A few more days and Canada will soon be home to the largest protected boreal forest in the world – a staggering area twice the size of Belgium. As per news reports, approximately 1.6m hectares of remote land in the province of Alberta are being transformed into new or extended provincial parks. The Tall Cree First Nation agreed to relinquish its timber licence and quota in the region, allowing for the creation of the new Birch River wildland provincial park. Boreal (or coniferous) forests occur in northern climes with long, cold winters and short summers. They are among the world’s densest forests.
Canada’s boreal zone is home to threatened wood bison, peregrine falcon and woodland caribou populations. The region makes up about a third of a band of green that extends across northern North America and into Asia. It is also a nursery for billions of songbirds that migrate north in the summer from wintering grounds in the US and beyond.
“It’s not just forest, it’s really the matrix of forest and wetlands and waters – and we can protect those at a scale that is an opportunity lost in the rest of the world,” said Dan Kraus, a conservation biologist with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC).
According to the NCC, the Birch River park is a haven for 68 species in need of conservation. That includes the woodland caribou – an animal on Canada’s 25 cent coin – whose population has decreased by some 30% over the last 20 years. The caribou have been on the federal threatened species list for 15 years.
Some of the largest intact forest left in the world is in Canada and Kraus said it is the “one thing we can really share with the world, and give to the world in terms of conservation”.
(With inputs from BBC)