The vast sweep of boreal forests that crown the northern hemisphere are among the largest tracts of intact ancient forest left on earth. Worldwide, the boreal zone covers 1.9 billion hectares or 33 percent of the earth’s forested area .
As is too often the case, the health and full functioning of these magnificent landscapes are teetering on the edge. Canopy is working hard to reduce the threats facing the Boreal and secure a hopeful future for these critically important forests.
Named most appropriately after Boreas, the Greek god of the north wind, the Boreal is home to hardy, often threatened creatures and rugged human communities, capable of coping with the unforgiving climate.
However, the natural services Boreal forests provides are critical, not just to forest-dwelling species and communities but to the well-being of the planet as a whole, and of urban residents living hundreds of miles away.
North America’s boreal forest provides the largest supply of surface freshwater on earth. Its soils, trees and peatlands are one of the largest storehouses of carbon on our planet, holding an estimated 208 billion tonnes of carbon in Canada’s boreal forests alone .
Between three to five billion breeding birds and their young rely on the boreal forest and one billion of the Boreal’s birds over winter in the United States .
Stretching across North America from Newfoundland to Alaska, the Boreal is an incredible landscape of lakes, rivers and coniferous forest of spruce, fir and pine interspersed with stands of poplar and birch. Canada’s boreal forest supports 85 mammal species, 130 species of fish, around 32,000 species of insects and over 300 bird species. Home to bears, wolves, bison and highly threatened herds of woodland caribou the Boreal sustains numerous human communities as well. Over 70 percent of Canada’s First Nation communities are located in forested regions .
Pressure is mounting
Sadly, the boreal landscape is increasingly scarred and fragmented. The logging industry is moving ever northward into previously intact landscapes. The oil and gas sector is criss-crossing the forest with access roads, seismic lines, wells and gas fracking operations.
Some species, such as woodland caribou, that rely on healthy Boreal forest habitat are facing extirpation (local extinction). The best available science on Canada’s caribou herds notes that only 30 percent of populations (17 of 57 herds) remain self-sustaining .
Woodland caribou are now listed as a threatened species under the federal Species At Risk Act. Unless habitat destruction can be reduced and restoration efforts taken seriously, their survival is far from certain.
As demand for paper lessens, as newspaper circulation declines and book readers turn to tablets, the forest industry is looking for other product options. Increasingly, there is a shift to dissolving pulp, used in the production of textiles.
More than 70 million trees are logged every year around the world to be turned into cellulosic fabric and the dissolving pulp industry is projected by 2050 unless steps are taken now to reverse the trend.
Fortunately, Canopy is taking those steps, both to change the course of the fashion industry, develop alternatives to tree fibre for clothing, paper and packaging, and increase on-the-ground protection in the remaining intact tracts of Boreal forest.
1 Natural Resources Canada: http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/forests/boreal/17394
2 North America’s Boreal Forest: By the Numbers. Boreal Songbird Initiative, April 2015