Scientists Urge Conservation of Canada's Precious Northern Forest

OTTAWA, Ontario, Canada, May 16, 2007 (ENS) - At least half of Canada's northern Boreal forest must be protected for the good of the planet, 1,500 scientists from more than 50 countries said in an open letter to the governments of Canada. The scientists said the vast forest that stretches across the Canadian North is one of the largest intact forest and wetland ecosystems remaining on Earth.

The scientists' letter released on Monday urges Canada's federal, provincial, territorial and aboriginal governments to preserve a minimum of half of the Boreal forest in protected areas while allowing only carefully managed development on the rest.

The Boreal forest extends across the majority of Canada's provinces and territories and into Alaska. (Map courtesy Environment Canada)
This plan accords with the Boreal Conservation Framework, a plan already endorsed by Canadian conservation groups, 25 Canadian First Nations, and more than 75 major businesses with combined annual sales of $30 billion.

"The extraordinary level of support expressed in this letter demonstrates the global ecological importance of Canada's Boreal Forest and the urgent need for Canada to protect it, said David Schindler, professor of ecology at the University of Alberta-Edmonton.

"We are losing so many of the world's great forests, despite the best efforts of conservationists," Schindler said. "Canada's Boreal forest offers what may be our last, best chance to do things right, but only if our leaders act decisively and act now.

The 1.4 billion acre forest is a major source of North America's fresh water and is inhabited by some of the planet's largest populations of wolves, grizzly bear and woodland caribou.

Its lakes and rivers still contain an abundance of fish and its trees and wetlands provide nesting grounds for billions of songbirds and waterfowl.

Hundreds of First Nations communities also depend on the Boreal forest ecosystem for fish and wildlife.

Canada's northern boreal forest is targeted for logging and other development. (Photo courtesy Canadian Forest Service)
The Boreal forest also is the single largest terrestrial carbon storehouse in the world. The Boreal stores 186 billion metric tons of carbon – equivalent to 27 years of the world's carbon dioxide emissions from the consumption of fossil fuels.

But the Boreal forest is under increasing pressure from logging, mining and oil and gas operations and only 10 percent has been protected to date, far less than what is scientifically recognized as necessary to sustain the ecosystem over time, the scientists said.

"In the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, report, deforestation was identified as a significant source of green house gas emissions. The Boreal forest stores large quantities of carbon and provides a shield against global warming and critical habitat for countless species of birds, fish and wildlife, said Dr. Terry Root, Stanford University professor and author of multiple IPCC reports.

"The world's scientists urge Canada to take action now by implementing the Boreal Forest Conservation Framework, Root said.

The letter was organized and publicized by three nonprofit organizations working together - the Canadian Boreal Initiative, the Boreal Songbird Initiative, and the International Boreal Conservation Campaign, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The black-throated green warbler nests in Canada’s Boreal forest.(Photo by Edgar T. Jones courtesy WCWC)
"A generation ago scientists sounded the alarm about global warming, but we didn't listen. Let's not make that mistake again, said Steve Kallick, director of International Boreal Conservation Campaign. "Canada's Boreal is a critical part of Earth's life support system. Scientists are warning us not to pull the plug."

In their letter the scientists cited recent reports by the Canadian National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy warning that development pressure on Canada's Boreal is increasing. "The vast majority of commercially productive forest in the region has been allocated to timber companies," the scientists wrote. "In addition, significant mining, oil and gas, and hydropower development occurs across the Boreal."

"Development pressure is greatest in the more productive southern Boreal where species diversity is also greatest," they wrote.

"The cumulative effect of the wide range of threats prompted a Senate Committee to conclude the region to be 'under siege,' they pointed out, predicting "degradation of the region's ecological integrity."

"Scientists recognize the urgent need to protect large parts of Canada's Boreal, said Larry Innes, Canadian Boreal Initiative's executive director. "We owe it to our children to strike the right balance between conservation and development – and immediate action will be vital if we hope to protect this globally important ecosystem.