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Kenogami forest of Northern Ontario - East of Thunder Bay between Terrace Bay and Geraldton. (Andrew Male/© Greenpeace)
Kenogami forest of Northern Ontario - East of Thunder Bay between Terrace Bay and Geraldton. (Andrew Male/© Greenpeace)

Scientists call for protection of Canada's boreal forest Add to ...

An international group of 23 biology and conservation scientists is calling on the provincial governments and Ottawa to forever prevent the development of at least 50 per cent of the boreal forest that spans the Canadian north.

The Boreal Conservation Science Panel, made up of scientific heavyweights from Canada, the United States, Australia and Great Britain, will present a paper on Monday at the world International Congress of Conservation Biology in Baltimore that says the boreal’s value as a carbon store, fresh water source, and wildlife habitat is crucial to global ecology.

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Although 80 per cent of the boreal is intact, only 10 per cent of the 1.2 billion acres of forest, tundra, peat lands, rivers and lakes is protected. The new report, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe and Mail, says the “rules and regulations for managing industrial extraction of resources in Canada’s boreal forest have not kept pace with the rapidly expanding footprint of industrial activities and plans.”

The boreal contains the world’s highest densities of terrestrial carbon stores, has the largest surface of fresh water, is the nesting place for billions of song birds, and is home to viable populations of animals like caribou, grizzly bear, lynx and wolf.

“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 Jeff Wells, the science and policy director for the Boreal Songbird Initiative and one of the authors of the report.

The science indicates that no less than half of the region should be protected from development, Dr. Wells said. “The exact specifics as to how to parcel that out across different regions and so forth is beyond the scope of what we talked about in the report and obviously would need to be figured out by people working in those regions. But that is the basic overarching guidance.”

It is not the first pitch of this sort. Back in 2007, the International Boreal Conservation Campaign of the Pew Charitable Trusts also argued for expanding the protected area, saying it was one of the world’s five remaining regions that help preserve the global environmental balance.

The report says that, if past rates of forestry continue, an area roughly twice the size of Vancouver Island will be harvested in the boreal region over the next 10 years. Mining exploration is opening previously inaccessible lands to industrial use. And, although existing hydro projects have disrupted the seasonal flow of water over thousands of miles of rivers and streams, many large hydroelectric projects are under construction or consideration.

Jim Burpee, the president of the Canadian Electricity Association, said hydro companies are are committed to sustainable development of Canada’s environmental resources and ecosystems. “Our position is to pursue strategies and activities that balance the needs of members, stakeholders and the communities where we operate,” Mr. Burpee said, “while protecting and enhancing the natural resources that will be needed in the future.”

An agreement was signed in May, 2010, among 21 forestry companies and nine environmental groups that covers 72 million hectares of publicly owned boreal forest and commits the companies to the highest forestry management standards. But two of the environmental groups have pulled out, saying not enough was being done.

Dr. Wells said many companies have taken progressive stands on boreal conservation. “There are great leaders,” he said. “There are also laggards that are not trying to do as well as they could with those sustainability standards.”

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