for a Continuous Reserve Network (CRN). This paper describes the rationale behind DMI's decision to identify a framework for both HCVF and the CRN. The company believes this CRN is a novel approach to ensuring visibility of connected landscape processes. DMI has introduced the concept to government, local sawmill stakeholders, and its public advisory committee, with a goal towards implementing the CRN within the area of its forest tenure as part of its forest management plan. The CRN represents nearly 44% of DMI's tenure area, and thus makes a significant contribution to landscape connectivity and forest biodiversity. The case study represents an example where values and goals of legislated protected areas are also captured by management prescriptions within non-harvestable areas and timber-producing forests associated with an ecosystem-based approach to sustainable forest management.

Keywords: forest management, transboundary conservation, high conservation value forest, conservation networks, landscape connectivity, Continuous Reserve Network, northern Alberta, Canada

How to cite this article:
Witiw J, Wiersma YF. A Framework for Integrating Transboundary Values, Landscape Connectivity, and 'Protected Areas' Values Within a Forest Management Area in Northern Alberta. Conservat Soc 2015;13:84-94

How to cite this URL:
Witiw J, Wiersma YF. A Framework for Integrating Transboundary Values, Landscape Connectivity, and 'Protected Areas' Values Within a Forest Management Area in Northern Alberta. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2015 [cited 2021 Jan 18];13:84-94. Available from: http://www.conservationandsociety.org/text.asp?2015/13/1/84/161226

   Introduction Top

As part of this special section, this paper provides perspectives from the forest industry based on on-going work within a single forest company, Daishowa-Marubeni International, (DMI) to develop novel planning and operations strategies to enhance sustainable forest management in northern Alberta. In this particular case study, we feel that the forest industry had demonstrated leadership in developing strategies to improve the relationship between protected areas and sustainable forest management. While legislated protected areas are still important, we feel that the management strategies of DMI within their tenure exemplify the radical 'middle ground' of the continuum outlined by Wiersma et al. (This issue) in the introduction to this special section. That is, this case is illustrative of how forest management can be effective at promoting biodiversity, and complement, rather than conflict with, protected areas.

DMI is an integrated forest products company. It was first established in western Canada in 1969 by Daishowa Paper Manufacturing Company, Ltd. and Marubeni Corporation of Japan. It began Canadian operations in a joint venture with Weldwood of Canada in British Columbia. Its operations in northwestern Alberta began in 1989, following construction of a new kraft pulp mill in Peace River that is one of the top 10 pulp producers in North America. DMI employs over 600 people in British Columbia and Alberta, with an additional 600 contractors for woodlands, logging, and chip haul operations.

In Alberta, DMI has tenure from the provincial government for 2 Forest Management Areas (FMAs) totaling over 2.7 million ha with an Annual Allowable Cut (AAC) of 962,000 cu. m deciduous and 694,000 cu. m coniferous (the latter shared across DMI and a collection of area sawmill owners). These are located within the Boreal ecozone, and the forest type is predominantly boreal-mixedwood. The landscape is covered with significant amounts of wetlands (bogs, rivers, and ponds). The ecological history of the area is one where naturally occurring forest fires are the dominant agent of change driving forest succession dynamics. Historically these have occurred on approximately 40-90 year cycles (Larsen 1997) but are omnipresent as small-scale year-to-year events in the form of stand-altering or stand-maintenance wildfires. DMI's FMAs are allocated between 3 discontinuous blocks, two west of the Peace River, and one east ([Figure 1]). Other land uses within and adjacent to its FMAs include First Nations lands, Métis Settlement lands, allocations to other forestry companies, formal protected areas, and other third-party land use activities (predominantly the oil and gas industry). Between 2005 and 2007, the area used by these third party activities (power lines, roads, well sites, pipelines) totalled just over 5,000 ha, over 50% of which affected the productive land base (DMI 2009). The hydro-carbon sector has been, and will continue to be, significant in its influence on the region's economy and landscape, both in geophysical exploration activities (linear seismic licenses) and production (gas and heavy oil reserve exploitation).
Figure 1 DMI Forest management area and surrounding land uses
Inset: Location of DMIs FMA within the province of Alberta, Canada

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Like many industries and businesses dealing with today's socially- and politically-conscious consumers (Johansson 2012), DMI has an obligation to demonstrate increased corporate social responsibility (CSR). Corporations have different motivations to demonstrate CSR; in the forestry sector this is often motivated by consumer pressure, and not necessarily driven by government (Johansson 2012; Koskela and Vehmas 2012). However, in addition to marketplace drivers for CSR, political factors also play a role. Wiersma et al. (This issue) point out that the Canadian government, as signatory to international agreements like the Convention on Biodiversity, has obligations to promote sustainable management of natural resources. Indeed, in Canada the very definition of sustainable forest management, as reflected in provincial forest policies for public land forests, is based on criteria agreed to by the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers (CCFM). These criteria provide some global guidance on matters of forest values and societal expectations considered to be in the realm of CSR, since those CCFM criteria in Alberta manifest in the provincial Planning Standard that sets out requirements for forest management planning.

As a corporation, DMI has been committed to sustainable forest practices for some time. In 1995, the Peace River Pulp Division (PRPD) of DMI developed an Environmental Management System (EMS) that was specific to its Forest Resources operations, and which was certified to ISO 140001 standard in 2005. In 1995, the company led a shift in northwest Alberta from former sustained yield focused forest management to an experimental new form of forest management (ecosystem-based management [EBM]). This novel approach to balancing multiple values was the product of an external scientific advisory team as well as a new model for public input into forest management strategy development (Public Advisory Committee [PAC]). The company has a 2-decade history in such public interaction forums on forest management planning. The current Terms of Reference for the PAC are in the process of revision (draft document under review at time of writing) to emphasise a recent shift from public involvement in strategic planning to public involvement in operations and implementation of refined forest plans. Through the participation of DMI's PAC, an initial innovative forest management plan anchoring to EBM concepts was submitted in 1999 describing the company's EBM strategies and was approved in 2001 by the province. With the renewal of its forest management tenures, two new long-range plans were submitted under EBM principles in 2012. These plans function today as an objectives-based adaptive approach to balancing multiple values on a public forest tenure using natural range of variation (NRV) and natural disturbance dynamics as start points on which to base forest management design. They are further guided by the company's founding partnership in a simultaneous long-range research program that monitors ecosystem response and informs its experimental strategies and practices (Ecosystem-based Management Emulating Natural Disturbance [EMEND], circa 1997). In addition, DMI has moved to third-party certification of its operations, initially under the Canadian Standards Association (CSA Z809-02), which uses CCFM criteria as a national basis for defining sustainable forest management, and more recently under the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. The company has also established a Chain of Custody (COC) certification (which is third-party certified by KPMG Performance Registrar Inc. under the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Annex 4) to track the delivery of certified fibre from all sources delivered to the mill, through to the sale of certified pulp to the end customer. DMI was a participant in the Province's significant review of ecological representation (Special Places 2000 initiative) that resulted in a number of new protected areas and candidate areas in northwest Alberta. Finally, DMI is also a signatory to the recent Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (CBFA 2010), which, among various goals, includes a specific goal to accelerate the completion of a protected spaces network for the Boreal Forest. A recent CBFA document providing a methodological framework for protected areas planning has been recently made public (Strittholt and Leroux 2012). This aspiration is of course anticipated to occur under extensive science-based advice, as well as significant outreach and engagement among a variety of key stakeholders including governments, Aboriginal peoples, and non-CBFA parties. Readers interested in receiving updates on progress under the CBFA are encouraged to visit the CBFA website http://www.canadianborealforestagreement.com).

This article highlights recent and ongoing initiatives by DMI to promote a range of forest values through a number of forest planning initiatives; two (High Conservation Value Forests and a Continuous Reserve Networks) are discussed in detail here. Forest management planning is an ongoing process; the most recent Detailed Forest Management Plans (DFMP) are currently under review by the provincial government. Other ongoing developments within the province will affect plans presented here. For example, there is a regional Land Use Planning exercise within North West Alberta anticipated in 2015 under the province's Land Use Framework (LUF) initiative which will become 'the' forum forming recommendations for region-to-region prioritisation of landuse policy to government. Further up-to-date information and documents are available at the DMI website http://www.dmi.ca/about_dmi/dmi_in_alberta/prpd/) or with the lead author.

   'Protected Areas' Values Top

As outlined in the introductory paper to this special section (Wiersma et al. This issue), forests hold a wide range of values, including economic, social, and intrinsic. Wiersma et al. (2010) further detail the state of the relationship between protected areas and sustainable forest management; they note that although historically the two have often been in conflict, more recently the relationship between the two sectors in Canada has improved. Although DMI, like many forestry companies, engages in practices to promote sustainable forest management on an ecological-based model, in the eyes of some, these practices may remain at odds with the conservation-centric mandate of formal protected areas. Wiersma et al. (2010, This issue) outline a framework for more productive relationships between protected areas and timber-producing forests where more active (sustainable) forest management takes place. In the lexicon of their framework, formal, legislated protected areas are defined as those set aside for the primary purpose of biodiversity protection or unique geographic features conservation (Duinker et al. 2010; Wiersma et al. 2010). However, as noted by Wiersma et al. (2010), protected areas are also managed areas, and individual protected sites fall along a continuum of effectiveness. Wiersma et al. (2010) argue that in some cases, forest management can promote similar values as protected areas that are sometimes as effective as, if not more than protected areas that are small and under high ecological stress from visitors. Planners and managers within DMI and at other forest companies agree with this sentiment, and have argued that some of the management regimes and land designations (e.g., riparian buffers, non-harvested areas due to sensitive ecosystems, or legislative requirements for species-at-risk) applied to their forested land holdings constitute and conserve similar values as protected areas (NCASI 2011). Other researchers concur that forest management can be an effective partner in overall landscape conservation (Boutin and Hebert 2002; Lindenmayer and Franklin 2002; Houde et al. 2005) even if protection is 'de facto' and not legislated. In some cases, these 'de facto' protected areas may actually be more effective for biodiversity conservation, since they do not have the infrastructure and visitor use impacts often associated with some legislated protected areas subject to a high rate of public access. The degree of connectivity offered by such non-harvested areas may also be significant to landscape ecosystem function in some geographic areas.

DMI has acknowledged the importance of sustainable forest management, and the ecological and biodiversity values of the forests it manages beyond just the economic value of the fibre removed and taken to the mill. In addition to its history of seeking certification of its mill and woods operations under Canadian Standards Association (CSA), Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) COC certification, DMI has developed a number of in-house strategies to manage its forested land base under a risk-management approach to address sustainability, ecological integrity, and a suite of other values common among those promoted elsewhere in conservation circles as 'protected areas' values. DMI considers these initiatives collectively offer similar conservation value for landscape ecosystem health as do protected areas, even if they do not conform to definitions outlined by Wiersma et al. (2010) or Duinker et al. (2010). Some of the initiatives described below might more properly fall under Wiersma et al.'s (2010) description of 'non-harvested area' under their framework. Although there may be disagreement and debate on the label to apply to the initiatives outlined here, they nonetheless confer similar ecological values as formal protected areas, and we contend that such initiatives by forestry companies represent a positive step towards resolving historical conflicts between proponents of biodiversity management and proponents of forest management. While still considered an experimental form of management, the paradigm shift from former traditional timber-centric forest management to innovative ecosystem-based models, has in essence offered improved convergence with protected areas in the interests of collectively working toward ecosystem resilience and biodiversity conservation. It also offers improved opportunity for functional integration between these traditionally separate geo-administrative frameworks for land management.

High Conservation Value Forests

High Conservation Value Forests (HCVF) are a designation initially described by the FSC. DMI has identified HCVFs as one strategy of their overall management plan that contributes to wider social values of forests such as biodiversity, ecosystem services, and local community needs. It provides a consolidated system-based approach to ensuring a range of spatially definable sensitive values are recognised and duly considered during the course of forest management activities. To that end, DMI has drafted a framework for integrating HCVF (still a relatively new concept in Alberta) (Witiw 2006a) into a DFMP update (DMI 2008), and more recently within a newly submitted DFMP for each of the company's FMAs.

HCVFs are areas on the ground that can be spatially delineated and contain unique ecological, biological, historical, or community values. In that regard, they are not entirely dissimilar to protected areas, but differ from the formal definitions articulated in related discussions in the literature (Duinker et al. 2010; Wiersma et al. 2010) in that they are not set aside under legislation, and their boundaries are not permanent. However, this impermanence may also allow for flexibility in terms of management applications in response to the dynamics of the ecological systems themselves. The primary objective of identifying HCVFs is to provide the necessary management focus to preserve, maintain, or enhance the attributes that define them. Thus, if these attributes shift in space and time (for example, in response to forest dynamics, which may include harvest and natural dynamics, such as wildfire, insect infestations or climate change), then management can shift spatially and temporally as well to ensure attributes continue to be maintained. The temporal dimension of the HCVFs under the DMI plan is unspecified, but expected to be long enough to ensure continuation of ecological processes and key attributes on the wider landscape. At minimum, they are binding with the forest management plan for a period of 10 years. However, if the composition of the HCVFs and/or surrounding area changes at some future point in time such that key attributes are affected (this is likely to occur on ecological timescales; i.e., decades or centuries), it is possible that areas designated as an HCVF may shift to accommodate the ecological changes.

It is important to note that an area designated as HCVF does not mean harvesting activity is precluded (Witiw 2006a). In DMI's application of the concept, the company's FMA contains a mixture of HCVFs that preclude access or harvesting (e.g., protected areas), and others that do not (e.g. designated woodland caribou range). The fact that harvest can be allowed in a 'designated' area for conservation may seem counter-intuitive to some, but we remind readers that Duinker et al. (2010) pointed out that trees are also sometimes harvested from legislated protected areas for reasons of public safety or for habitat management (although this will often be at a smaller spatial extent than commercial forest operations). It is also well documented that a large variety of species persist in northern boreal landscapes despite long histories of recurrent natural disturbance (e.g., wildfire), so disturbance and biodiversity resilience may indeed be connected in the dynamics of boreal ecosystem health. Since harvest activity can be designed to emulate some aspects of natural disturbance, particularly its physical patterns, conservation and harvesting (under an ecosystem-based model) are not necessarily divergent concepts. However, as noted in different areas of the country (Simon et al. 2002; Spence et al. 2002; NCASI 2006, 2009; Andison et al. 2009), harvesting does not emulate all attributes of natural fires, and for some species (for example, Simon et al. (2002) note several songbirds in Labrador), land managers may need to allow some parts of the forest to burn naturally. However, in order not to compromise the economic value of the harvestable timber, fires will have to be allowed under controlled conditions or in areas of landscape far removed from industrial timber tenures. In any case, the current rather sparse datasets and uncertainties around long-range effectiveness of harvest practices inspired by natural disturbance across the full range of species, variety of structural retention forms, and natural variability evident in landscape ecosystems suggests it is premature to conclude whether ecosystem-based practices within some HCVFs will fully address conservation values. DMI acknowledges this uncertainty, as part of the rationale for its investment in parallel long-range research that monitors ecosystem response and adaptively informs its experimental strategies and practices (e.g., EMEND research program; Spence et al. 2002).

A key element of the integration of HCVFs into forest management planning is the identification and delineation of these areas, and the development of appropriate management strategies and annual monitoring to ensure that values are not adversely affected (Witiw 2006a). HCVFs in DMI's planning framework have five levels-these are summarised in [Table 1]. The type of management implemented in a given HCVF area will depend on the uniqueness and sensitivity of the attributes contained there, and will also involve consultation with the public for social, political, and economic considerations, as well as local and scientific knowledge. [Figure 2] provides a conceptual framework for HCVF areas. The company is currently developing a guideline document to describe planning and operational activity considerations necessary within each identified HCVF. In addition, the company has developed the geographic information system (GIS) capacity to facilitate efficient data management of the spatial components to support this system-based approach to managing for multiple values. The concept of such a system was presented to its public advisory committee during management plan consultations and preparations, but is not yet available to the wider public.
Figure 2
A conceptual framework outlining the concepts of the High Conservation Value Forest Areas

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Table 1 Summary of attributes of High Conservation Values Forest Areas under DMI's Forest Management Framework

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Continuous Reserve Network

In response to locally articulated public value of biodiversity, water resources, protected areas, and ecological reserves that preserve biodiversity and act as refugia for populations, DMI has developed a framework for a new approach to integrating such transboundary values, conservation, landscape connectivity, and protected areas into forest management. DMI has also historically been involved with protected areas planning in Alberta, and there are a number of legislated protected areas embedded within the DMI land base. The CRN is a relatively novel approach, and integrates existing formally protected areas (those that would fall under Duinker et al.'s (2010) definition) with voluntary reserves (which would fall under Wiersma et al.'s (2010) term of non-harvestable area). As a concept for landscape level assessment and management decision support, it assists clarity of the larger picture value of interconnectedness and integration between such conservation areas and the timber supply areas outside them that are managed under an ecological-based approach. The CRN follows directly from the establishment of the HCVF network described earlier, yet includes only those HCVFs which preclude timber harvesting. DMI has borrowed the definition for a CRN from Iisaak Forest Resources, and describe it as "…a continuous reserve system which spans the entire drainage (and) forms a connected forest environment. The continuous reserve system identifying the areas to be retained is created first. This approach allows for the protection of key elements of the ecosystem as well as movement and dispersal of animals and plants throughout the landscape" (Witiw 2006b: 4). Within the routines of forest management planning, it is not unusual early in the process to define the net land base available for timber supply by first defining the portions of gross land base that will not contribute to timber supply or that are to be excluded from harvest supply modeling ('net-down').

'Hydroriparian' (i.e., complete watershed) features are the key starting point in delineating the CRN in both the Iisaak example and DMI's northern Alberta application of it. Thus, a CRN is intended to capture and address the conservation of not only important hydrology features, but also soils, terrain, scenery, recreation values, biodiversity, and forest connectivity along these riparian corridors via appropriate protection measures and/or management practices (Witiw 2006b). [Figure 3] illustrates a conceptual diagram for the CRN. DMI argues there are multiple benefits to the CRN framework including: a heightened attention to hydrological connectivity on significant watersheds; increased ecosystem connectivity in areas of concentrated biodiversity; assistance of species and genetic dispersal; preservation of aesthetic and recreational values; specific integration of existing protected areas with the tenured land base for trans-boundary conservation; and increase visibility of forest stewardship efforts (Witiw 2006b). Key landscape features that are identified include linear terrain-dominant hydrology features, key connected upland or headwater areas, non-riparian landscape attributes (these may be defined as HCVFs, e.g., steep slopes of unstable soils), and existing formally protected lands. Together, these four types of features should provide a network of corridors and stepping stones within the FMA.
Figure 3
A conceptual framework outlining the concepts of the Continuous Reserve Network

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DMI voluntarily does not harvest from primary river valleys, sharply incised valleys and areas of high soil-slump or mass-waste potential, even though harvest supply from some of these have historically been permitted in Alberta (Witiw 2006b), and is readily evident in past industry practice in other areas of Canada. The company's timber requirements also afford the exclusion of wetland complexes (forested and non-forested) and some unique geography (non-parkland) from its timber supply. Such voluntary management restrictions confer a degree of protection to these areas, which may also confer biodiversity and landscape connectivity values by nature of their ecological and physical features. The extent of landscape comprising the CRN represents nearly 44% of DMI's tenure area (see [Figure 4]), and thus arguably offers a significant potential contribution to landscape connectivity and forest biodiversity, while perhaps also illustrating that the forest sector's working landscape and footprint can often be much smaller than tenure sizes (gross land base) alone might suggest without this more detailed picture. Thus, anchoring the CRN on dominant hydroriparian features in these northern boreal forests will be an efficient way to incorporate the proposed CRN into existing corporate planning.
Figure 4
The Continuous Reserve Network (CRN; shown in grey polygons) as outlined in the current Detailed Forest Management Plan (DFMP)
a. Eastern block of the tenure (refer to Figure 1)
b. Western blocks of the tenure (refer to Figure 1)

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Sustainable forest management under an ecological-socio-economic framework

Forest certification systems, as well as the Alberta Planning Standard both articulate expectations regarding sustainable forest management performance monitoring. Indicator-based reporting to disclose monitoring results is part of that expectation and serves as evidence of sustainable forest management in practice. DMI subscribes to a 2-tiered hierarchy of implementation monitoring for its forest management activity that includes external audits by third-party forest certification agencies, as well as internal compliance-audits by third rd -party consultant auditors. The internal compliance-audit system is part of a continual improvement initiative motivated by voluntary business risk management interests. Both the external and internal audit results are posted on the company website.

DMI's operations are certified under the SFI forest certification and were formerly certified under CSA Z809-02 Forest Certification. This latter certification is assessed under the six key criteria originally established by the CCFM accord, two of which (Criterion 1: conservation of biological diversity, and Criterion 2: maintenance and enhancement of forest ecosystem condition and productivity) convey similar values as do formal legislated protected areas. DMI has been an active partner in initiating research and development in areas of forest ecology, growth and yield, reforestation, watershed and aquatic ecology, plantations, and technology (see DMI documents from 1990 to 2013 on the company website). DMI has embraced ecosystem-based management and makes use of 'coarse filter' targets to assess the ecological quality of the landscape relative to the NRV, and 'fine filter' targets to assess habitat and species of concern at more localised scales and with more detailed information. DMI's objectives under CCFM Criterion 1 include maintaining minimum areas of old interior forest through time via timber supply modeling constraints, maintaining green merchantable live trees (variable-retention) for future down woody debris expressed as a targeted range (spatial metrics) across all cutblocks, maintaining the natural variability of habitat (age class, structural complexity, patterns of shape/size, forest cover species), and continued presence of at-risk species. The company's within-block harvest retention levels, designed specific to a mixedwood forest landscape context, are based on a landscape structural retention target (15% landscape average, block-level range to 30%, area-based) that is among the highest in Canada. In concert with these strategies, the CRN is one of the objectives that fulfills values inherent in CCFM Criterion 1 of the CSA Forest Certification Standards. The company has included an indicator specifically for the CRN as part of its performance reporting system, which will track the area (in hectares) of connected forest cover that remains unharvested on its FMA tenures. A separate indicator was designed for similar performance reporting purposes associated with the HCVF system.

Under CCFM Criterion 2, DMI is attempting to integrate its operations with other resource management operations in the area, such as oil and gas companies and other forest companies. Examples of other objectives include minimising the spread of noxious weeds, minimisating loss of forest to disease and insects, maintaining natural species composition and arrangement, and minimising conversion of forest land to other uses.

   Implementation Top

Challenges in implementing conservation frameworks

There are a number of challenges in implementing the framework described earlier. One is historic government structures and the challenges of communicating management aspirations between the forestry and parks (protected areas) sectors. Within the provincial government, internal cross-departmental integration of management planning policy is only beginning to occur under broadly mandated programs (Alberta Land Use Framework, Water-for-Life) and some organisational re-structuring. Region-to-region, familiarity with the EBM paradigm, and its adoption by forest management circles is variable among parks staff. Parks management plans are incomplete or non-existent for some parks. Management planning harmonisation beyond the boundaries of protected areas has been implied as a vision in past Parks Ministry strategic documents posted on the government websites, but the level of policy development to support implementation of such information-exchange is unpublished and unknown. Some integration of parks and forest sector staff participation in pilot cross-sector initiatives has, however, occurred in recent history (e.g., Foothills Research Institute-Highway 40 Demonstration project and Healthy Landscapes project (www.foothillsresearchinstitute.ca); see Andison and Marshall 1999; Bonar et al. 2003). This is perhaps a positive signal of opportunity and interest in exploring broader applications of ecosystem-based management, clarifying provincial scale conservation objectives and improved functional integration across geo-administrative boundaries.

Another challenge is ensuring that stakeholders and adjacent landowners are involved in, and aware of, the framework. DMI has introduced the HCVF and CRN concept to its current PAC, which includes members of the public at large, area sawmill stakeholders, fur industry proponents, municipal government representatives, and resource staff from the Alberta government. The company's intent was to explain the concept, but also to be transparent about the reality of the rather limited influence on other stakeholders operating on the shared landscape. DMI initiated this reserve network for its own business practices and in the interests of due diligence as part of a risk management strategy. While the company hopes that in time others will recognise the merits of a CRN and follow this strategy, the company cannot force others on the landscape to respect or consider it. PAC response has been positive to the presentation of this network. However, the view of PAC is that others (beyond PAC) on the landscape should also be engaged and committed to it.

It has been DMI's experience that such discussion forums present a highly beneficial opportunity for the public to comment on industry forest management plans, forest policy, landscape management, and conservation, yet the limited forest-sector scope of these consultation exercises may not be as effective in influencing policy or broader implementation of ecosystem-based strategies as land use planning forums initiated by government. No discussions with the energy sector have occurred on the CRN concept. No known similar initiatives by that sector exist. In the northern Alberta context, the energy industry typically relies on both upland and wetland eco-types equally, so it is currently uncertain whether they would willingly explore or engage in an assessment of the value of such an initiative to their business practices, stewardship obligations or social license.

There are a number of parcels of land within and adjacent to the FMA which encompass First Nations or Métis Settlement areas-of-interest. The nature of partnerships between First Nations and the forest sector varies across Canada (see Fortier et al. 2013 for a summary) with recent increases in co-management arrangements with companies (McGregor 2011). It is perhaps salient to note that the Sustainable Forest Management Network (SFMN) in Canada facilitated interaction between forest sector industry, government, academia, and Aboriginal peoples during past projects and conference discussions. In all areas of research relevant to forest management, particularly with respect to protected areas themes, SFMN participants benefitted from receiving insights into belief-systems and Aboriginal perspectives on stewardship. The insights suggest a cultural preference toward 'whole-landscape' stewardship approaches that do not partition the landscape into 'protected' portions. It was articulated that partitioning can convey a message that is offensive to those belief-systems, because of perceptions that other portions of the landscape are perhaps 'not protected' or are treated with lesser stewardship. Many of these sentiments were expressed verbally in discussions at conferences and workshops to both authors. The nuances of these points are often not well-captured in conference proceedings (when such are available); however, for documents from the SFMN on Aboriginal perspectives, see Stevenson (2005); Kopra and Stevenson (2008); and Smith (This issue).

DMI has a lengthy history of information-exchange with local Aboriginal (First Nations, Métis) communities. Indeed CCFM criteria, forest certification systems, and provincial policies all define certain expectations around public participation and Aboriginal peoples during the course of forest management planning. Currently the focus of DMI's interaction effort has been on engaging discussion on topics of interest described by local communities, which include: orientation to the company's standing EBM strategies and practices; reforestation; its connection to simultaneous long-range research as well as its unique operational approach to harvesting technology (portable chipping). To date, through meetings, informal discussions, and field-tours, the company has noted generally positive responses from Aboriginal communities in their stated preferential interest in ecosystem-based forest practices over former traditional forest practices which were dominantly sustained-yield focus, 2-pass clearcut harvest systems. For different views on the effectiveness of forest management strategies and First Nations communities in other regions in Alberta and across Canada see McGregor (2011), Teitelbaum and Wyatt (2013), Smith (This issue); Van Schie and Haider (This issue). While specific discussion has not progressed to include detailed orientation to HCVF or CRN concepts, these communities have already clearly articulated their values, as well as a preference for, and interest in, seeing wider application across other sectors of conservation-based ecosystem-considerate practices currently used by DMI. Out of respect to these communities and in the interests of ongoing development of relationships, the details of such discussions are not generally documented for public disclosure, unless explicitly desired by individual communities.

Implementation plan

HCVF implementation

As part of implementation of the HCVF Framework, DMI has made extensive use of existing biodiversity and special places inventories (Stelfox and Wynes 1999), as well as GIS-based data from external and internal sources. Consultation with the public, as well as with scientific experts has and will continue to aid in identification of values and attributes, and appropriate management options in each HCVF area. DMI is currently developing a guideline document to describe planning and operational activity considerations necessary within each identified HCVF, as well as the GIS capacity to facilitate efficient spatial components supporting a system-based approach to managing for multiple values. The document contains a checklist of management options for each HCVF area that takes into consideration the type, number, and values of the attributes of the area in question, the sensitivity of those attributes to disturbance, data sources, the existing external regulatory frameworks governing the area and/or its attributes, existing guidelines and best practices, and possible innovative approaches for preservation of the identified values and attributes. A sample checklist for the HCVF is provided in [Figure 5].
Figure 5
Sample checklist being developed by DMI for monitoring
These are draft checklists for various HCVF features: a. caribou; b. continuous reserve network (CRN)

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A precautionary approach will be adopted, and monitoring will be integrated into DMI's operations to assess the effectiveness of the HCVF management strategy (DMI 2008). Out of concern for viability within the context of multiple-use landscapes in Alberta and cumulative effects, such monitoring assessments will understandably be limited to audit checks on the "implementation" performance of stated management-system controls. This will provide a measure of effectiveness in system compliance, rather than more complex and costly attempts to measure for effectiveness in e.g., ecological response within each HCVF. DMI's approach to adopting an HCVF system includes both polygon and nested point features. It is being designed as a dynamic system considering the continual discovery of new special features of significance (biological, archaeological, geological, cultural, etc.) that occurs in the course of forest management planning, but also through the continual evolution in public values, science, and policy around at-risk species in Canada.

CRN implementation

Implementation of the CRN involves two primary steps-first, the spatial landscape analysis for identification of individual reserve network components, and second, the definition of restrictions and corporate practices to protect reserve network components to the extent of company influence. As with implementation of the HCVF framework, DMI will rely on existing inventories and GIS databases, along with aerial photography interpretation and/or ground truthing (Witiw 2006b). To date, the landscape analysis has identified reserve network components that comprise the following land proportions: 1) West FMA: 350,000 ha of total 960,000 ha FMA, 2) East FMA: 831,000 ha of 1,741,000 ha FMA. In total, the CRN equates to a land area just under 44% of the FMA tenures. In the context of northwest Alberta mixedwood landscapes, this network is inherently a rather connected mosaic that is distributed over much of the FMA land base extent, rather than isolated to any particular portions of tenure.

Similar to the process for implementing the HCVF framework, DMI is developing a checklist of management practices that may be suitable to each component within the CRN. One of the first steps will be finer delineation of the hydroriparian features, where DMI has already implemented voluntary management restrictions to preserve ecological values. The company has invested in innovative Wet Areas Mapping technology for its FMA tenures, and is collaborating with the province on light detection and ranging (LiDAR) data integration, which together contributed to higher resolution mapping of land surfaces and hydrology than was previously available. Other key areas for operational and management focus include identifying access-crossing precautionary practices and restrictions on large wetland complexes (to prevent disruption of hydrological connectivity), as well as conducting cost-benefit risk assessments in considering voluntary retention of islanded patches of merchantable timber isolated within the identified large wetland complexes. Management of non-riparian CRN components will fall under the prescriptions defined within the respective HCVF system. In addition, DMI is committing to ensuring 'implementation monitoring' via one specific 'indicator' included in DMI's FMP documentation on indicator targets and implementation. This indicator will track the CRN area (in hectares) of connected forest cover that is unharvested compared against the start-point, with no allowed variance resultant from harvesting actions of forestry activity. DMI also discussed the merits of consulting with the provincial staff who manage existing legislated protected areas regarding trans-boundary values and possible improved integration of management strategies across the land base particularly for tenured land portions adjacent to designated protected areas (DMI 2008). This cross-pollination may inherently occur within the processes defined for Alberta's Land Use Framework as Regional Advisory Committees are initiated by the government Secretariat to develop recommendations for regional landuse plans. It is also possible that some of the mechanics for such information exchange may flow out of the exploratory multi-disciplinary discussions occurring under the Healthy Landscapes program of the Foothills Research Institute. The company believes that CRNs offer a novel approach in ensuring visibility of connected landscape processes, so that they receive appropriate attention during DMI planning and operational activities.

The collective implementation picture

The company's collective strategies offer a significant contribution toward the maintenance of various non-timber values on, and adjacent to, their tenure. This value to the landscape is contributed in areas where DMI does not operate, together with other management contributions within the landscape portions where the company does operate (e.g., retention of forest structure complexity, retaining variability in landscape composition and arrangement, etc.). The CRN is merely one portion of that picture, albeit a large portion. DMI's structural retention targets within net land base upland forests (harvest blocks at 15% variable retention as a landscape average, retention for full rotation), the additional temporary retention of young conifer understory during deciduous overstory harvests, and the CRN together contribute approximately 1.4 million ha or 52% of the land area within the perimeter of the 2 FMAs ([Table 2]).
Table 2 Summary of allocation of land area within DMI's two Forest Management Areas (FMAs)

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   Conclusion Top

Overall, DMI's HCVF and CRN frameworks provide a novel model for forest management within the jurisdiction of an industrial player in the timber products industry. The HCVF and CRN frameworks were among the first few of their kind in Alberta, and have gained attention and approval-in-principle from a range of stakeholder groups within DMI's area of operations, as well as interest from forestry researchers and practitioners across Canada. DMI's framework to increase the conservation value of lands within their FMAs via the CRN, HCVF, and ecosystem-based management strategies are a departure from the traditional approach to conservation of forest biodiversity values solely via legislated protected areas. The areas designated under DMI's frameworks may not have the equivalent 'hard' boundaries as a national or provincial park. However, the dynamic nature of the boreal forest means that some flexibility in the focal areas for biodiversity conservation in tandem with other significant areas under more permanent protection by government agencies may have an overall net benefit to forest biodiversity conservation in the wider region. In particular, climate change and its projected influence in causing potentially significant shifts in climate envelope for some areas of Canada within this century (Mckenney et al. 2007; Lemprière et al. 2008), might suggest that dynamic models for conservation and ecosystem health are better than traditional static models focusing on isolated protected areas initiatives. Different approaches are necessary in the face of future uncertainty in order to provide for assisted migration of species (Johnston et al. 2009). The development and implementation of a cross-jurisdictional landscape-scale strategic conservation framework focused on protecting, connecting, and restoring ecosystems will be fundamental to enhancing ecological resilience to climate change (Lemieux et al. 2011). DMI has endeavored to "sell" this concept (and the fact that over 50% of its FMAs provide high levels of unoperated landscape, structural retention and connectivity) in the company's interactions with stakeholders, clients, neighbours, and the certification bodies auditing its activities.

The most recent version of the Terms of Reference for the PAC, outlines the role the advisory committee plays with respect to the current phase of monitoring and implementation of the DFMP. The principle purpose of the PAC is two-way interaction and feedback on plan performance, and less so the formation of recommendations or decision making. During cyclical periods of their involvement in development of new long-range plans, however, the DMI PAC serves in determining social acceptability of new concepts or evolving science-based strategies, and in that contributes to refinement of such plans. The PAC operates on the principle of majority consensus, with members of the public and representatives of non-government organisations and municipal governments having a vote each (DMI 2012). Representatives of the forest industry, and general advisors/observers may participate in PAC meetings, but do not have voting rights. In addition to consultation with the PAC, DMI carries out separate consultation with every Aboriginal community within its tenure area (DMI 2012). The significance of social license is very apparent within sustainable forest management circles. It is manifest in expectations around sustainability practices collectively signalled through public consultation feedback, Aboriginal dialogue and information-share, third-party audits, as well as recurring customers' surveys or investigative site visits. The latter of these interactions assess one's performance and influence the corresponding success in maintaining market share within the global forest sector marketplace. Thus, from a strategic business framework, DMI has a clear motivation to maintain these strategies and corresponding targets through time. While the fact that they are not set aside in perpetuity under legislations means they may not officially be recognised as 'protected areas' as per definitions in Duinker et al. (2010) and Wiersma et al. (2010), the CRN and HCVF must be regarded as conferring very similar protected areas values to large areas of the boreal forest in northern Alberta. This case example perhaps provides evidence that the dual imperatives of conservation stewardship and business risk management or economic considerations are not mutually exclusive, and are possible to harmonise in practice. Even if no other sectors or land-use stakeholders sharing the same landscape formally adopt or recognise the proactive business decisions of an individual forest tenure proponent as described here, it does not diminish the potential ecological value of one less footprint within the identified sensitive conservation value locations.

Next steps

Depending on landscape and geographic characteristics elsewhere in Canada, this concept might hold distinct merit for consideration by any initiatives assessing portions of Canada's boreal forests for protected areas gaps and opportunities to address broad landscape connectivity (regional, inter-regional, aquatic, terrestrial). The CBFA is one such initiative motivated to seek creative solutions for furthering the completion of a functional network of landscapes that might provide for biodiversity conservation, at-risk species recovery, ecological representation, and connectivity, while also striving to find those solutions that offer prospects of achieving high degrees of ecological integrity, socio-economic prosperity, and political feasibility (CBFA Goals 2 and 3, May 2010). DMI is one signatory among a number of forest companies across Canada working with a collection of environmental non-government organisations to develop and recommend innovative approaches for such conservation challenges during the term of the CBFA. That collaborative effort has interacted with some leading scientific advisors in conservation planning to develop an innovative first-iteration blueprint for protected areas planning methodology (Strittholt and Leroux 2012). That methodological framework recommends the adoption of a whole-landscape approach (Conservation Matrix Model) as a guiding principle for land-use and conservation planning (Strittholt and Leroux 2012).

   Acknowledgements Top

We thank the editor and two anonymous reviewers for thoughtful comments which helped in strengthening the manuscript.[33]

   References Top

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  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4], [Figure 5]

  [Table 1], [Table 2]


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