The challenge

Boreal 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:

Our strategies

We are modelling what the cumulative impacts of climate change and resource development means for the boreal region, particularly for cold-adapted fish that are now swimming in rapidly warming waters. We explain how we filled this huge knowledge gap in a report looking at the vulnerability of various freshwater fish species to climate change and development in northern Ontario.

We have led major population survey efforts for caribou and wolverine to document how these species are faring in our boreal forests. We continue to research the behaviour and abundance of these species and the impacts of development – such as roads – on these sensitive “umbrella” species.

In Yukon, we continue to track the arrival of boreal birds and are researching the importance of riverside forests and other riparian habitat for birds, since these river bottom valleys are also a key target for resource development.  

We are developing Community Based Monitoring initiatives in cooperation with various interested First Nations in northern Ontario, to ensure that those who know these lands best are involved in documenting changes brought about by development and climate change and can use their insights to influence land-use and resource development plans.

Our scientists are using cutting-edge conservation tools to map out areas of high conservation value in southern Yukon as a way of informing land-use planning for this still largely wild region.
We continue to provide input and advice based on our field science for reforming land-use planning and environmental assessment efforts to better reflect the need to address cumulative impacts, and to facilitate more comprehensive regional-scale planning.

Latest news

Program Staff

Donald Reid
Conservation Zoologist
John Weaver
Senior Conservation Scientist
All Boreal Staff >>

Latest Publications

Email from:
Email to:

The person you email to will see the details you enter in the Form field and will be given you IP address for auditing purposes

Photo credits: Banner | Garth Lenz ©, Thumbnails | 1. M. Burcham ©, 2. L.S. Vors ©3. Biz Agnew © WCS Canada 4. Jerry Lee © 






Copyright 2019-2021 by Wildlife Conservation Society

WCS, the "W" logo, WE STAND FOR WILDLIFE, I STAND FOR WILDLIFE, and STAND FOR WILDLIFE are service marks of Wildlife Conservation Society.

Contact Information
Address: Suite 204, 344 Bloor Street West, Toronto, Ontario, M5S 3A7 | 416-850-9038