Money in the Earth's Bank: Preservation of Canada's Boreal Forest

Environmentalists, scientists, and wildlife experts all over the world laud a monster new land conservation deal in North America that bodes well for everything from biodiversity to global air quality to climate change.

boreal forest mapIn Canada, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty recently pledged to protect 225,000 square kilometers (55 million acres) of the Far North Boreal Forest and has banned all mining and logging operations there. Can't wrap your mind around that amount of land? This portion, roughly half the entire boreal region, is about twice the size of England.

And this massive environmental achievement doesn't end with that half. The other portion of the forest is now protected under a sustainable development deal with native Canadians:

"The new plan would also require that mining and forestry companies consult early with aboriginal communities before starting any projects in the other half of the boreal forest, and give First Nations a share of revenues from new projects on their traditional lands anywhere in Ontario." - The Canadian Press

While the sheer size of the project represents a major coup for land preservation, there's even more at stake in the boreal forest.

Home to a crucial, remarkable ecosystem and the third largest wetlands system in the world, the boreal region helps moderate the global temperature and produces oxygen for the entire world. Plus, it holds over 80% of our planet's unfrozen freshwater supply.

Its most important role? The boreal forest is a key carbon sink for the entire world, a critical resource for an increasingly warmer planet.

Check out these facts:

"More than 186 billion tonnes of carbon are stored in the Canadian Boreal's trees, soils, water and peat -equivalent to 913 years' worth of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. . . . Naturally-occurring ecosystem services provided by the Boreal, such as carbon storage and water filtration, are worth 2.5 times more than the value of extracting resources such as minerals and timber." - Canadian Boreal Initiative

boreal forestPreserving the boreal forest means keeping scores of wildlife communities intact, a boon for biodiversity. The region is a breeding ground for bird populations all over North America, including 40% of its migratory waterfowl, and caribou, black bears, and other large carnivores make the boreal forest their home, too.

The deal is the result of many dedicated groups across the continent, including First Nations, the Canadian Boreal Initiative and the Nature Conservancy. The vision, outlined in the Boreal Framework, also drew the attention of scientists everywhere, who recognized the forest's significance for the health of the entire planet.

Enormous in size and forward thinking in its scope, the preservation of the boreal forest is also a revolutionary step forward in sustainable land use. It will, according to some, change the entire concept of land conservation, which usually works in reverse:

"Instead of preserving small islands of beleaguered habitat in a sea of development, First Nations groups, industrial giants and environmental organizations have pledged to protect fully half of Canada's boreal forest in vast, interlocking reserves designed to safeguard natural and traditional cultural resources, with carefully planned, sustainable development on the rest. The idea is to plan reserves first, before all of the proposed development hits, rather than try to pick up the pieces afterward.

The project, known as the Boreal Forest Conservation Framework, was first proposed in 2003. In the face of exploding pressure on the boreal, it is nothing less than an attempt to turn the usual model for landscape conservation on its head." - Nature Conservancy

Back in the spring, the UN Biodiversity Conference highlighted the urgent need to preserve dying wildlife populations and depleted wild areas, as biodiversity forms the core of Earth's natural wealth. In that context, the Ontario government has made a priceless deposit into the global biodiversity bank for the rest of us.

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4 comments

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David Childs (anonymous)

Thank you so much for covering this story. It is (possibly) the largest land conservation announcement in the history of man (size of UK). Too few people understand the connection between protecting forests (which act as carbon store-houses) and global warming!

Written in August 2008

Nick Lewis 2448°

Fabulous article, Amy! I grew up on the lower periphery of the boreal forest in Thunder Bay, Ontario at the north end of Lake Superior. The forest around us was alive with moose, brown bear, beaver, and partridge. The unbelievably wild and beautiful lakes were full of perch, pickerel, pike, and large-mouth bass. This is an amazing eco-system that still defines most of Canada today, and it's enormous size means there are plenty of areas where human will never tread - imagine a moose that has no idea that we even exist! There aren't too many places left like that on our over-crowded planet. We absolutely need to preserve the boreal forest.

Written in August 2008

Thanks very much to you both for your kind words. This is such an incredible environmental victory for Canada and the rest of the world. Nick, I already hoped to visit the boreal forest someday, but your description makes me want to go even MORE.

Written in August 2008

Anonymous (anonymous)

I like your article, but next time try not to have so many grammar errors. (Or is that normal for Canada?)

Written in December 2009

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  • Posted on July 31, 2008. Listed in:

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