Canada's Boreal Ecosystem

Photo: D. Langhorst, Ducks Unlimited

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Today was undoubtedly a big day in the commonwealth, with the anniversary of St. Patrick, an enslaved Roman Briton who died in 493 A.D. in what is now Downpatrick in Northern Ireland. Irish heritage, green beverages and pale complexion--all part of my day-to-day existence--aside, there was even bigger news on the Northern Commonwealth, specifically Canada. The Pew Environmental Group announced the release of their report A Forest of Blue: Canada's Boreal Forest, the World's Waterkeeper.

The economic, environmental and climate value of the boreal ecosystem is staggering. It has been outlined as a global conservation priority from organizations across the world, including the Wilburforce Foundation (See the Yellowstone to Yukon corridor) and the aforementioned Pew Environmental Group. The recent Pew Environmental Group report's press release sums up the importance of the region quite well:

"Stretching across the continent, Canada’s boreal is the most intact forest remaining on earth. It provides a vital bulwark against the global loss of biodiversity, irreplaceable food and cultural benefits to rural communities, and slows the impacts of global warming. These ecosystem services have an estimated $700 billion annual value (PDF).

Canada’s boreal contains 25 percent of the world’s wetlands and more surface water than any other continental-scale landscape. The extensive undammed rivers of the boreal serve as last refuges for many of the world’s sea-run migratory fish, including half of the remaining populations of North American Atlantic salmon.

Canada’s boreal waters also influence global climate. The wetlands and peatlands store an estimated 147 billion tonnes of carbon, more than 25 years worth of current man-made emissions, and the delta of the Mackenzie River alone stores 41 billion tonnes. The input of fresh water from boreal rivers to the Arctic and other northern seas is critical to forming sea ice, which cools the atmosphere and provides the basis for much of arctic marine biodiversity."

The report concludes that, like many ecosystems across the world, Canadian boreal ecosystems are currently in a delicate and declining balance between extractive industries and energy development, and sustainable storage of biodiversity, water and traditional native lifestyles. There are special supplements on hydropower in Quebec and the Mackenzie River Basin and a succinct list of policy recommendations. The most forward-thinking suggests that Canada needs a U.S. Clean Water Act-like system to mitigate the loss of peatlands and other wetlands and their associated ecosystem services, following an earlier law in Manitoba.

The Pew Center's press release is here.

The full report is here.

Yale's E360 highlighted it here.

*While looking up some references within the report, I also found Boreal Environment Research (BER), an open access journal from Finland. BER publishes environmental research on boreal ecosystems across the world and does it with an entirely free online distribution model. With boreal ecosystems providing such diverse ecosystem services and experiencing such rapid change, I anticipate that this journal will only grow in importance over time. For now, check out the latest issue.

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