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