Area: 5,421,407 km2
Federal ecozones: Boreal Shield, Boreal Plains, Boreal Cordillera, Taiga Cordillera, Taiga Plains, Taiga Shield, Hudson Plains
Natural cover: 5,341,104 km2
Per cent natural: 98%
Protected area: 658,711 km2
Per cent protected: 12%
Number of NCC projects (all): 273
Number of species of birds: 373
Number of species of trees: 103
Number of species of mammals: 136
Number of species of amphibians: 26
Estimated human population: 2,762,712
Canada’s heartland is the vast swath of boreal forest that extends from Newfoundland and Labrador to the Yukon. This region covers over half of Canada and is very diverse. Northern regions are characterized by taiga, where trees are smaller and interspersed with plains and wetlands. The southern region of the boreal along the edge of the prairies is often referred to as parklands and is dominated by trembling aspen that become increasingly sparse as the forest transitions into grassland.
A unique partnership brought together by the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has created a 3,300-square-kilometre conserved area in northeast Alberta. A series of agreements between the Tallcree Tribal Government, NCC, the governments of Alberta and Canada, and Syncrude Canada contributed to the creation of the new Birch River Wildland Provincial Park. The park borders the southern boundary of Wood Buffalo National Park.
The boreal region is composed of over five million square kilometres of forests, woodlands, barrens, wetlands, rivers and lakes, stretching across the country from Yukon to Newfoundland and Labrador. Canada’s boreal forest represents 28 per cent of the world’s boreal forests, and includes some of the most intact forested landscapes left on Earth. Although forestry, mining, energy and hydroelectric development have impacted parts of the boreal, most of this forest region remains intact.
The boreal forest has been referred to as North America’s songbird nursery and provides critical breeding habitat for more than 350 species. An estimated five billion birds migrate south from the boreal each fall.
Today, many Indigenous Peoples in Canada live in the boreal region, where they continue to practise their traditional way of life. The boreal sustains Indigenous cultural resources, including medicinal plants and spiritual sites. It serves as a classroom for the teaching of Indigenous Ecological Knowledge systems, which can be used to guide the sustainable use of this vast and diverse landscape.
The current extent of industrial activity (e.g. forestry, mining, oil and gas exploration and extraction, and hydroelectricity and infrastructure) in Canada’s boreal is estimated at 730,000 kilometres. Industrial interest in more northerly boreal ecoregions continues to increase, while some southern boreal ecozones have already been heavily impacted. For example, less than 15 per cent of the Boreal Plains ecozone remains intact.
What NCC is doing
NCC has identified priority conservation sites in a number of natural areas, including:
- Peace River Parkland
- Upper North Saskatchewan River Basin
- West Parklands
- Riding Mountain Aspen Parkland
- Whitemouth River Watershed
- Interlake Plain
In the southern part of the boreal, NCC is working to secure key areas and habitats for rare species. In the north, NCC is working with partners to identify priority areas for conservation, increase public awareness and appreciated for the boreal, and provide advice and support for the establishment of new protected areas, including Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas. For example, NCC supports Indigenous-led conservation by sharing capacity in mapping, conservation planning frameworks and tools, and by establishing sustainable land-based projects and programs led by Indigenous communities (e.g. Guardians programs).
Did you know?
- Canada’s boreal region is larger than the combined land mass of India and Argentina.
- It is estimated that a minimum of 208 billion tonnes of carbon are stored in the boreal’s soils and plants. It is therefore the planet’s most significant storehouse of terrestrial carbon, helping to regulate the global climate.
- Between 1 and 3 billion songbirds, of more than 350 species, including an estimated 26 million waterfowl and 7 million shorebirds, nest in the boreal.
- Boreal ecosystems provide more than $700 billion in ecosystem services each year, such as air and water filtration, tourism and recreation, carbon storage and sequestration, among others. We, as Canadians, depend upon the services that the boreal provides.
- Canada’s boreal region also houses some of the world’s most extensive wetlands, millions of pristine lakes and many of the world’s last free-flowing rivers that support remaining wild runs of migrating fish.
- More than 600 Indigenous communities rely on the boreal forest for food, economic prosperity and cultural use. Across the boreal, Indigenous communities continue to practise cultural traditions and draw on Indigenous knowledge and science to care for their traditional territories and homelands.
Photo Credits (Top to bottom): All images iStock; iStock; Alf Kelly; iStock.