Scientists urge government to protect half of Canada’s boreal forest, and soon

Canada is home to nearly 6 million square kilometres of boreal forest, and an international group of scientists has released a report today, saying that this vast resource is in danger due to the government's rules about development failing to keep pace with the actual activities and plans of industrial developers.

The boreal forest of Canada covers roughly 60% of the country's landmass, stretching all the way from the Yukon to the Maritimes, and it's considered to be the largest intact forest on Earth. It supports billions of birds and millions of animals. It acts as an immense water filter that provides us with clean fresh water, and it is an enormous carbon sink, drawing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and providing us with oxygen to breathe.

"The boreal forest overall has an overriding potential influence on the global climate, marine productivity, the wildlife in the case of birds that move across the entire hemisphere. So it actually has a huge influence on the rest of the world," said report co-author Jeff Wells, the senior scientist of the International Boreal Conservation Campaign, according to the Globe and Mail.

However, currently only about 10% of its area enjoys any form of protection, and as the map to the right shows, development has expanded far into the boreal forest of this country. The report says that an area larger than the state of Texas has already been affected by forestry, mining, oil and gas, and hydropower industries, and the area these industries influence will only spread with time.

The members of the International Boreal Conservation Science Panel (IBCSP) are saying that the governments in Canada — both federal and provincial — need to increase that protected area to at least 50% to preserve this ecosystem, and it needs to be done before industry expands its development further. Also, conservation plans and managing of conservation efforts must include the hundreds of Aboriginal communities that maintain a connection to these lands.

The report, titled Conserving the World’s Last Great Forest Is Possible, was released today, July 22, 2013, at the International Congress for Conservation Biology, which runs all this week in Baltimore, MD.

The message of the report is clear, not only about the importance of preserving the forest, but also in Canada taking a leadership position in global environmental efforts:

Without rapid and major changes in on-the-ground policy implementation, the opportunity to maintain the globally important values of this region will be lost. Such a loss would be a tragedy, not only for the Aboriginal peoples who have had a sustaining relationship with these lands for thousands of years but for all Canadians who understand that the legacy of a nation and so much of its prosperity is built on the long-term care of its renewable natural resources. The boreal forest of Canada presents us with a compelling opportunity and a challenge to conserve a unique and critically important ecosystem while setting a global standard for others around the world to follow.

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There is an agreement currently in place to help protect Canada's boreal forests. The Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement was worked out between forestry companies and environmental organizations to limit forestry activities in an effort to protect the environment, with specific focus on conservation of caribou populations. However, this particular agreement only covers about 720,000 square kilometres, and although it has reported success in its efforts, more is needed in order to preserve Canada's natural environment.

The Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement was signed by industry and environmentalists, apparently without government involvement. However, government involvement will be required to preserve the area of the boreal forests that are truly needed to make a difference. Act now and we can preserve a vital resource for the future and even help forestall ecological disaster. Delay action or ignore the problem, and we not only endanger the environment, but also ourselves, and open the door for some other nation to take over the environmental leadership position that has earned us so much international respect over the years.

(Images courtesy: David Nunuk/IBCSP, Global Forest Watch Canada)

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