There are four types of forest in Saskatchewan: urban forests, agro-forests, commercial forests, and northern forest. They all have their importance, and each should be considered as a valuable resource. Due to the nature of the prairies and the fires which occurred regularly, there were few trees in the southern parts of the province to greet settlers, except in coulées and along river banks. Because of the short growing season and the priorities of raising farm crops, attention to trees centred mainly around using current timber for living needs. When trees were planted, it was to provide shelter from the prairie winds and the summer sun, forming the urban forest in each community. The importance of these continues to be recognized: Regina alone, for instance, has over 300,000 trees, 40% of which are elm. As agriculture developed, especially in the parklands where there were already trees, woodlands were left for shelter, fuel production, and aesthetics. Although most of these were for “own use,” some of the larger areas have been used as “commercial” woodlots. From the early years the federal Department of the Interior encouraged planting: the Indian Head Forest Nursery (now the Shelterbelt Centre) was developed in 1901, and through the years has supplied over 150 million seedlings - first for the forest reserves, and later to farmers. In the 1960s the provincial Department of Natural Resources (DNR) had a woodlot program to encourage management of trees on private land. There is currently increasing interest in agro-forestry, partly as another diversification avenue for farmers: the Saskatchewan Forestry Centre estimates that there are 1.9 million hectares of land highly suitable for poplar production in the agricultural zone.
Through the years the areas set aside for commercial operations have varied. In the early years there were forests scattered around the south, some of which are now provincial parks. There are today nine provincial forests forming the Northern Provincial Forest, which is well defined in, protected by, and designated in the Forest Resources Management Act (FRMA). The northern provincial forest falls in the Boreal Plain and Boreal Shield ecozones; it consists of 54.5% of the total provincial area - some 35.6 million hectares. Another 3% occurs as tree cover on private land, and another 1% on federal land. The commercial forest zone (CFZ), in the southern portion of this area, is managed by Forest Management Agreement (FMA) holders under the control and direction of the provincial Forest Service; it falls between the forest boundary on the south and the Clearwater/Churchill systems in the north, and consists of 14.5 million hectares. The area has a number of tree species such as “hardwoods” (Angiosperms, or broad-leafed trees) and “softwoods” (Gymnosperms, or conifers). The softwood species are jack pine (Pinus banksiana Lamb.), white spruce (Picea glauca [Moench] Voss); black spruce (Picea mariana [Mill.] B.S.P.), balsam fir (Abies balsamea [L] Mill), tamarack (Larix laricina [Du Roi] K. Koch); and in the Cypress Hills lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta Dougl). The hardwoods include trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx), black poplar (Populus balsamifera L.), white birch (Betula papyrifera Marsh.), and minor populations of white elm (Ulmus americana L.), green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvatica var.subintegerrima [Vahl] Fern), and Manitoba maple (Acer negundo L.). In the south are bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) and plains cottonwood (Populus deltoides var occidentalis Rydb.), with several varieties and hybrids of P. deltoides. Current estimates of sustainable harvest are at 7.9 million cubic metres/year, and the harvest is at 4.5 million. Calculations show that this could be increased substantially by increased fire protection and by greater production from agro-forestry sources. In addition, there is potential for using an estimated 1.5 million m3 of mill residues produced by current industry.
Saskatchewan's forest resources have been in provincial hands since the Natural Resources Transfer Act of 1930, and are administered under the provincial Forest Act of 1931. The current Forest Resources Management Act allocates timber through Forest Management Agreements (FMA), Term Cutting Licences, and Timber Permits. The industry includes one BCTMP pulp mill, one bleached kraft mill, one paper mill, two OSB (oriented strand-board) mills, one plywood mill, and several sawmills and treatment plants. It employs 24,000 people, (7,990 of whom are direct employees), and its wages represent $280 million. The primary wood products sector includes lumber (mainly white spruce), treated products such as posts, poles, rails and lumber (mainly pine), plywood, OSB, pulp and paper. The value of primary forest products shipped in 2000 was almost $900 million. Primary products are exported mostly within North America; 28% leave the continent. Traditional market patterns have shown the USA to be a major market, accounting for about 30-35% of lumber, 10-15% of treated products, and 50% of the pulp and paper. The value of secondary products totals about $100 million and includes mainly engineered building components, and cabinet and other mill-work. Most of this is sold in Saskatchewan, and the remainder in eastern Canada. While it can be seen as merely consisting of trees and wood, the forest has other uses and values - aesthetic and spiritual - as well as a potential for fishing, game, trapping, and outdoor recreation. “Non-consumptive” activities such as hiking, kayaking, and photography are increasingly pursued.
Fires are a major threat to the commercial forest, and everything is done to hold fires to a manageable size wherever possible. Historically the natural boreal forest was renewed regularly by fire, and harvest is not a perfect substitute to natural replacement. This, together with the fact that full harvest levels have never been attained, has resulted in the forest becoming generally older, especially the parts which were not as economically desirable; the susceptibility to fire and insects has therefore increased. Pest management has become an important part of forest protection, and programs have been mounted to counter mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae [Hopkins]) in the lodgepole pine forest of the Cypress Hills, and to counter spruce budworm (Choristoneura fumiferana [Clemens]) in the boreal forest. The latter, difficult to control, expanded rapidly during the early 1990s. Heaviest infestations are sprayed with the naturally occurring biological insecticide Bacillus thuringiensis var Kurstaki (Bt.K), which reduces the populations. More periodic outbreaks occur of forest tent caterpillar, jack pine budworm, and several insects of younger stands and plantations. The responsibility for forest renewal has now been handed over to the industry. The Prince Albert Nursery is the only nursery which grows for the industry; it has been leased out to PRT Inc., a private producer which now produces 13 million greenhouse grown container seedlings annually. The Shelterbelt Centre (now under PFRA) produces twenty-nine hardy tree and shrub species, and annually distributes over 5 million trees and shrubs to 10,000 prairie clients, predominantly to land owners for shelterbelts in the Agro-forestry area. The urban forest is served by several private tree nurseries which have developed varieties suitable for the Saskatchewan climate.