The Future of Our Boreal Forest

Since 1959, the United Nations has been designating “international years” in order to draw attention and action to major issues. 2011 is the International Year of Forests and, according to Faisal Moola, Ph.D., of the David Suzuki Foundation, our forest ecosystems have never been at more risk from the consequences of human activity (industrial logging, mining, and tar sands development, to name a few big ones).

View through a clearing of a forested, hilly landscape.

Image : © AVTG

Faisal was at the Canadian Museum of Nature on September 22 to share his side in a moderated discussion on Canada’s boreal forest. The question being put forward by Tree Canada was whether the 2010 Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement, described as the largest single environmental initiative in the world, resulted from the economic state of the wood industry or from a real societal desire to protect nature.

Overhead view of an expert panel and audience in the museum salon.

A discussion of the future of Canada's boreal forest at the museum on September 22, 2011. Image: Russ Brooks © Canadian Museum of Nature

As a scientific director with a major conservation group, Faisal was, of course, representing the environmental movement. Speaking for the forestry industry was Mark Hubert of the Forest Products Association of Canada. In the audience were close to 200 students from various Ottawa English and French high schools. And the hour-long discussion was being webcast live, which was pretty cool.

Woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) specimens in a diorama at the Canadian Museum of Nature.

The woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) diorama in the museum's mammal gallery. The setting was created by the Canadian artist Clarence Tillenius in 1963. Image: Martin Lipman © Canadian Museum of Nature

I learned many impressive facts from both speakers, who were highly knowledgeable and articulate. For example, the Canadian boreal forest stores an estimated 208 billion tonnes of carbon! That is equivalent of 26 years of greenhouse gas emissions from global fossil fuel burning. The 2010 agreement, which pertains to 70 million hectares of land, includes a three-year moratorium on logging in 29 million hectares of woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) habitat. Apparently woodland caribou have lost more than half of their habitat to logging, mining, and other impacts of development. No surprise that it is listed as a species at risk.

The fact that both sides came together to work out a plan to protect the boreal forest, after 20-odd years of relentless fighting, is amazing. Both speakers emphasized that in their talks. Confrontation had moved to a model of collaboration, which seems to me to be an obvious solution if we want to seriously get anywhere in our efforts to save the planet.

As Canadians we are very blessed to live in a country with so much forest—some chunks of it still undisturbed—providing such an unparalleled environmental service in terms of species habitats, purifying water, reducing the harmful effects of climate change… Many of us take it all for granted. Faisal Moola says our boreal forest is now at as great a risk as the Amazon forest. Makes you stop and think.

A forest trail.

Image: ©

The 2010 agreement is an excellent start and, I believe, represents a genuine desire from all parties to protect this amazing natural asset in Canada. I strongly urge you to watch the webcast to learn more about this expansive forest treasure we Canadians are so privileged to have.

And you can now take an interactive tour of Canada’s boreal forest on Google Earth Canada—just launched this week!

This entry was posted in Education, Events, Plants and Algae and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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