Report urges preservation of boreal forest

Josh Pennell
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The northern boreal forest stretching from this province all the way to the Yukon is one of the largest intact forests left on Earth and a new report is pushing for the preservation of 50 per cent of it.

“Boreal Birds Need Half” is a report by the Boreal Songbird Initiative and Ducks Unlimited. Jeff Wells is the science and policy director of the former group and says there are an estimated one billion to three billion birds nesting in that vast expanse of forest.

The birds coming and going from the boreal forest in the spring and fall use the explosion of resources in the forest during the summer months to breed successfully before migrating south again.

“Right now with spring migration underway this kind of ocean of birds is moving across the North American continent and coming back into the boreal from places as far away as South America and Central America,” Wells said.

To maintain those bird populations, 50 per cent of the forests where they come to breed — the boreal forest — must be protected, Wells said.

In the past, there was a benchmark of protecting 10 per cent of each ecosystem around the world.

“That was a number that was thrown out there, and then science started looking at that more critically and realized if you only protected 10 per cent of an area, you were going to lose maybe as many as 50 per cent of the species that you wanted to protect,” Wells said.

With the northern boreal forest remaining intact, there’s a unique opportunity to do what science now supports, he said.

“So much of the world is already in the situation where they went way past 50 per cent or they’re just down into managing the remnants of the rare. Just little ragged patches of habitat here and here,” he said.

And protecting 50 per cent of the boreal landscape isn’t shooting for the stars.

“I think there’s a very high liklihood that we’re going to see this happen,” Wells said.

Ontario and Quebec have already committed to protecting half of their boreal forests, along with aboriginal areas, he added, and industry leaders in sectors such as forestry and mining are behind the idea as well.

“I think it’s a plan that will eventually happen all over the boreal and I’m very optimistic about it.”

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the “Boreal Birds Need Half” report estimates 90 per cent of the boreal forest is intact and offers breeding habitat for between 70 million and 200 million birds, of at least 150 species.

“It’s a vast reservoir of birds,” Wells said.

That reservoir is starting to fill up again as these breeding birds return from their southern wintering grounds to the north, where they breed. The common birds people see in backyards and in parks in migration, and sometimes in winter, are coming and going from the boreal forest.

Protecting the boreal forests also involves educating people south of the ecosystem who see the birds during migration periods about how imperative this forest is to their survival, Wells said. Right now, there are white-throated sparrows and yellow-rumped warblers, for instance, all over the northeastern U.S., he added.

“And the reason they are the common birds of the entire landscape of the northeast U.S. for maybe a week or 10 days is because there’s this massive number of them going up into the boreal forest region to breed and that they still have that place to have healthy populations.”

People don’t always consider why there are so many birds coming and going throughout different parts of the year, but the future of the large migrating flocks relies on the future of the boreal forest, Wells said.

Organizations: Ducks Unlimited, North American

Geographic location: South America, Central America, Ontario Quebec U.S. Newfoundland and Labrador

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