Great News: Permanent Protection for Boreal Forest

     This is just the kind of news I love to report!

     Nearly two million acreas of Canada’s boreal forest has received permanent legal protection.  The provincial government of Manitoba took action recently to protect this dense, northern forest from mining, road building, large scale logging, and transmission lines.  The protected land is about the size of Yellowstone and will be managed for wilderness values by a native group that has inhabited the region for thousands of years.  The group, the Poplar River First Nation, will also have access to the dense woods for sustainable community development.

     This decision by Manitoba’s government is a victory for the whole world.  Encircling the globe just south of the treeless polar region, the boreal forest is similar to the Amazon rainforest in the natural services it provides to the planet.  The boreal forest’s trees and peatlands, for example, comprise one of the world’s largest carbon sinks.  Boreal wetlands filter millions of gallons of water daily.  And vast reachess of intact forest, along with thousands of lakes, act as a nursery for 40% of North America’s migratory waterfowl and about 30% of the continent’s land birds, including our common backyard songbirds.  The dense forest is also an important refuge for gray wolves and caribou.

     Manitoba’s decision is the result of hard work by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Canadian First Nation groups, and others.  And these boreal forest advocates do not consider their work complete.   Neighboring First Nation communities are working to win similar protection for boreal forest near the protected area.  And that broader area will soon be nominated as a United Nations World Heritage Site.  If established, the World Heritage Site would encompass 10.6 million acres of boreal forest in Manitoba and Ontario, two provincial parks, and the traditional territories of involved First Nations. 

     As a World Heritage Site, this large segment of Canada’s boreal forest would receive international protection.   Currently, less than 8% of the boreal forest is protected, and large swaths of the forest have already been devoured by clearcutting timber operations, mining, and massie hydroelectric projects.

     Historically, the Canadian government has not included indigenous peoples in the management of areas where they have lived for many generations.  The success of indigenous people, along with conservation advocates, to get a provincial government to allow First Nation people to manage the protection of the heart of the boreal forest is a breakthrough, with positive implications for such efforts in the future.–April Moore

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