Most peer countries that rank ahead of Canada are in Europe. Forest area and growing stock have been increasing year by year in Europe because of decreased demand for wood as a domestic fuel source and the replanting of forests.3 Afforestation, however, remains a priority in Europe, as a result of overharvesting and intensive forestry practices in the past.
Ireland, the best performer recently, achieved a 6 per cent increase in forest cover from 2005 to 2010. Unlike Canada, Ireland witnessed centuries of forest exploitation, leaving less than 10 per cent of its land as forest cover by the end of the 20th century. In 1996, a strategic plan set an afforestation target of 25,000 hectares per year up to the year 2000, and 20,000 hectares per year from 2001 onwards.4 Although the targets are not being met, government incentives have encouraged private landowners to contribute to afforestation. In recent years, the Irish government has set a target of increasing forest cover to 17 per cent of total land mass by 2030.
Scandinavian countries introduced forestry legislation about 100 years ago limiting the amount of timber that could be harvested while imposing an obligation on woodlot owners to replant after felling. Since then, forest resources in these countries have doubled.5
For the most part, a higher proportion of forests in European countries are privately owned. In Norway, 86 per cent are privately owned; in Sweden, it's 80 per cent; and in Denmark, 72 per cent of forests are under private ownership.6 The majority of the private ownership is in the hands of individuals and families, with only a small proportion owned by private institutions and forest industries. Private owners in these countries are required through policy and legislation to practice sustainable forest management—reforestation followed by harvesting. These practices have contributed to the increase in forest cover in these countries.