What’s So Special About Canada’s Boreal Forest?

by | Dec 15, 2021 | Blog

Canada's boreal forest during the autumn season

Summary

  • The Canadian boreal forest is one of the world’s remaining intact forest ecosystems. It has abundant trees, lakes and wetlands that provide a home and freshwater to some of the largest populations of grizzly bears, wolverines and caribou on the planet. The boreal forest also serves as a terrestrial carbon storehouse, which absorbs carbon dioxide and other hazardous gasses from the atmosphere to help keep the environment clean and healthy.
  • Canada’s boreal forest is constantly threatened by logging, mining and other industrial operations. Only 10% of the forest is protected, which is far less than what is scientifically recognized as necessary to sustain balance in the ecosystem.
  • Understanding how industrial and natural disturbance agents influence the boreal forest is essential to create adaptive measures in preserving valuable resources while maintaining the economy many depend on.

Introduction

Ringing the entire Northern Hemisphere in a green crown full of conifers, Canada’s boreal forest is undeniably one of the most majestic indigenous forests in the world.

At roughly 3.9 billion hectares, the global forests cover more than 30 percent of the world’s land surface. They are classified into four major biomes: tropical, subtropical, temperate and boreal zones. These forests are valuable sources of renewable materials and services for individuals, holding much of the earth’s biodiversity. Among these biomes, the boreal forest represents some of the largest biogeoclimatic areas that encompass various climates, wetlands, aquatic systems and vegetation assemblages.

Ringing the entire Northern Hemisphere in a green crown full of conifers, Canada’s boreal forest is undeniably one of the most majestic indigenous forests in the world. Because a large portion of the worldwide boreal zone lies in Canada, the country’s boreal forest can heavily affect the overall health of the global ecosystem. The vast majority, about 94 percent, of the country’s forest land is publicly-owned, meaning that the government has exclusive power to regulate land use, planning and conservation through legislation and other policies.

Although Canada’s boreal forest remains untouched, much of the southern boreal zone has been allocated for future industrial development. In fact, industrialization is constantly pushing further into the heart of the boreal forest each year. This confirms the need to preserve large portions of the boreal forest to commit to sustainable forest management. This article reviews the economic and ecological importance of the country’s boreal forest, what makes it special and why its conservation must be a global imperative.

Why Canada’s Boreal Forest Matters

Canada’s boreal forest is home to 70% of the country’s aboriginal populations, whose heritage is strongly tied to its natural resources.

Stretching from the far northern province of Yukon to the most easterly part of Newfoundland and Labrador is an enchanted forest, where thousands of endangered animal species and coniferous trees are found. In wee hours of darkness, Canada’s boreal forest serves as a great spot to watch a canvas full of stars—not to mention the magnificent aurora borealis illuminating a bright palette of colours upon the horizon. The natural aesthetics of the forest are enough reason to protect it from any environmental threat. Even more so, the overall ecological value that this forest contributes to the planet makes its conservation critically important.

Canada’s boreal forest is home to 70% of its aboriginal populations, whose heritage is strongly tied to its natural resources. Much of the country’s forestry, mining, tourism, hydroelectric generation and gas production are sourced from the boreal forest. While many indigenous communities rely on these industries, others take advantage of the southern part of the forest that has been converted into farmland. Overall, the forest sustains thousands of jobs, which largely contribute to the country’s economy.

On top of that, the forest plays a critical role in the global fight against climate change. Canada’s boreal forest trees and peatlands hold approximately 67 billion tonnes of carbon, which is equivalent to more or less seven years’ worth of global greenhouse gas emissions. It can be challenging to overstate just how essential this forest is to regulate the global climate.
Illustration of a community working together to protect the environment

Final Thoughts: Sustaining Canada’s Boreal Forest

About 30% of Canada’s boreal zone has been reserved for some of the current or future developments in the country.

Canada’s boreal forest conservation is central to the sustainability of its communities and the economic goods and services that the ecosystem provides. Challenges arise when it comes to balancing environmental protection and developmental opportunities. Other factors, including economics, poverty and national security, have generally been prioritized over environmental concerns.

About 30% of Canada’s boreal zone has been reserved for some of the current or future developments in the country. According to the World Resources Institute, industrial logging clear-cuts nearly two million acres of the boreal region annually. As a result, Canada’s boreal forest is currently one of the most threatened ecosystems worldwide due to the rising demand for minerals, timber and energy sources. If industrial logging and other disturbances continue, as many predict, deforestation and the harmful effects that come with it are bound to occur over time.

Despite these threats, however, the Canadian government, indigenous communities and environmental organizations are taking proactive steps to help preserve the country’s ecological treasure. The government, for example, has developed sustainable forest management plans, many of which are backed by science and national laws to ensure the conservation and protection of the country’s boreal forest and wildlife. Globally, this trend must be taken seriously, as human survival and economic security highly depend on how individuals obtain adequate food, fresh air and clean water and maintain a livable climate.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a boreal forest?

Boreal forests are the northernmost forests globally, covering vast regions of land across countries like Canada, Alaska, Russia and the rest of Northern Europe. These forests can survive frigid temperatures, making them an ideal refuge for animals migrating from long distances during winter. Boreal forests are usually characterized by an abundance of deciduous and coniferous trees, wetlands and free-flowing rivers, which are essential in stabilizing global climates.

 

Where is Canada’s boreal forest located?

Canada’s boreal forest extends from the northern part of Yukon to Newfoundland and Labrador in the east. It is about 270 million hectares, making up roughly 28% of its total landmass.

 

Why is Canada’s boreal forest so important?

Canada’s boreal forest helps store carbon to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which, in turn, purifies the air and water and maintains the climate. Because Canada has some of the largest boreal zones globally, its boreal forest can have a considerable impact on the health of the global ecosystem and its inhabitants.

 

What is the biggest threat to the Canadian boreal forest?

Two of the most substantial threats facing Canada’s boreal forests are deforestation and climate change due to increasing demand for industrialization. Although much of the northern boreal zone has so far been chiefly preserved from development, the southern portion has already experienced heavy clear-cuts from industrial logging, mining and oil and gas extraction.

 

How can we protect Canada’s boreal forest?

Sustainable forest management may help preserve the country’s boreal forest. This strategy can include defining protected land areas, natural forest regeneration or tree planting, recycling waste materials, and choosing alternatives to minimize gas usage, such as non-gas transportation like biking. Every small act of concern for the environment can make a big difference.