Peat Moss - A sustainable Resource
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Canadian sphagnum peat moss?
Canadian sphagnum peat moss (CSPM) is partially decomposed sphagnum moss.
Sphagnum’s large cell structure enables it to absorb air and water like a
sponge. Although peat moss does not contain nutrients, it does adsorb nutrients
added to or present in the soil, releasing them over time as the plants require.
This saves valuable nutrients which are otherwise lost through leaching.
Sphagnum moss is the living moss that grows on top of a sphagnum bog. The fungus
sporotrichum schenckii is known to live in this growing moss.
Sphagnum peat moss is the dead material that accumulates as new live material
grows on top and exerts pressure on the peat moss below. The fungus is not known
to live in the levels of a sphagnum bog where peat forms. Harvesters of
horticultural peat moss remove the top few inches of the live sphagnum moss and
only harvest the peat from he lower layer.
Is it true that it takes several thousand years for sphagnum peat moss to
No. Peat forms at a rate of 1 to 2 millimetres a year. According to a recent
study by the North American Wetlands Conservation Council (Canada), harvested
peatlands can be restored to ecologically balanced systems within 5 to 20 years
after peat harvesting.
Isn’t there a shortage of peatland in Canada? Isn’t harvesting peat moss
depleting these areas of wetlands?
No. There are more than 270 million acres of peatlands in Canada. Of that,
only one in 6,000 acres (or .016 percent) is being used for peat harvesting.
Canadian sphagnum peat moss is a sustainable resource. Annually, peat moss
accumulates at more than 70 times the rate it is harvested. Harvested bogs are
returned to wetlands so the ecological balance of the area is maintained.
Can the supply of peat moss be completely depleted?
No. The bogs that are being harvested will be restored to functioning
wetlands. In addition, there are millions of acres of bogs in national parks and
other preserves that can never be harvested.
What is the CSPMA Preservation and Reclamation Policy?
Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association (CSPMA) members agree to abide by
the reclamation policy for all new bog development. It includes:
Identifying bogs for preservation
Leaving buffer zones of original vegetation to encourage natural succession
Leaving a layer of peat below harvesting levels to encourage rapid regrowth.
Returning harvested bogs to a wetlands ecosystem, or to other wildlife habitats
or agricultural production.
There are some people who are misinformed about the harvesting of peat moss.
The CSPMA (Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association) is committed to providing
accurate information to the public on harvesting and environmental issues.
One common misconceived notion is that peat is "over harvested" and that "prices
will inevitably rise". Statement's like this are incorrect. Peat moss is not
being over-harvested and prices are lower today than they have been in the past
10 years. Here are some important facts to set the record straight:
There are more than 270,000,000 acres, 25% of the world's supply, of which our
industry harvests on less than 40,000 acres, or one acre in 6,000.
Peat is renewable and in terms of its accumulation, peat in Canada is growing
more than 70 times as fast as it is being harvested. [According to an issue
paper entitled "Canadian Peat Harvesting and the Environment," published by the
North American Wetlands Conservation Council (Canada)]
As well, we know that under the right circumstances, sphagnum moss will
re-establish itself on a harvested bog. Soon thereafter, from this collection of
mosses, peat will accumulate, re-establishing a layer of peat that will continue
Because a single bog can be harvested for between 15 and 50 years before they
are left for restoration, harvesting has been completed on less than 3,000
acres. There are good examples of harvested bogs in Canada where more than one
foot of sphagnum moss has re-grown, unaided, during the 10 to 15 years since
harvesting has ceased. These bogs look like and provide the functions of virgin
Even though Canada does not have peat supply concerns, the industry is looking
for ways to accelerate peat bog regeneration. Until recently, peat bogs have
been left to regenerate, a process that can take up to 20 years. New research in
ways to restore bogs quickly, indicates that time can be shortened to five to
The research projects, in which the industry has invested $1 million, include
transplanting live sphagnum plants, seeding spores of sphagnum taken from live
plants, and covering the harvested bog with the top spit from a living bog. This
research is complete now and the results are excellent. From the techniques
developed through the research, the research team, in cooperation with our
Association, has produced a restoration instruction manual entitled Peatland
It will take hundreds of years to replace all the peat that was removed, but
even while it's growing we will have is a peatland that resumes the most
important functions of a bog:
acting as a water collection basin,
accumulating carbon, and
providing habitat for flora and fauna.
The one function we cannot replace is a virgin bog that stores geo-paleantological
history. For that reason, it is important to identify bogs for conservation in
all areas of Canada.
Peatlands will regenerate themselves and it is the policy of the Canadian peat
industry, and supported by government, to ensure peat is a sustainable resource.
The Canadian peat producers have adopted a strict Preservation and Reclamation
Policy that calls for, among other things:
identifying bogs for preservation through environmental assessment;
using careful harvesting techniques so that restoration can be readily achieved;
leaving at least three feet of peat at the bottom of the bog; and
returning of harvested bogs to functioning wetlands.
There should be no concern with continuing to use peat moss as the base of
growing media in North America. The resource is huge, the amount of extraction
small by comparison and the industry and government are committed to sustainable
The CSPMA Preservation and Reclamation Policy
The Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association and its members have adopted a Preservation and Reclamation Policy that sets out the procedures for opening a bog, harvesting a bog and closing a bog. Highlights of that policy are:
Reduce impact on environment
Record flora, fauna
Cooperate with environmental groups
Choose bogs for reserves
Leave buffer zone
Leave layer of peat moss
Design drainage so water can be restored
Primary goal: Restore bogs to wetlands
Secondary goal: Reclaim bogs for beneficial crops
The members of the Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association will assist and
cooperate, wherever possible, with all recognized conservation bodies which are
prepared to give constructive help towards complying with this policy.
Opportunities will be taken to enhance the public's awareness and enjoyment of
our wetland and peatland areas.
2. AIMS AND OBJECTIVES
The CSPMA encourages its members to:
2.1 Reduce the impact of their operations on the environment and strive for
maximum land restoration to the continuing benefit of the community.
2.2 Undertake studies, prior to opening new bogs, to ascertain the flora and
fauna of virgin peatlands.
2.3 Identify areas of greatest environmental interest and, where possible, leave
these undisturbed, to act as a refugia when harvesting ceases.
2.4 Cooperate with recognized conservation bodies in the management of refugia
or other areas not required for peat production.
2.5 Work with provincial governments to designate appropriate peat bogs as
reserve or parkland for the purposes of study and recreation.
3. PEAT PRODUCTION
The CSPMA encourages its members to:
3.1 Implement a practice of bog management in a way that will keep production
acreage to a minimum. Operators should avoid preparing peat bogs for harvesting
too far in advance of needs, and initiate reclamation procedures as soon as
practical after harvesting stops.
3.2 Leave a buffer zone of original vegetation when bogs are cleared for
3.3 When opening new acreage for harvesting, use the top spits material from the
bog to spread on other bogs that are ready for restoration.
3.4 Leave a layer of peat beneath the harvest level when work ceases, relevant
to the peat-type and area, in order to facilitate plant re-growth.
3.5 Plan bog drainage systems being mindful that one of the preferred
reclamation procedures requires damming of ditches to restore the water table.
4. AFTER USE
The CSPMA urges its members to put in place appropriate after-use, such as:
4.1 Apply best efforts to return a cut-over bog to a functioning peatland using
recommended restoration techniques. (See Peatland Restoration Guide)
4.2 Where it is impractical or impossible to fulfill point 4.1, develop a plan
that would include farming the land, planting trees for reforestation or
returning it to a functioning wetland and/or wildlife habitat.
INFORMATION ON RESTORATION
The Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association (CSPMA) is dedicated to
developing preservation and responsible reclamation procedures for Canadian
peatlands. Founded in 1988, the Association has mandated conservation measures
as one of its highest priorities. In 1989, CSPMA initiated a series of
discussions and on-site bog visits with Canadian government and public
environmental groups to create, in partnership, policies under which the peat
industry can conduct its business while safeguarding peatlands for future
Ongoing affiliation with such groups as Environment Canada, North American
Wetlands Conservation Council and Ducks Unlimited, as well as with provincial
and federal government representatives, will ensure that policies are
continuously reviewed and adjusted as required. Background information relevant
to the Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association's preservation and reclamation
policy is provided in this document.
PEAT BOG RECLAMATION AND PRESERVATION EFFORTS
Protecting the peatland ecosystems is a significant part of the international
imperative for environmental safety and protection. In response to that concern
and in deference to the integrity of the land, the Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss
Association recognizes the need to develop responsible reclamation procedures
and to encourage all peat producers to follow them.
The CSPMA initiated the following actions:
1. Bog-Site meeting, August, 1990, Riviere-du-Loup, Quebec
At the invitation of the CSPMA President, officials of Ducks Unlimited, Wildlife
Habitat Canada, and Environment Canada visited several bogs in the
Riviere-du-Loup area to determine the extent of revegetation on abandoned bogs.
Sites visited included bogs that had been abandoned for more than two decades
and had pockets of sphagnum regrowth. This was the first of an ongoing series of
meetings to review, recommend and adopt an industry-wide reclamation procedure.
2. Issues Paper Written, 1991-92, Canadian Peat Harvesting and the
Mr. David Keys wrote and the North American Wetlands Conservation Council
edited and published an Issues Paper on the Canadian peat industry. In it the
author noted that the choices for reclamation of harvested bogs included:
Transforming the site into a new (but ecologically changed) functioning wetland
providing habitat for waterfowl,
Developing an agricultural cropland, or
Planting a forestry plantation.
3. Co-hosted, with the Peat Research and Development Centre, a Restoration
Workshop in 1992
The purpose of the Workshop was to gather information about peatland
restoration and identify the shortcomings. It was found that there was little
evidence of success for restoring milled peat bog to a functioning peatland. As
a result of this meeting it was decided that an ambitious Restoration Research
program should be launched. Dr. Line Rochefort of Laval University accepted the
challenge and began what has become a 10-year project to find ways to restore
natural growth (including sphagnum) on a harvested bog.
4. 1992 - Discovered example of restored peat bog
An excellent example of a naturally restored peat bog was discovered in
Shippagan, New Brunswick that had been harvested until 1968. Since that time it
has restored itself naturally to a functioning peatland with at least 20 inches
of new sphagnum growth, giving it the appearance and function of a natural bog.
5. 1995 - End of first phase of Restoration Research
By the end of the first three-year research project, the Laval University
scientists had successfully re-grown sphagnum moss on small plots of cut-over
milled peat bogs. The most successful technique was to raise the water table to
its original level, spread sphagnum spores (chopped from the top 10 cm of a
virgin sphagnum bog) over the peatland and to cover the moss with a mulch of
straw. This led to the second three-year project - restoring a larger piece of
6. 1998 - End of the second three-year research project
By the end of the second project, the research team had successfully sewn
sphagnum spores on a plot of approximately one acre in size and the growth of
the natural peat plants covered nearly 75 percent of the area. A good variety of
bog-specific plants were found in the new growth: Including sphagnum species,
sun dews, pitcher plants and cranberries.
7. 1997-1998 - Peatland Restoration Guide developed and published
A restoration manual, written by the Laval research team and published by
the CSPMA was made available to producers in Canada and other parts of the
world. The Restoration Guide describes, in a step-by-step manner, how to go
about restoring a cut-over peatland. More than 1,000 copies had been distributed
by the end of 1999.
8. 1998 - Peat producers initiate restoration projects based on the research
of Laval University
Peat producers started to restore cut-over peat bogs using the techniques
developed by the Laval research team.
9. 1999 - Preservation and Reclamation Policy revised
The Preservation and Reclamation Policy was revised to include as a
preferred restoration choice: Return harvested peat bog to functioning peatland
using the techniques developed through the research carried on by the industry
through the 1990s.
10. CSPMA assists environmental group on Miscou Island, NB
The Board of Directors approved a grant to the Miscou Island peat
conservation group to assist in providing signage and general maintenance of the
natural peatland on the island.
11. 2001 - Peatland Restoration
A total of 10 peat producers have initiated large scale restoration projects
using the technology developed by Laval University team, Peat Ecological
Research Group (PERG).
12. Issues Paper, Second Edition, published November 2001
Dr. Jean-Yves Daigle and Hélène Gautreau-Daigle wrote and the North American
Wetlands Conservation Council edited and published the second edition of an
Issues Paper on the Canadian peat industry. In it the authors noted that the
choices for reclamation of harvested bogs included:
Applying best efforts to return a cut-over bog to a functioning peatland using
recommended restoration techniques. (See Peatland Restoration Guide)
Where it is impractical or impossible to fulfil the point above, developing a
plan that would include farming the land, planting trees for reforestation or
returning it to a functioning wetland and/or wildlife habitat.
INDUSTRY HISTORY AND BACKGROUND
Peat bogs are thousands of years old. The Canadian peat industry, by
contrast, is young - about 60 years old. Its three oldest bogs were opened in
the late 1930s and early 1940s; most of the current producers started operations
Here are some important points to remember about horticultural peat in Canada.
There are approximately 279 million acres* of peatlands in Canada. Since
settlement of Canada, peatlands have been utilized in the following manner:
||2.9 million acres
||2.2 million acres
||1.8 million acres
Horticultural peat harvesting takes place on less than 0.02 percent of
peatlands in Canada.
Each year there are approximately 1.2 million metric tonnes* of peat moss
removed for horticultural use. During the same time, an estimated 70 million
tonnes* of peat accumulates across Canada: Nearly 60 times* as much peat
accumulating as is being used.
Because peat moss is harvested at such a slow rate, in the 60 odd years since
the industry began, less than 5,000 acres of peatland are ready for restoration.
The remainder of the acreage is still being actively harvested.
Peat moss used in horticulture is not being destroyed; rather it is being
harvested in a part of the world that has a surplus, and added to the soil in a
part of the world that is in short supply of organic matter.
Three types of restoration/reclamation procedures are recommended by the
CSPMA in Canada.
Return to a functioning peatland
The prime objective of Canadian peat producers is to return a harvested bog
to a functioning wetland through the restoration process developed by Laval
University. The steps to restoration are outlined in the manual, Peatland
Cultivate for agricultural use
General agriculture, cranberry cultivation and experimental crops are being
cultivated on bogs from which most of the horticultural grade peat moss has been
Cultivate for forestry use
In Atlantic and western Canada, experiments to grow trees on cut-over bogs have
been underway for several years. Forestation of peat bogs has been used
successfully in several European countries and may become a common restoration
alternative in Canada.
This information is provided by The Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association (CSPMA)
For additional information, visit their website at: