Younger trees capture carbon at a greater rate than mature forests. Some animals thrive best in established forests, while others do best in younger ones. Some species even prefer areas that have been recently harvested or burned. The key to making our forests the best they can be is helping to maintain a healthy balance of different tree species and ages across the province.
Where sections of older forest have burned or been harvested, a young forest has room to emerge. In the case of harvesting, Alberta’s forestry companies are required to replant the area with a similar mix of trees and help the new forest establish itself. Young forests are open enough for sun-loving plants to grow in, and those plants are a food source for iconic Alberta wildlife.
The middle stage of a forest’s life is the longest – over the course of this stage, the forest continues to mature and evolve. Trees reach the prime of their life, and the mixture of cover and open space attracts a new host of plants and animals. A complex natural ecosystem emerges, and the forest becomes self-sustaining.
The trees in mature boreal forests have reached full size and are densely packed together. Large amounts of carbon are stored in mature forests, and they’re key to the survival of wildlife species like caribou. Trees at this stage start to be more susceptible to fire, disease and insect infestations, though, and most Alberta trees have a maximum lifespan of 150 years under ideal conditions. Without strategic forest management, historical fire patterns show that most Alberta forests would burn every 50-100 years.