The challengeBoreal forests and wetlands wrap across Canada’s central and northern expanses like a green blanket, and represent one of the most important areas of intact forest and wetlands left in the world.
Canada has 4.3 million km2 of intact forests in the boreal zone – the second biggest expanse of continuous intact forests on Earth. Peatlands comprise 12% of Canada’s land area, with almost all of this area located in boreal ecosystems. Peatlands are known to store a huge amount of carbon through the accumulation of thick organic soil layers. A significant block of intact forest and peatlands is located in Ontario and Québec, almost entirely within areas not currently allocated for forestry.
These forests and wetlands are key to the survival of species such as woodland caribou and wolverine, which are in steady decline in areas where mining and logging are present. The boreal is also a huge bird nursery, providing food and shelter for billions of migratory birds that arrive each spring. The thousands of lakes and rivers that lace this northern land also support a wide diversity of freshwater fish, including lake trout, sturgeon and walleye, which are a staple food for local residents and a sought-after prize for anglers. Peatlands and other wetlands are also massive storehouses for carbon, meaning they have a big role to play in combating climate change.
Now, pressure is growing to push new mines, roads and forestry operations into intact areas. If this development goes ahead before we create well-thought-out plans for protecting the ecological values of the boreal forest, we could impoverish ecosystems and see species such as caribou disappear in Canada.
What we are doing and why
Our work in the boreal stretches from underwater to mountain slopes. In particular, we are highlighting the need for bigger-picture planning approaches, such as regional and strategic assessments, which can help us avoid the mistakes of the past – mistakes that have led to endangered species, fragmented and weakened ecosystems, and economic uncertainty in too many places.
This work includes partnering with First Nation organizations and communities to develop plans for strong stewardship of wild places that are vital for cultural survival and economic opportunity.
We are also emphasizing research on the vitally important issue of better anticipating and mitigating cumulative impacts, and understanding how all our conservation challenges will be made more intense by climate change, as we seek to retain the integrity of some of last big wild areas.
Our goal is to ensure that the intact forests and wetlands of this region remain intact, are not degraded by development, and continue to support iconic species, such as caribou, wolverine, and sturgeon.
Our work is focused on two globally important intact regions in the boreal: