Boreal forest by Fort McMurray, AB (Photo by Michel Rapinski)

Boreal forest by Fort McMurray, AB (Photo by Michel Rapinski)

Protecting Canada’s largest ecoregion: The boreal

The boreal region covers a large part of Canada and is an integral part of our country’s biodiversity

Moose (Photo by ABMI)

Moose (Photo by ABMI)

Dominated by vast forests, wetlands and lakes, the boreal area encircles the Northern Hemisphere and can be found in Canada, the U.S., Norway, Russia and China, to name a few. Globally, this zone occupies 4.7 billion acres (1.9 billion hectares), equalling 14 per cent of the Earth’s land and inland waters.

Canada is home to 28 per cent of the worldwide boreal zone — a total of 1.3 billion acres (552 million hectares)! Not to mention, three-quarters (7.6 billion acres/307 million hectares) of all of Canada’s forests and woodlands are located here. This zone is Canada's largest ecosystem, and can be found in all provinces except New Brunswick, PEI and Nova Scotia.

The boreal zone and, in particular, its boreal forest habitat, is home to two-thirds of Canada’s plant and animal species. More than half of Canada’s bird species (150 species) can be found here, and over three billion birds breed in the boreal forest each year.

Around 20 species of coniferous and deciduous trees, such as trembling aspen, black spruce and jack pine, make up the boreal. The forest provides habitat for more than 85 mammal species, including woodland caribou, grey wolf and moose. Canada's boreal forest also contains watersheds that serve as habitat for around 130 species of fish, including northern pike and lake trout.

Many forested areas of the boreal are in a constant state of regeneration from large-scale natural disturbances, such as forest fires and insect outbreaks.

Canada has about 667 million acres (270 million hectares) of boreal forest in total. These forests act as large carbon sinks, purifying the air we breathe and the water we drink, and regulating our climate.

Birch Mountains Wetland (Photo by ABMI)

Birch Mountains Wetland (Photo by ABMI)

Almost a third of Canada’s boreal is covered in wetlands and lakes, providing habitat for more than 26 million ducks and waterfowl. Most of these wetlands are peatlands, which store more carbon than almost any other ecosystem on the planet. Canada’s boreal forests and peatlands play a globally significant role in reducing climate change.

Not only is protecting this forest vital for the health of Canadians, it’s also important for the health of people worldwide. Since a large portion of the boreal zone is located in Canada, the health of these forests affects that of the Earth as a whole.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) recently announced its role in helping secure more than 815,477 acres (330,000 hectares) of land adjacent to and buffering Wood Buffalo National Park. The Birch River property will become a provincial wildland park for wildlife to flourish in.

Birch River Wildland Provincial Park (Infographic by NCC)

This unique partnership between NCC, the Tallcree Tribal Government and the Province of Alberta, with funds raised through the Natural Areas Conservation Program and from Syncrude Canada Ltd., is helping to conserve a segment of the largest, intact boreal forest in the world.

NCC has protected 138,238 acres (55,943 hectares) of boreal forest region coast to coast, from the Busenius property in Alberta to the Crabbes River and Salmonier River properties in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Together, through the power of conservation, we are creating a brighter future for this unique, Canadian landscape and the species it sustains.

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Atlantic puffins (Photo by Bill Caulfield-Browne)