Is Management or Conservation of Old Growth Possible in North American Boreal Forests?

  • Daniel Kneeshaw
  • Philip J. Burton
  • Louis De Grandpré
  • Sylvie Gauthier
  • Yan Boulanger


Old-growth forests are often perceived as cathedral-like stands of large trees in coastal coniferous forests or eastern hardwoods. In most of the boreal region, however, this is not the case, as tree size is limited by cold climate and short growing seasons, while forest age is limited by frequent large natural disturbances. The boreal forest is a disturbance-driven system. Fire is omnipresent and, where it is less prevalent, other disturbances, such as insects and wind, drive forest dynamics. As such, many stands burn or are subject to other disturbances before they have the chance to attain old-growth status. The idea of old growth as a local equilibrium state (i.e., a forest structure that has reached a stable, self-maintaining state in equilibrium with climate and local abiotic conditions), largely developed for other forests, applies poorly to the boreal (chapters 7, 11, and 14). Even when considered over vast regional scales, the probability that a forest burns is not dependent on its age, as young forests have an equal probability of burning as do older ones. Because of the random nature of fire, forest stands of different ages are not equally represented over the landscape (Cumming et al. 1996). Boreal old growth is a dynamic condition that is manifest by varying forest structure (Kneeshaw and Gauthier 2003; Shorohova et al. 2011), stand size, and longevity across the boreal zone of North America. Despite the constraints on old growth in this biome, old growth plays a key role in the maintenance of biodiversity in the boreal forest (chapter 11).


  1. Andrew, M. E., M. A. Wulder, and J. A. Cardille. 2014. “Protected areas in boreal Canada: a baseline and considerations for the continued development of a representative and effective reserve network. ”Environmental Review22: 135–160. Scholar
  2. Beaudoin, A., P. Y. Bernier, L. Guindon, P. Villemaire, X. J. Guo, G. Stinson, T. Bergeron, S. Magnussen, and R. J. Hall. 2014. “Mapping attributes of Canada’s forests at moderate resolution through kNN and MODIS imagery. ”Canadian Journal of Forest Research 44: 521–532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bergeron, Y., D. Cyr, C. R. Drever, M. Flannigan, S. Gauthier, D. Kneeshaw, E. Lauzon, et al. 2006. “Past, current, and future fire frequencies in Quebec’s commercial forests: implications for the cumulative effects of harvesting and fire on age-class structure and natural disturbance-based management. ”Canadian Journal of Forest Research 36:2737–2744.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bergeron, Y., B. Harvey, A. Leduc, and S. Gauthier. 1999. “Forest management guidelines based on natural disturbance dynamics: stand-and forest-level considerations. ”The Forestry Chronicle 75: 49–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bergeron, Y., D. B. I. P. Vijayakumar, H. Ouzennou, F. Raulier, F., A. Leduc, and S. Gauthier. 2017. “Projections of future forest age class structure under the influence of fire and harvesting: implications for forest management in the boreal forest of eastern Canada. ”Forestry90: 485–495CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bouchard, M., D. Kneeshaw, and Y. Bergeron. 2006. “Forest dynamics after successive spruce budworm outbreaks in mixedwood forests. ”Ecology 87: 2318–2329.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Boucher, D., L. De Grandpré, D. Kneeshaw, B. St-Onge, J. C. Ruel, K. Waldron, and J. M.Lussier. 2015. “Effects of 80 years of forest management on landscape structure and pattern in the eastern Canadian boreal forest. ”Landscape Ecology 30: 1913–1929.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Boulanger, Y., S. Gauthier, and P. J. Burton. 2014. “A refinement of models projecting future Canadian fire regimes using homogeneous fire regime zones.” Canadian Journal of Forest Research 44: 365–376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bureau du forestier en chef (BFEC). 2015. “état de la forêt publique du Québec et de son aménagement durable Bilan 2008-2013.” Roberval, Québec: Gouvernement du Québec.Google Scholar
  10. Burton, P. J., D. D. Kneeshaw, and K. D. Coates.1999. “Managing forest harvesting to maintain old growth in boreal and sub-boreal forests. ”The Forestry Chronicle 75: 623–631.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Burns, R. M., and B. H. Honkala, Compilers. 1990.Silvics of North America(Volume 2).Washington, DC: United States Department of Agriculture.Google Scholar
  12. Cumming, S. G., P. J. Burton, and B. Klinkenberg. 1996. “Boreal mixedwood forests may have no “representative” areas: some implications for reserve design. ”Ecography 19: 162–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Deans, A. M., J. R. Malcolm, S. M. Smith, and T. J. Carleton. 2003. “A comparison of forest structure among old-growth, variable retention harvested, and clearcut peatland black spruce (Picea mariana) forests in boreal northeastern Ontario. ”The Forestry Chronicle 79: 579–589.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. De Grandpré, L., S. Gauthier, A. T. Pham, D. Cyr, S. Périgon, D. Boucher, J. Morissette, G.Reyes, T. Aakala, and T. Kuuluvainen. 2009. “Towards an ecosystem approach to managing the boreal forest in the North Shore region: disturbance regime and natural forest dynamics.” In Ecosystem Management in the Boreal Forest, edited by S. Gauthier, M-A. Vaillancourt, A. Leduc, L. De Grandpré, D. Kneeshaw, H. Morin, P. Drapeau, and Y. Bergeron, 228–256. Québec, Québec: Presses de l’Université du Québec.Google Scholar
  15. Dragotescu, I., and D. D. Kneeshaw. 2012. “A comparison of residual forest following fires and harvesting in boreal forests in Quebec, Canada. ”Silva Fennica 46: 365–376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fall, A., M. J. Fortin, D. D. Kneeshaw, S. H. Yamasaki, C. Messier, L. Bouthillier, and C.Smyth. 2004. “Consequences of various landscape-scale ecosystem management strategies and fire cycles on age-class structure and harvest in boreal forests. ”Canadian Journal of Forest Research 34: 310–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Franklin, J. F., and K. N. Johnson. 2012. “A restoration framework for federal forests in the Pacific Northwest. ”Journal of Forestry 11: 428–439.Google Scholar
  18. Franklin, J. F., D. Lindenmayer, J. A. MacMahon, A. McKee, J. Magnuson, D. A, Perry, R.Waide, and D. Foster. 2000. “Threads of continuity. ”Conservation in Practice 1: 8–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gauthier, S., P. Bernier, T. Kuuluvainen, A. Z. Shvidenko, and D. G. Schepaschenko. 2015.“Boreal forest health and global change. ”Science 349: 819–822.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gauthier, S., P. Lefort, Y. Bergeron, and P. Drapeau. 2002. “Time since fire map, age-class distribution and forest dynamics in the Lake Abitibi Model Forest. Information report LAU-X-125E.” Laurentian Forestry Centre, Canadian Forest Service. Ste-Foy, Québec: Natural Resources Canada.Google Scholar
  21. Gauthier, S., M. A. Vaillancourt, D. Kneeshaw, P. Drapeau, L. De Grandpré, Y. Claveau, and D. Paré. 2009. “Aménagement forestier écosystémique: origines et fondements.” In Ecosystem Management in the Boreal Forest, edited by S. Gauthier, M-A. Vaillancourt, A. Leduc, L. De Grandpré, D. Kneeshaw, H. Morin, P. Drapeau, and Y. Bergeron, 13–40. Québec, Québec: Presses de l’Université du Québec.Google Scholar
  22. Girard, F., S. Payette, and R. Gagnon. 2008. “Rapid expansion of lichen woodlands within the closed–crown boreal forest zone over the last 50 years caused by stand disturbances in eastern Canada. ”Journal of Biogeography 35: 529–537.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hanson, J. J., and C. G. Lorimer. 2007. “Forest structure and light regimes following moderate wind storms: Implications for multi-cohort management. ”Ecological Applications 17:1325–1340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Harris, L. D. 1984.The Fragmented Forest: Island Biogeography Theory and the Preservation ofBiotic Diversity. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Johnson, E. A., and S. L. Gutsell. 1994. “Fire frequency models, methods and interpretations. ”Advances in Ecological Research 25: 239–287.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kasischke, E. S., D. L. Verbyla, T. S. Rupp, A. D. McGuire, K. A. Murphy, R. Jandt, J. L.Barnes, et al. 2010. “Alaska’s changing fire regime—implications for the vulnerability of its boreal forests. ”Canadian Journal of Forest Research 40: 1313–1324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Bergeron, and T. Kuuluvainen. 2011. “Forest ecosystem structure and disturbance dynamics across the circumboreal forest.” In The Sage Handbook of Biogeography, edited by A. Millinton, M. Blimler, and U. Schickhoff, 263–280. London, UK: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  28. Kneeshaw, D., and P. J. Burton. 1998. “Assessment of functional old-growth status: a case study in the sub-boreal spruce zone of British Columbia, Canada. ”Natural Areas Journal 18: 293–308.Google Scholar
  29. Kneeshaw, D., and S. Gauthier. 2003. “Old growth in the boreal forest: a dynamic perspective at the stand and landscape level.” Environmental Reviews 11 (S1): S99–S114CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kouki, J., S. Löfman, P. Martikainen, S. Rouvinen, and A. Uotila. 2001. “Forest fragmentation in Fennoscandia: linking habitat requirements of wood-associated threatened species to landscape and habitat changes. ”Scandinavian Journal of Forest Research 16(S3): 27–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Krawchuk. M. A., S. L. Haire, J. Coop. M-A. Parisien, E. Whitman, G. Chong, and C. Miller.2016. “Topographic and fire weather controls of fire refugia in forested ecosystems of northwestern North America. ”Ecosphere 7: e01632.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kuuluvainen, T. 2009. “Forest management and biodiversity conservation based on natural ecosystem dynamics in northern Europe: the complexity challenge. ”Ambio 38: 308–315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Leroux, S. J., F. K. Schmiegelow, R. B. Lessard, and S. G. Cumming. 2007. “Minimum dynamic reserves: a framework for determining reserve size in ecosystems structured bylarge disturbances. ”Biological Conservation 138: 464–473.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lindenmayer, D. B., M. L. Hunter, P. J. Burton, and P. Gibbons. 2009. “Effects of logging on fire regimes in moist forests. ”Conservation Letters 2: 271–277. Scholar
  35. Martino, D. 2001. “Buffer zones around protected areas: a brief literature review. ”ElectronicGreen Journal 1: 15. Google Scholar
  36. Nikolov, N., and, H. Helmisaari, 1992. “Silvics of the circumpolar boreal forest tree species.” In A Systems Analysis of the Global Boreal Forest, edited by H. H. Shugart, R. Leemans, and G. B. Bonan, 13–84. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Oliver, C. D., and B. C. Larson. 1990. Forest Stand Dynamics. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  38. Patry, C., D. Kneeshaw, I. Aubin, and C. Messier. 2017. “Intensive forestry filters understory plant traits over time and space in boreal forests.” Forestry 90: 436–444.Google Scholar
  39. Perron, N., L. Bélanger, and M-A. Vaillancourt. 2008. “Forêt résiduelle sous régimes de feu et de coupes.” In Aménagement écosystémique en Forêt Boréale, edited by S. Gauthier, M-A. Vaillancourt, A. Leduc, L. De Grandpré, D. Kneeshaw, H. Morin, P. Drapeau, and Y. Bergeron, 137–164. Québec, Québec: Presses de l’université du Québec.Google Scholar
  40. Pickett, S. T., and J. N. Thompson. 1978. “Patch dynamics and the design of nature reserves.” Biological Conservation 13: 7–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Portier, J., S. Gauthier, A. Leduc, D. Arseneault, and Y. Bergeron. 2016. “Fire regime along latitudinal gradients of continuous to discontinuous coniferous boreal forests in eastern Canada.” Forests 7: 211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Rayfield, B., P. M. James, A. Fall, and M. J. Fortin. 2008. “Comparing static versus dynamic protected areas in the Quebec boreal forest. ”Biological Conservation 141: 438–449.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Reyes, G. P., and D. Kneeshaw. 2008. “Moderate-severity disturbance dynamics in Abies balsamea–Betula spp. forests: the relative importance of disturbance type and local stand and site characteristics on woody vegetation response. ”Ecoscience 15: 241–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Rogers, B. M., A. J. Soja, M. L. Goulden, and J. T. Randerson. 2015. “Influence of tree species on continental differences in boreal fires and climate feedbacks. ”Nature Geoscience 8: 228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Schneider, R. 2001.Establishing A Protected Area Network in Canada’s Boreal Forest: An Assessment of Research Needs. Edmonton, Alberta: Alberta Centre for Boreal Studies,Google Scholar
  46. Shorohova, E., D. Kneeshaw, T. Kuuluvainen, and S. Gauthier. 2011. “Variability and dynamics of old-growth forests in the circumbolear zone: implications for conservation, restoration and management. ”Silva Fennica 45: 785–806.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Shugart, H. H., Jr., and D. C. West. 1981. “Long-term dynamics of forest ecosystems. ”American Scientist 69: 647–652.Google Scholar
  48. Soulé, M. E., ed. 1987.Viable Populations for Conservation.Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Stralberg, D., E. M. Bayne, S. G. Cumming, P. Sólymos, S. J. Song, and F. K. Schmiegelow. 2015. “Conservation of future boreal forest bird communities considering lags in vegetation response to climate change: a modified refugia approach. ”Diversity and Distributions 21: 1112–1128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Thorpe, H. C., and S. C. Thomas. 2007. “Partial harvesting in the Canadian boreal: success will depend on stand dynamic responses. ”The Forestry Chronicle 83: 318–325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Tikkanen, O. P., P. Martikainen, E. Hyvärinen, K. Junninen, and J. Kouk. 2006. “Red-listed boreal forest species of Finland: associations with forest structure, tree species, and decaying wood. ”Annales Zoologici Fennici 43: 373–383.Google Scholar
  52. Venier, L. A., I. D. Thompson, R. Fleming, J. Malcolm, I. Aubin, J. A. Trofymow, D. Langor, et al. 2014. “Effects of natural resource development on the terrestrial biodiversity of Canadian boreal forests. ”Environmental Review 22: 457–490. Scholar

Copyright information

© Andrew M. Barton and William S. Keeton 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel Kneeshaw
  • Philip J. Burton
  • Louis De Grandpré
  • Sylvie Gauthier
  • Yan Boulanger

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations