OTTAWA, Ontario, Canada, May 16, 2007 (ENS) - At least half of Canada's northern Boreal forest must be protected for the good of the planet, 1,500 scientists from more than 50 countries said in an open letter to the governments of Canada. The scientists said the vast forest that stretches across the Canadian North is one of the largest intact forest and wetland ecosystems remaining on Earth.
The scientists' letter released on Monday urges Canada's federal, provincial, territorial and aboriginal governments to preserve a minimum of half of the Boreal forest in protected areas while allowing only carefully managed development on the rest.
The Boreal forest extends across the majority of Canada's provinces and territories and into Alaska. (Map courtesy Environment Canada)This plan accords with the Boreal Conservation Framework, a plan already endorsed by Canadian conservation groups, 25 Canadian First Nations, and more than 75 major businesses with combined annual sales of $30 billion.
"The extraordinary level of support expressed in this letter demonstrates the global ecological importance of Canada's Boreal Forest and the urgent need for Canada to protect it, said David Schindler, professor of ecology at the University of Alberta-Edmonton.
"We are losing so many of the world's great forests, despite the best efforts of conservationists," Schindler said. "Canada's Boreal forest offers what may be our last, best chance to do things right, but only if our leaders act decisively and act now.
The 1.4 billion acre forest is a major source of North America's fresh water and is inhabited by some of the planet's largest populations of wolves, grizzly bear and woodland caribou.
Its lakes and rivers still contain an abundance of fish and its trees and wetlands provide nesting grounds for billions of songbirds and waterfowl.
Hundreds of First Nations communities also depend on the Boreal forest ecosystem for fish and wildlife.
Canada's northern boreal forest is targeted for logging and other development. (Photo courtesy Canadian Forest Service)The Boreal forest also is the single largest terrestrial carbon storehouse in the world. The Boreal stores 186 billion metric tons of carbon – equivalent to 27 years of the world's carbon dioxide emissions from the consumption of fossil fuels.
But the Boreal forest is under increasing pressure from logging, mining and oil and gas operations and only 10 percent has been protected to date, far less than what is scientifically recognized as necessary to sustain the ecosystem over time, the scientists said.
"In the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, report, deforestation was identified as a significant source of green house gas emissions. The Boreal forest stores large quantities of carbon and provides a shield against global warming and critical habitat for countless species of birds, fish and wildlife, said Dr. Terry Root, Stanford University professor and author of multiple IPCC reports.
"The world's scientists urge Canada to take action now by implementing the Boreal Forest Conservation Framework, Root said.