It rarely receives the same attention as the Amazon rain forest, one is being devastated by illegal
logging and development but the other, Canada’s Boreal forests also represents a key battleground against Climate Change. Set in the in the far north, not far below the arctic line, the Boreal forests are a huge band across Canada stretching from coast to coast, annually temperatures can go from 30C in the summer all the way down to -50C in the winter. Covering 2.9million km2,, and representing 25% of the world’s un-developed forests the Boreal forests are a huge source of concern for conservationists and Scientists alike.
The Boreal is to carbon what Fort Knox is to gold.
These maps document where and how these vital reserves
– a virtual shield against global warming –
are distributed across Canada. We should do everything we can
to ensure that the carbon in these storehouses is not released.
From the point of view of Climate Change a truer statement could hardly have been made, because locked up in the Boreal forests are over 100 billion tonnes of Carbon, and they annually sequester 12.5m tonnes of Carbon each year making them a critical sink of Carbon but more importantly a source of Carbon that needs to remain locked in.
Their importance has for several years attracted strong concern from various environmental groups from their own Conservation group the IBCC to Green Peace and a number of similarly concerned conservation and environmental organisations. Many feel that the ever-rising demands from industries that rely on boreal forest resources could in the long-term threaten the Boreal Forests. However a turning point came in 2007 when 1,500 Scientists from over 50 countries signed a letter calling for conservation measures to be put into place.
Their concerns were not without merit. Canada’s natural resources, already a critical part of its economy are subject to ever rising demand. In particular logging, mining and energy development all place demands on the Boreal forest region. These demands are set to increase with the growing appetites of China and India for raw materials, putting greater pressure on provincial governments to open up more of the Boreal forests for development.
As if shouldering the burden of economic weight was not enough, natural phenomena have begin to take their toll on the Boreal forests, forest fires and Pine-beetles, already devastating in the US have taken their toll on Canadian forests. Pine beetles, able to spread through rising temperatures, destroyed 130,000 km2 in Western Canada in 2008, as well as devastating parts of the US.
Forest fires, have been equally devastating, with perhaps the most concerning statistic being that in some years forest fires account for up to 45% of Canada’s GHG emissions, and large-scale forest fires have hardly been a scarce: 2002, 2003 and 2004.
Fortunately the importance is starting to sink in and rising awareness has prompted greater efforts to preserve, manage or sustainably develop the Boreal Forests.
Quebec Premier Jean Charest has promised to sustain 50% of its Northern forests from intensive development such as mining and 12% from any development at all. Quebec as in most has to walk the line between mining and logging mining, a multi-billion dollar industries for Canada.
Nevertheless, even Alberta, Canada’s oil state and home of the Tar-sands, has recognised the importance of preservation. The Alberta Research Council, working with the Pembina institute and Forestry leaders has formulated a policy to offset Alberta’s declining Boreal forests.
However, the most groundbreaking effort comes from Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, no stranger to bold environmental legislation (he recently proposed the Green Energy Act) he has promised to preserve 50% of Ontario’s Boreal forests and the other half subject to sustainable development regulation. This amounts to 225,000 km2 of land where even hunting and fishing will be severely curtailed and other development completely banned.
Of equal importance, is the emphasis on sustainable development for the other 50%. As this article, makes clear up to 24,000 people live in the Boreal forested part of Ontario many of them first nations people and Metis communities. McGuinty has pledged to allow sustainable development with them, including reforming mining, to make it more sustainable. While the plan is estimated to take 10-15 years before its fully realised, like the Green Energy Act, Ontario has become an uncompromising trendsetter in its dedication to environmental pursuits.
The Boreal forests, might not have the attention of the Amazon, and are often second in environmentalists demands, in the place of renewable energy or fighting the tar sands but they represent a key battle that should never be far from campaigners eyes. Much of the above legislation is a start in the right direction, but how durable conservation efforts will prove, in the face of rising global demand for raw materials and the economic benefits to Canadian provinces and even local communities will prove a much greater test in the years ahead.