Header photo credit: Lorna Harris

Forests, Peatlands and Climate Change Program


WCS Canada envisions a world where the vast and carbon-rich forests and peatlands of North America’s boreal and arctic remain ecologically intact. These resilient landscapes provide a global service for climate change mitigation and adaptation, extensive habitat and refugia for abundant and diverse wildlife, and through reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, continue to support the cultures and vision of First Nations, Métis and Inuit.

Maps showing the extent of peatlands and forests across North America.


WCS Canada is leading new partnerships and working collaboratively with researchers, Indigenous organisations and communities, and government and industry partners to generate data to fill knowledge gaps; supporting Indigenous-led approaches to conservation; and using our scientific data and expertise to identify and advocate for improved legislation, policy and land-use planning for forests and peatlands at different governance levels across Canada.


Our Forests, Peatlands and Climate Change (FPCC) program focuses on connecting field-based science and policy development for forests and peatlands at three different scales:

  1. Regional   in the Hudson Bay Lowlands (HBL), the Yukon, and other priority regions.
  2. National  across the boreal and arctic of North America; and
  3. Global – by contributing our data and expertise to advance the conservation of high-integrity peatlands and forests, in collaboration with global partners, including the WCS High-Integrity Peatlands Initiative.

Photo of high-integrity peatlands in the Hudson Bay Lowland – the world’s second-largest peatland complex and one of the world’s largest terrestrial carbon stores (photo credit: Lorna Harris)

Current Projects:

  • We are leading a new national initiative with multiple partners to develop a shared vision and strategic framework for peatlands that identifies policy options, procedures, and tools for peatland protection and management at different governance levels across Canada. The goal of this initiative is to draw on the collective experience to identify workable solutions to the challenges in implementing effective policy for peatlands across Canada. Part of this work is an ongoing full review and analysis of science and policy issues for peatlands across Canada, including quantifying the threat of increased mining for critical minerals to these large carbon stores.

  • Identifying tools and actions to support climate-smart decisions for critical minerals development across the carbon-rich boreal region of Canada. The goal of this initiative is to address the challenge of how to maintain and manage the integrity and carbon storage and sink capacity of peatlands and forests across the boreal region of Canada with increased critical mineral development and associated infrastructure.

  • Developing and implementing a government engagement and communications strategy for peatlands. We have been successful in building awareness among government decision-makers and influencers about the importance of protecting high-integrity peatlands across Canada for climate change mitigation and adaptation, and the risk continued loss and degradation of peatlands (including from extraction of critical minerals) poses to Canada’s GHG targets. We continue to engage in key policy initiatives, including the Regional Assessment for the proposed Ring of Fire mining development in northern Ontario, Canada’s emerging Critical Minerals Strategy, the draft National Climate Adaptation Strategy, and oil sands expansion in peatlands in northern Alberta.

Photo of drained and degraded peatlands (due to mining) in the Hudson Bay Lowland (photo credit: Lorna Harris)

  • Conducting scientific research on peatlands across Canada, in collaboration and partnership with First Nations and other groups, with a particular focus on field-based research in the Hudson Bay Lowland in northern Ontario, and the Yukon. The science we generate will inform proposals for IPCAs and other protected areas, along with providing the data needed for the inclusion of peatlands in Canada’s national GHG inventory and climate and land-use planning policies. Our ongoing and new research projects include:
    • A regional synthesis of existing data on peatland carbon stocks and fluxes for the Hudson Bay Lowland, including supporting environmental data (hydrology, vegetation, temperatures etc.)
    • Understanding ecohydrological controls on methane emissions from undisturbed and drained peatlands (due to mining) in the Hudson Bay Lowland.
    • Linking small-scale controls and feedback on peatland GHG fluxes to site level and landscape scale change (e.g., mining and roads, drainage, permafrost thaw, fire), including with the use of drones.
    • Quantifying the effects of placer mining and reclamation activities on peatland GHG emissions and removals in the Yukon.


(selected from 2021, see Google Scholar and here for other publications):

Bold = WCS Canada authors

Harris L.I., Olefeldt, D., Pelletier, N., Blodau, C.B., Knorr, K-H., Talbot, J., and Turetsky, M.R. Permafrost thaw causes large carbon loss in boreal peatlands while changes to peat quality are limited (accepted – Global Change Biology).

Ochoa-Hueso, R., Delgado-Baquerizo, M., Risch, A. C., Ashton, L., Augustine, D., Bélanger, N., … Harris, L.I. et al. (2023). Bioavailability of macro and micronutrients across global topsoils: Main drivers and global change impacts. Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 37, e2022GB007680. https://doi.org/10.1029/2022GB007680

Harris, L.I., Richardson, K., Bona, K.A., Davidson, S., Finkelstein, S., Garneau, M., McLaughlin, J., Nwaishi, F., Olefeldt, D., Packalen, M., Roulet, N., Southee, M.F., Strack, M., Webster, K.L., Wilkinson, S.L, and Ray, J.C. (2021). The essential carbon service provided by northern peatlands. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 20, 222-230. https://esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/fee.2437

Exploring peatlands and forests in the Yukon (photo credit: Chrystal Mantyka-Pringle)

  • Communicating the importance of peatlands, and scientific research and policy issues for peatlands, to policymakers, First Nations, civil society and the general public, with key communications milestones including panel presentations at UNFCCC COP27 and the UN Biodiversity Conference – COP15, including a white paper for peatlands and climate for policymakers, an op-ed in The Hill Times, Global TV documentary on the Hudson Bay Lowlands, and multiple other media pieces on key peatland science issues, and around newly published papers and policy comments.

Lorna Harris presenting on the importance of global peatlands for climate and biodiversity at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Montreal 2022 (photo credit: Lynsey Grosfield)


Global TV The New Reality – The power of peat: Canada’s secret weapon against climate change (Krista Hessey, online article and TV documentary released March 4, 2023)

Energi Talks – Report critical of Suncor’s plan to cut northern wetland in half (with Markham Hislop, aired 1 May 2023)

CBC What on Earth radio/podcast The tension and truth about Ontario’s Ring of Fire (with Laura Lynch, aired 20 March 2022)

WCS Wild AudioPeatlands: The carbon storage powerhouse protecting us from climate change (with Nat Moss, aired 9 August 2022)

For Peat’s Sake Pod – The Hudson Bay Lowland and the Ring of Fire mining project with Dr. Lorna Harris (with Becca Frei, aired 9 June 2022)


The Weather Network – Inside Canada’s fight to save its peatlands (Doug Johnson, published June 27, 2023)

The Current – Georgia’s hedge against climate change: the Okefenokee’s peat (Mary Landers, published May 2, 2023)

The Narwhal – Oilsands giant Suncor wants to cut a sensitive wetland in two. So far, it has the green light (Drew Anderson, published April 27, 2023)

CBC Explains – How peatlands on the Prairies are at risk from climate change (Christy Climenhaga, published April 24, 2023)

The Globe and Mail – Alberta’s energy regulator reconsiders Fort Hills oil sands approval after critical report (Bob Weber, published April 17, 2023)

Mongabay – Scientists plead for protection of peatlands, the world’s carbon capsules (John Cannon, published December 7, 2022)

Canada’s National Observer – Protecting peatlands pivotal for climate and biodiversity goals, scientists say (Natasha Bulowski, published December 2 2022)

Mongabay - Canada mining push puts major carbon sink and Indigenous lands in the crosshairs (Spoorthy Raman, published 2 June 2022)

THIS MagazineProtect the peatlands: Why we need to conserve the Hudson Bay Lowlands (Zakiya Kassam, published 20 May 2022)

CBC What on Earth news Mining Ontario’s Ring of Fire could help build green energy – but also damage vital peatlands: The climate trade-off of developing Ontario’s Ring of Fire (Serena Renner, published 18 March 2022)

ON Nature Magazine – Peatlands: Crucial Carbon Stores (Jenna Cardoso, published March 2022)

Canada’s National ObserverYehewin Aski’: The Breathing Lands protecting Canada from climate breakdown (Matteo Cimellaro, 23 December 2021)

CBC North news What is the NWT doing to protect its ‘globally significant’ peatlands? (Liny Lamberink, published 7 December 2021)

CBC North newsNWT peatlands store 24 billion tonnes of carbon and are worth protecting, experts say (Liny Lamberink, published 6 December 2021)

Other Projects, Presentations, and Media:

  • Take a virtual tour of Canada’s peatlands through our story map

  • Learn more about our use of GIS for peatlands research and monitoring in this blog by ESRI

  • Read about the importance of peatlands in Canada in this op-ed by Lorna Harris, Director of the Forests, Peatlands & Climate Change program

  • Listen to Constance O'Connor, head of our Ontario Northern Boreal team, in this CBC Listen interview on her team's participation in the COP-26 Global Peatland Pavillion.  

  • Policy briefing with Smart Prosperity Institute

  • Emerging Indigenous protected and conserved areas in the Hudson Bay Lowland, including Fawn River Watershed and North French River Watershed

  • Learn more about peatlands and forests in the so-called ‘Ring of Fire’ mining region of the Hudson Bay Lowland here