Canadian Biomass Magazine

Possible to conserve world’s last great forest

July 23, 2013
By Canadian Biomass

July 23, 2013, Baltimore, Maryland - The Canadian boreal forest is one of the world's great natural treasures. Stretching from the Yukon in the west to Newfoundland and Labrador in the east, this ecologically diverse region contains the largest blocks of intact forest and wetlands left on Earth.

Scientists have found 1 billion to 3 billion nesting birds from 300
species in Canada's boreal forest. Its abundant wildlife and freshwater
have sustained Aboriginal communities for millennia.

But the boreal is also rich in natural resources prized by a number
of extractive industries. International forestry, mining, oil and gas,
and hydropower corporations are all active in Canada's boreal.

The extent of boreal forestland already affected by extractive
industries and their support infrastructures is roughly 730,000 square
kilometers (180 million acres), an area larger than Texas. Yet, rules
and regulations for managing extraction of resources have not kept pace
with the rapidly expanding footprint of industry activities and their

A question of balance
The question of how to
balance conservation and economic development in the boreal has consumed
countless hours of discussion among government officials, industry and
local community leaders. A report this week by an international panel of
leading scientists outlines a way forward.

The report, Conserving the World's Last Great Forest Is Possible,
will be released at the annual meeting of the International Congress for
Conservation Biology. It explores recent research on the health of the
boreal and concludes with a set of clear, science-based guidelines for
balancing conservation with development in the boreal.

Report guidelines

  • At least 50 per cent of the boreal forest region should be
    permanently protected from further development to maintain current
    ecological processes and wildlife species.
  • Industrial activities on boreal lands outside of those where
    development is prohibited should be carried out with the lowest possible
    impact on biodiversity and the ecosystem.
  • Land-use planning should precede decisions regarding industrial
    development in the boreal and must be led by local communities.
    Particular attention must be paid to the views and concerns of
    Aboriginal communities in the region.
  • The impact of development and other industrial boreal land use
    should be rigorously monitored and regularly and meaningfully reviewed
    by independent experts.

"With mounting pressures on boreal regions of Canada, it is clear
that maintaining the region's globally important conservation values
will require very large protected areas," said Jeff Wells, report
co-author and science adviser to Pew's international boreal conservation
campaign. "Ensuring that the identification and management of these
areas is led by Aboriginal communities must be a priority."

A historic opportunity
The panel also found a
number of immediate opportunities where decision-makers could use
current land-use planning initiatives and discussions to make
significant conservation gains in Canada's boreal forest. Suggestions
highlighted in the report include:

  • Explore additional protections for boreal woodland caribou habitat.
    In 2012, the Forest Products Association of Canada deferred 283,000
    square kilometers (70 million acres) within the boreal woodland caribou
    range from logging operations as part of the Canadian Boreal Forest
    Agreement. These areas should be considered for long-term protection
  • Start boreal land-use planning in Ontario and Quebec. Provincial
    governments in recent years pledged to protect 50 per cent of their
    northern regions. Aboriginal-led land-use planning should commence
    immediately to identify areas of 10,000 to 20,000 square kilometers (2.5
    million to 4.9 million acres) that are ecologically most important.
    Areas excluded from ongoing forestry operations under the Canadian
    Boreal Forest Agreement should be given highest priority for
    consideration as protected areas.
  • Accept new proposed protected areas in Quebec. Areas identified by
    the Cree between James Bay and Lac Mistassini, including the Broadback
    Valley region, should be accepted for protected areas designation. The
    Montagnes Blanches region within the Nitassinan of Mashteuiatsh and
    Pessamit also should be a priority for protection of its large intact
    forest blocks.

Time is of the essence
Time to protect the region and its unique ecosystem from potentially irreversible changes is growing short.

Woodland caribou have disappeared from the southern tier of the
boreal. Most healthy wild Atlantic salmon populations now are found only
in the undammed rivers of the boreal regions of Quebec and Newfoundland
and Labrador. And scientists are raising concerns about the potential
effects on the global climate from the release of carbon stored in the
boreal forest's soils and plants.

But with proactive community-based planning and the use of clear
scientific guidelines, conservation and development demands on Canada's
boreal forest can be balanced.

"Canada's boreal forest region is one of the world's last great
intact and pristine eco-regions," said Steve Kallick, director of Pew's
global wilderness programs. "Fortunately, many leaders in government,
Aboriginal communities, and industry are implementing visionary ideas to
balance conservation and development. We feel very hopeful that
Canada's boreal forest region will remain one of the world's great
ecological treasures."

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