Large, intact wild spaces, such as forests, are increasingly rare on our global landscape. To note the growing recognition of the vast economic, cultural, and ecologic importance of forests to our world, 2011 was declared the International Year of the Forest by the United Nations.
Spanning 1.2 billion acres, Canada's Boreal Forest is the largest intact forest ecosystem on the planet. This unique environment is home to hundreds of Aboriginal communities, along with vital populations of large mammals, billions of migratory birds, the largest expanses of wetlands and surface water, and some of the largest stores of carbon on earth.
The Canadian Boreal Initiative has selected the following top ten stories affecting Canada's great Boreal Forest during this International Year of the Forest.
1. Quebec Introduces Legislation to protect 50% of its northern territory. Following recommendations by leading scientists, in 2011 Quebec moved to enact the single largest land conservation plan in history, combining conservation and development measures to create a new global model for sustainable development. Legislation to protect at least half of the land mass covered by its Plan Nord, with participation by Aboriginal communities, is currently making its way through the legislative process.
2. Northern BC land use agreements by Taku River Tlingit and BC Government provide new land use model that includes mining and mineral exploration reforms. Taku River Tlingit First Nation, from the far northwest British Columbia, and the Government of British Columbia achieved two major agreements on land use planning and shared decision-making. These agreements offer the potential to avoid the conflict and uncertainty that has hindered government and mining industry relations with First Nations in BC while laying out an ambitious ecosystem protection plan covering over 2 million hectares. The agreement ensures that 26% of the Taku River Tlingit First Nation's ancestral lands are protected.
3. Boreal protection achieved by Poplar River First Nation
The Manitoba Government and Poplar River First Nation both approved a land use plan that grants legal protection to nearly 2 million acres, an area the size of Yellowstone National Park. It spans all of Poplar River's traditional territory and is a crucial step toward creating the proposed Pimachiowin Aki world heritage site in the Boreal Forest as well as a hedge against a warming planet.
4. Scientific Report Reveals Canada's Boreal Forest houses world's largest water source.
An international report by the Pew Environment Group revealed that Canada's Boreal Forest contains 25 percent of the planet's wetlands, millions of pristine lakes, and thousands of free-flowing rivers, totaling more than 197 million acres of surface freshwater. These waters offer some of the last refuges for many of the world's sea-run migratory fish. Boreal waters are critical to forming Arctic sea ice and store more than 400 trillion pounds of carbon in lakes and river delta sediment, peatlands and wetlands-more than any other terrestrial source in the world.
5. Doig River First Nation Plan Tribal Territory Park from BC to Alberta.
The 249 members of Doig River band are establishing a 90,000-hectare 'tribal park' spanning their traditional territory in northeast British Columbia and northwest Alberta. Although the area is rich in both petroleum and forest resources, it is also a place for hunting fishing and spiritual renewal. Tribal parks are innovative in Canada, but are gaining recognition around the world as 'indigenous protected areas,' a model seen most recently in Australia.
6. The Value of Natural Capital27-sm CFI
A report by Sustainable Prosperity, sponsored in part by Environment Canada, found that Canada's natural ecosystems provide billions of dollars worth of free services every year, with a sizable amount coming from Canada's boreal forest and wetlands. The report also found that federal and provincial governments have begun to shift toward better recognizing the economic values of protection, but that more economic incentives to encourage the protection of ecosystems are still needed.
7. The Canadian Mint Launches a Toonie Markings the Boreal Forest's rich natural heritage
In the fall, the Canadian Mint launched a new toonie, emphasizing the Mint's work expanding awareness of Canada's natural heritage. It was preceded by a loonie dedicated to the centennial of Parks Canada and will be followed in 2012 by three quarters featuring the Orca, Wood Bison, and Peregrine Falcon. The toonie's highly stylized graphics illustrate the diversity of life within the Boreal Forest, and notes its role in mitigating climate change. The Boreal Forest toonie brings a little bit of the forest into the homes of people across the country, highlighting its place in our national consciousness.
8. Boreal Earth Tour Highlight of Google Earth's Canada Launch. Using Google Earth's cutting-edge tools, anyone with a computer can visit the heart of the boreal forest. In just three minutes, visitors can get a nonstop, coast-to-coast, interactive experience with the earth's 'green halo,' the Boreal Forest. The Google Earth boreal tour brings a bird's eye view to this global treasure--it highlights the hundreds of Aboriginal communities that depend on the boreal, encompasses the startling extent of its wetlands and provides an aerial view of the Peace-Athabasca Delta--a critical refuge for one of the world's last wild population of Whooping Cranes.
9. Caribou are on the road to extinction, unless their habitat is protected. The International Boreal Conservation Science Panel issued a report showing that woodland caribou have vanished from half of their historic range in North America, coincident with an expanding, continental front of human settlement and intensive resource exploitation in Canada's Boreal Forest. Letters to government officials across Canada laid out specific recommendations that would allow for a healthy future for Canada's most iconic animal.
10. IUCN announces that the protection of areas such as Canada's Boreal Forest is one of most effective tools to the mitigate the world's greatest threat, climate change
As confirmed in an IUCN report released this fall, climate change is the greatest threat to biodiversity and human livelihoods. Amongst the most effective solutions to mitigate this threat are the world's protected areas, among them national parks and wilderness reserves. Not only do they help address the causes of climate change -the release of greenhouse gases - they also mitigate the impacts of climate change on biodiversity and everything that depends on healthy natural ecosystems. The Boreal Forest houses twice the carbon as southern forests such as the Amazon in its soil, peat, and trees. It is a key weapon in Canada's fight against environmental degradation.
The Canadian Boreal Initiative brings together diverse partners to create new solutions for Boreal Forest conservation and acts as a catalyst for on-the-ground efforts across the Boreal Forest by governments, industry, Aboriginal communities, conservation groups, major retailers, financial institutions, and scientists.