Did you hear this incredible news? The Canadian Province of Ontario announced last week that it will conserve a huge swath of the province’s northern wilderness, the area we frequently reference as the Boreal Forest. The promise to permanently protect at least 225,000 square kilometers of the Canadian Boreal Forest has been universally lauded by scientists and conservationists alike.
Looks like the Save our Boreal Birds campaign made a difference!
Why is this such a big deal? First of all, the government pledge describes an area larger than all the designated wilderness areas combined in the lower 48 states, one nearly the size of the United Kingdom. That’s not just a lot of land to protect from developers but an unprecedented amount of land. Plus, the boreal is a big deal for a lot of reasons:
- The Boreal Forest is the world’s single-largest terrestrial carbon storehouse.
- The Boreal Forest contains the majority of North America’s fresh, unfrozen water.
- The Boreal Forest shelters some of the planet’s largest populations of wolves, grizzly bear and woodland caribou.
- The Boreal Forest is home to HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF BIRDS!
This area is a critical breeding ground for many of our most beloved bird species. In fact, nearly half of all North American birds are dependent on the Canadian Boreal Forest for survival. Jeff Wells, Senior Scientist at the Boreal Songbird Initiative and author of Birder’s Conservation Handbook: 100 North American Birds at Risk, estimates that the area to be protected may support as many as 300 million birds. His rough calculations include about 1 million Bay-breasted Warblers, 1.5 million Blackpoll Warblers, 1.2 million Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, and many millions of Palm Warblers, Magnolia Warblers, Swainson’s Thrushes, White-throated Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncos!
Dr. Peter Raven (why do so many conservationists have bird names?), president of the Missouri Botanical Garden, injects some inspiring context to this development:
Ontario’s announcement of its intent to protect 55 million acres of Boreal forest is a breath of fresh air to a world besieged by stories of biodiversity loss. It is especially noteworthy that Ontario followed the recommendations of scientists in setting its conservation goals and one would hope that it is a precedent for the world to follow.
We harbor the same hopes, even as we stand with the cynics in waiting to see words translate into action. But even so, it’s hard not to feel optimistic, even excited about this historic act of North American environmental protection. By my tally, Canada has just established its position as one of the preeminent conservation-minded countries in the world. Who’s next?