Bird nursery’ at risk unless half of Canada’s boreal forest preserved

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Nature groups urge bird­ers to join cam­paign to ensure untouched for­est stays that way

Lead­ing bird and nature groups are try­ing to save what they call North Amer­i­ca’s “bird nursery.”

They want the Cana­di­an and U.S. gov­ern­ments to pro­tect at least half of the con­ti­nen­t’s bore­al for­est from indus­tri­al development.

The bore­al for­est is a vast north­ern swath of trees stretch­ing from Alas­ka to Labrador. Sci­en­tists say the “Bore­al Birds Need Half” cam­paign is a unique chance to pro­tect a for­est that is still large­ly untouched.

In the rest of the world, much of that kind of pro­tec­tion will require restor­ing and con­vert­ing habi­tat that has been degrad­ed or lost,” said Jeff Wells, the sci­ence and pol­i­cy direc­tor who’s lead­ing the project for the Bore­al Song­bird Initiative.

But in the bore­al for­est, we have large expan­sive areas that are free from large scale indus­tri­al devel­op­ment. So we have a chance to get it right from the start,” he said in an interview.

The cam­paign is being sup­port­ed by the Bore­al Song­bird Ini­tia­tive and Ducks Unlim­it­ed along with nine oth­er groups:

  • Nation­al Audubon Society.
  • Bird Stud­ies Canada.
  • Cana­di­an Parks and Wilder­ness Society.
  • Nature Cana­da.
  • Cor­nell Lab of Ornithology.
  • Envi­ron­ment for the Americas.
  • Wild Bird Cen­ters of America.
  • Nature Needs Half.
  • Birdzil­la.

They say the bore­al for­est is cru­cial habi­tat for spring and sum­mer nest­ing for an esti­mat­ed three bil­lion birds — near­ly half of all the bird species in the U.S. and Canada.

Each fall, more than three billion birds migrate south out of the boreal forest toward their wintering habitat, campaigners estimate. (Boreal Birds Need Half)

Each fall, more than three bil­lion birds migrate south out of the bore­al for­est toward their win­ter­ing habi­tat, cam­paign­ers esti­mate. (Bore­al Birds Need Half)

1 in 5 Cana­di­ans are birders

After the nest­ing sea­son, these bore­al birds and their young make up the major­i­ty of the birds that migrate to the U.S. and Cen­tral and South Amer­i­ca dur­ing the winter

We esti­mate that three to five bil­lion birds leave Cana­da in the fall, so you imag­ine this incred­i­ble wave of birds that pass south to spend the win­ter. And so they do become the com­mon birds of back­yards and wet­lands. They are the famil­iar birds that many peo­ple see,” Wells said.

But many of these song­birds are on the decline or already con­sid­ered endan­gered. Sci­en­tists say that pro­tect­ing their habi­tat is the only effec­tive way to save them from dis­ap­pear­ing further.

The Bore­al Birds Need Half cam­paign is count­ing on the fact that bird­ing is an increas­ing­ly pop­u­lar pas­time. Near­ly one in five adult Cana­di­ans and near­ly 50 mil­lion Amer­i­cans con­sid­er them­selves birders.

The plan is to col­lect sup­port from indus­try and peti­tions from the pub­lic to push politi­cians to con­sid­er the bore­al for­est as a valu­able asset for bird survival.

We hope that gov­ern­ments will adopt land con­ser­va­tion poli­cies that reflect sci­ence,” Wells said.

Bal­anc­ing resource development 

Sci­en­tists used to think that on aver­age, about 10 per cent of the for­est should be pre­served for nest­ing song­birds. But more sophis­ti­cat­ed con­ser­va­tion sci­ence and mod­el­ling show that healthy bio­di­ver­si­ty requires more space.

I think there’s a lot more aware­ness about bore­al con­ser­va­tion than there was in the past,” said Kevin Smith, nation­al man­ag­er of bore­al pro­grams for Ducks Unlim­it­ed Cana­da. “A long time ago it was seen as a no man’s land, and now it’s increas­ing­ly important.”

But the bore­al for­est is often the loca­tion of valu­able oil, gas and min­er­als deposits.

In Cana­da, the north­ern bore­al for­est is large­ly pub­licly owned and man­aged by gov­ern­ments, First Nations or industry.

Smith said the key to con­serv­ing half of it will be forg­ing part­ner­ships among these groups.

It’s about pre­serv­ing enough of large areas through a bal­ance of pro­tec­tion and sus­tain­able devel­op­ment,” he said.

Devel­op­ment will need to occur to a cer­tain lev­el to main­tain economies and healthy north­ern com­mu­ni­ties. We think there is a way to bal­ance nature with the eco­nom­ic development.”

The plan is to col­lect pub­lic and indus­try sup­port over the next year and then present it to the Cana­di­an and U.S. gov­ern­ments. Cam­paign orga­niz­ers are hop­ing it will strike a chord.

Bird­ing is a real impor­tant con­nec­tion to nature,” Smith said. “In order to keep those birds con­tin­u­ing to migrate through all those back­yard bird feed­ers, this lev­el of pro­tec­tion and sus­tain­able devel­op­ment is necessary.”

North America’s bore­al for­est – by the numbers

485 mil­lion: hectares of intact forest

80: per­cent­age of for­est still rel­a­tive­ly intact

25: per­cent­age of world’s remain­ing intact for­est landscape

#1: Canada’s rank among all coun­tries in terms of its sup­ply of sur­face freshwater

208 bil­lion: tonnes of car­bon stored in Canada’s bore­al alone

3 billion‑5 bil­lion: num­ber of breed­ing birds and young

325: num­ber of bird species

80: per­cent­age of North Amer­i­can water­fowl species that breed in the bore­al forest

96: num­ber of species with over 50 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion breed­ing in the bore­al forest

1 bil­lion: bore­al-breed­ing birds that win­ter in the U.S.

50+ mil­lion: bird­ers in Cana­da and the U.S.

Source: Bore­al Birds Need Half