See­ing Canada through the trees

Why Cana­di­ans can lead the world in for­est con­ser­va­tion

Sackville Tribune - - OPINION -

“Canada’s north­ern bo­real forests are un­fa­mil­iar to most Cana­di­ans. Here in th­ese hin­ter­lands, we can find the more in­tact forests than any­where else on the planet. Th­ese forests are also the largest store­house of ter­res­trial car­bon in the world, hold­ing nearly twice as much car­bon per square kilo­me­tre as trop­i­cal forests.”

Ed­i­tor’s note: the fol­low­ing was sub­mit­ted by Dan Kraus, se­nior con­ser­va­tion bi­ol­o­gist with the Na­ture Con­ser­vancy of Canada, in recog­ni­tion of Na­tional For­est Week, which was cel­e­brated Sept. 24 to 30.

Forests de­fine our Cana­dian ge­og­ra­phy and iden­tity. Onethird of our coun­try is cov­ered with trees, and forests oc­cur in ev­ery prov­ince and ter­ri­tory. Jobs in forestry em­ploy more than 200,000 Cana­di­ans and sup­port many Indige­nous and north­ern com­mu­ni­ties.

It’s easy to think that our forests are end­less, and it’s a mind­set we’ve held for a long time. But we need to change our think­ing. Al­though there are vast ar­eas of for­est in our north­lands, th­ese places rep­re­sent some of our planet’s last stands of large in­tact forests. In south­ern Canada, we have lost and de­graded many of our forests, im­pact­ing both na­ture and peo­ple.

Forests have been heav­ily im­pacted by land use change, frag­men­ta­tion and in­va­sive species. In­va­sive for­est in­sects and dis­eases have taken a heavy toll on many tree species, in­clud­ing white ash, Amer­i­can chestnut and white elm.

The Aca­dian for­est re­gion in New Brunswick and At­lantic Canada, while it still has abun­dant tree cover, now has a lower per­cent­age of the land­scape with old-growth for­est than Europe.

Canada’s north­ern bo­real forests are un­fa­mil­iar to most Cana­di­ans. Here in th­ese hin­ter­lands, we can find the more in­tact forests than any­where else on the planet. Th­ese forests are also the largest store­house of ter­res­trial car­bon in the world, hold­ing nearly twice as much car­bon per square kilo­me­tre as trop­i­cal forests. Th­ese forests are also home to up to five bil­lion birds.

There are op­por­tu­ni­ties for Canada and Cana­di­ans to do more to be­come world lead­ers in for­est con­ser­va­tion. In Canada’s north, we have a unique op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate the world’s largest net­work of pro­tected forests in the world. Canada may rank third for to­tal for­est cover (be­hind Brazil and Rus­sia), but if there’s any­where in the world where in­tact forests can be main­tained, my bet is on Canada.

In­creas­ing the area of pro­tec­tion in the bo­real for­est from the cur­rent 8.3 per cent to 17 per cent to help meet our in­ter­na­tional com­mit­ments for the Con­ven­tion on Bi­o­log­i­cal Di­ver­sity would re­sult in the pro­tec­tion of more than 890,000 square kilo­me­tres.

Canada can also bet­ter cat­a­logue high con­ser­va­tion value forests and other sites that have been set aside by in­dus­try and rec­og­nize the im­por­tance of th­ese lands in con­tribut­ing to­ward meet­ing Canada’s goals for pro­tected ar­eas. The en­ergy, forestry and min­ing in­dus­tries can all be lead­ers in demon­strat­ing sus­tain­abil­ity, re­spon­si­ble re­source use and bio­di­ver­sity con­ser­va­tion to the world.

Un­like forests in the north, the vast ma­jor­ity of south­ern forests are on pri­vate lands, and their pro­tec­tion and restora­tion re­quires thou­sands of in­di­vid­ual ac­tions. For­tu­nately, many land own­ers, farm­ers, cor­po­ra­tions and gov­ern­ments are tak­ing steps to pro­tect th­ese pri­vate forests. A part­ner­ship be­tween TD Bank and the Na­ture Con­ser­vancy of Canada be­tween 2012 and 2016 helped pro­tect 160 square kilo­me­tres of forests in south­ern Canada. The Gov­ern­ment of Canada’s Nat­u­ral Ar­eas Con­ser­va­tion Pro­gram has matched fund­ing from pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments and in­di­vid­u­als to pro­tect more than 4,300 square kilo­me­tres in south­ern Canada, in­clud­ing many forests.

Find­ing con­ser­va­tion so­lu­tions for our south­ern forests is im­por­tant for na­ture and peo­ple.

Th­ese forests pro­vide habi­tat for many species, but also pro­vide ser­vices to our com­mu­ni­ties. From recharg­ing the ground­wa­ter that we drink to hold­ing flood­wa­ters dur­ing storms, to pro­vid­ing places for recre­ation, this nat­u­ral cap­i­tal is im­por­tant to main­tain­ing our qual­ity of life.

There’s no doubt we have made im­por­tant progress, but is there is still ur­gency for for­est con­ser­va­tion in Canada. The strate­gic restora­tion of forests could en­sure that our pro­tected ar­eas are con­nected with wildlife cor­ri­dors, that the health of our streams and rivers is im­proved by for­est buf­fers and that im­por­tant habi­tats for wildlife are main­tained.

What would be more Cana­dian than com­mit­ting to con­serve more forests than any other na­tion?

Dan Kraus

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