18.1 Trend in volume of commercial timber harvest

Last Updated: 
September 10, 2015

This indicator measures the amount of wood harvested under forest authorizations on Crown lands. It includes wood harvested for saw logs, commercial fire wood and wood harvested domestically under individual permits. Commercial and domestic timber permits and licenses are authorized and tracked by Forest Management Division, Department of ENR.

Local fire wood use is estimated at 20,000 to 30,000 m3 per year, however domestic fire wood use is the least accurate of the volume tracked. Fire wood includes live and dead wood harvested from all species. Other uses of wood, such as logs for cabin building, fence posts or other lumber materials are included in this indicator if a permit was obtained, however some amount of harvesting for building materials and posts is unknown. Wood on settled land claim areas is considered private and is not tracked. All NWT residents have the right to personal use of local wood resources.

NWT Focus

Commercial timber harvesting has occurred in many places in the NWT, usually in localized areas and in small volumes. Typical commercial harvest operations are small-scale local businesses harvesting from 500 m3 to 10,000 m3 per year. Predominant interest has been in white spruce and jack pine.

Commercial harvesting is significant because it represents direct use of forest fibre for local and export purposes. Timber harvesting is one of the few local resource-based opportunities in the NWT and represents a significant opportunity for sustainable local economy. It is important to accurately track commercial timber harvest to ensure sustainable forest management planning and practices.

Current view: status and trend

The table below shows that timber harvesting increased throughout the 1990s, then decreased dramatically in the early 2000s. Volumes have increased slightly in the last few years. There are only a few commercial wood harvesters that operate with relative consistency year-to-year.

Harvest volumes over the last 16 years represent a maximum of about 10 operators. In the last several years there have been 3-4 operators harvesting annually. The reason for the fluctuations is that many of these operators are small businesses employing only 1-2 people. They may decide not to harvest every year for a variety of reasons. For example, they might still have wood remaining from the previous season that has not been sawn, or they may decide to pick up other work for a season. NWT only has a few commercial timber operators that have made a family business out of logging over the last 20 years.

Many communities are interested in exploring opportunities to provide employment to residents through logging. There will likely be increased interest in timber harvesting for wood as a fuel.

Due to present market conditions and economies of scale, it is unlikely that large-scale commercial harvesting will occur. There are also recent developments with respect to carbon as a commodity and the resulting values associated with home heating from “green” sources, such as fuel wood, wood pellets, or ethanol, which will likely have an impact on trends in commercial harvesting in coming years.

The GNWT is actively collecting baseline information on the state of the forest resources and developing better tracking mechanisms to track and manage forest harvesting.

Timber harvest in the NWT


Year Fuelwood(m^3)  Sawlog(m^3)   Other Log (m^3)   Total (m^3)
 1980        33203
 1981        40154
 1982        12297
 1983        15956
 1984        21870
 1985        30540
 1986        15690
 1987        32667
 1988        19783
 1989        26088
 1990        25919
 1991        31852
 1992        32795
 1993        59884
 1994        62008
 1995        55294
 1996        144461
 1997        93292
 1998        126253
 1999        49229
 2000        45026
 2001  6030  1797    7827
 2002  22100  1400    23500
 2003  20260  7280  1380  28920
 2004  22600  8280  1300  32180
 2005  18849  12467  1300  32616
 2006  21539  9544  880  31963
 2007        30 000
 2008  21539  6667  880  29086
 2009  21151  5920  260  27331
 2010  23910  5150  1344  30404
2011 26918 100 865 27883
2012 5868 5000   10868
2013 12808 1826 16 14650
Source: GNWT Forest Management Division

Type of timber harvest (year 2013)

Looking forward

Given recent increases in fuel prices, more people may be interested in using wood as a source of fuel, which could increase markets and the scale of commercial harvesting for fuel wood. Increasing transportation costs from southern fuel sources may also drive more demand for local sources of wood.

Most communities in the Northwest Territories are highly dependent on fossil fuels to provide heat and electricity. The GNWT will face increasing pressure to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and increase use of renewable energy sources. The GNWT is actively developing strategies to increase the use of wood as a renewable energy source.

Looking around

NWT forests are relatively untouched compared to other parts of the boreal forest in Canada. The NWT has a small population and a limited network of permanent and temporary roads. The commercial timber harvesting industry is almost negligible compared to every other forested jurisdiction in Canada.

Resource exploration and extraction has the largest impact on forests in NWT, in particular seismic exploration programs. In the last 10 years the volume of timber cut down during seismic exploration projects is at least an order of magnitude greater than the volume cut by commercial timber harvest operations.

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