Canada has made significant strides in protecting the vast boreal forest that stretches across most of its provinces and territories, but the world’s largest intact forest ecosystem still faces threats, says an environmental group.
The amount of boreal forest under some form of government protection has doubled since 2007 to about 12 per cent of the total area, biologist Jeff Wells of the Canadian Boreal Initiative said recently. “That’s a big rate of increase in a short time and we’re hoping that’s going to continue,” he said.
The boreal forest is the huge swath of green that stretches from Newfoundland to the Yukon. It’s home to millions of migratory birds, harbours endangered wildlife such as caribou and shelters hundreds of wetlands that clean water and store carbon.
A total of 708,000 square kilometres is now protected by government. Another 460,000 square kilometres are being harvested through sustainable practices such as those outlined by the Forest Stewardship Council, an organization that promotes responsible management of the world’s forests by setting standards, and certifying and labelling wood products. Ontario protected most of its boreal forest in Northwestern Ontario a few years ago under former premier Dalton McGuinty.
Wells has high praise for provinces such as Manitoba, which teamed with aboriginal groups in 2013 to try to get the Pimachiowin Aki region — a 33,400-square-kilometre area almost half the size of New Brunswick — declared a World Heritage Site. While the attempt failed, the province has promised to try again in the coming year.
Wells’s group also commends the Ontario government for holding onto an objective of protecting its northern forests as it tries to accommodate the mining industry in the so-called Ring of Fire chromium region northeast of Thunder Bay.
As well, an agreement that has brought together environmentalists and forestry companies continues to hold together despite strains.
But Wells warns that some jurisdictions aren’t doing so well.
Quebec has removed its deadline to protect half its northern forest by 2035 and has downgraded an interim goal of 20 per cent protection by 2020 to 12 per cent. The Yukon has failed to implement mining reforms, despite a successful legal challenge to the territory’s free-entry mining system.
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