Canada protects largest coniferous forest in the world
Canada will soon have the largest protected boreal forest – an area twice the size of Belgium – on the planet.
Some 1.6m hectares of remote land in the province of Alberta are being made into new or extended provincial parks.
A 6.7m hectare conservation zone will now be protected and free from logging or oil and gas exploration.
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).
Some of the largest intact forest left in the world is in Canada and Mr Kraus said it is the “one thing we can really share with the world, and give to the world in terms of conservation”.
The NCC worked with the Alberta provincial government and the Tall Cree Tribal Government and on the conservation project.
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.
Tall Cree First Nation Chief Rupert Meneen told the BBC said he had watched farmlands and forestry encroaching on the forest and its inhabitants over the years.
“I could almost see the boreal forest coming down around us on a daily basis,” he said.
“It was important we try to at least leave some of the forest for the future generations.”
The NCC says the new 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.
Mr Kraus said: “One of the things we’re losing around the world are those large animals that have space to roam around. We’re squeezing them into smaller and smaller areas and losing the phenomenon of animals migrating across the landscape.”
The federal government and Syncrude Canada, one of the country’s largest oil sands producers, also provided funding.
“Our approach at NCC is we work with anyone who shares our vision of conservation and we strive to find common ground,” Mr Kraus said.
The remote region is north of Fort McMurray – about 425km (265 miles) from Edmonton, the provincial – and extends up to the Northwest Territories.