Pew Report: Canada’s Boreal Forest Houses World’s Largest Water Source

Top scientists call boreal protection a global priority

Canada’s Boreal Forest

Canada’s Boreal Forest: The World’s Water Keeper A first-of-its-kind report by the Pew Environment Group reveals that Canada’s boreal, the world’s largest intact forest and on-land carbon storehouse, contains more unfrozen freshwater than any other ecosystem.

A first of its kind report by the Pew Environment Group reveals that Canada’s boreal, the world’s largest intact forest and on-land carbon storehouse, contains more unfrozen freshwater than any other ecosystem. As United Nations’ International Year of the Forests and World Water Day coincide, world leaders are grappling with water scarcity and pollution–and scientists are calling boreal protection a top global priority.

A Forest of Blue: Canada’s Boreal Forest, the World’s Waterkeeper compiles decades of research and finds that the boreal

  • contains 25 percent of the planet’s wetlands, million of pristine lakes, and thousands of free-flowing rivers, totaling more than 197 million acres of surface freshwater;
  • provides an estimated $700 billion value annually as a buffer against climate change and food and water shortages;
  • offers the last refuges for many of the world’s sea-run migratory fish, including half of the remaining populations of North American Atlantic salmon;
  • maintains freshwater flows critical to forming Arctic sea ice, which cools the atmosphere and supports marine life, from sea algae to polar bears; and,
  • stores more than 400 trillion pounds of carbon in lakes and river delta sediment, peatlands and wetlands–more than any other terrestrial source in the world.

“The world needs to move quickly to preserve water resources,” said University of Alberta Ecologist David Schindler, recipient of the Stockholm Water Prize (1991) and a member of the International Boreal Conservation Science Panel (IBCSP), which reviewed the report. “Enacting sound conservation policy to protect Canada’s free-flowing waters and wetlands in the boreal is not just a local issue; it is one of global importance.”

Canada’s boreal forest is increasingly impacted by large-scale industrial activities. Global demand for resources from the boreal is on the rise, with more than half of total exports of forest products, oil, natural gas and hydropower going to the United States.

“At a time when clean water supplies are disappearing, the vast reserves in Canada’s boreal are increasingly important to protect,” said Steve Kallick, director of the Pew Environment Group’s International Boreal Conservation Campaign. “Canadian provinces and First Nations have already made major strides defending the integrity of the vast lakes, rivers and wetlands in the forest, but they need to do more to guarantee that Canada’s water stays pure and abundant, watershed by watershed.”

The Pew Environment Group has worked with First Nations, conservation groups, federal, provincial and territorial governments to protect the boreal, resulting in 185 million acres set aside from development to date, including key wetland and river areas. That total represents more than 12 percent of the 1.2 billion-acre forest.

The report concludes that governments should protect entire river, lake and wetland ecosystems by preserving intact 50 percent of Canada’s boreal forest requiring sustainable practices for industrial activities taking place in the remaining areas.

“In conservation, so much of the discussion is centered on scarcity and loss,” said Dr. Stuart Pimm, Doris Duke Chair of Conservation Ecology at Duke University and IBCSP member. “It is imperative that the world recognize and protect the fresh water that is left. Canada has an extraordinary opportunity that does not exist anywhere else in the world to keep its aquatic ecosystems intact and to create a positive ripple effect on the land, animals, birds and people who depend on these resources.”

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3 Responses to Pew Report: Canada’s Boreal Forest Houses World’s Largest Water Source

  1. Alan Burke says:

    Here’s a related study from the University of Virginia:

    Russian Boreal Forests Undergoing Vegetation Change, Study Shows

    March 24, 2011 — Russia’s boreal forest – the largest continuous expanse of forest in the world, found in the country’s cold northern regions – is undergoing an accelerating large-scale shift in vegetation types as a result of globally and regionally warming climate. That in turn is creating an even warmer climate in the region, according to a new study published in the journal Global Change Biology and highlighted in the April issue of Nature Climate Change.

    The Great Russian forest, which includes much of Siberia, is the size of the contiguous United States. It has experienced significant documented warming over the last several decades. As a result, tree species that are more tolerant of warmer weather are advancing northward at an increasing rate as species that are less tolerant to a warmer climate are declining in number. …

    “What we’re seeing is a system kicking into overdrive,” said co-author Hank Shugart, a U.Va. professor of environmental sciences. “Warming creates more warming.”

    Journal Reference:
    Jacquelyn Kremper Shuman, Herman Henry Shugart, Thomas Liam O’Halloran. Sensitivity of Siberian Larch forests to climate change. Global Change Biology, 2011; DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2011.02417.x

    More (Click here)

  2. Alan Burke says:

    See also the description in Scientific American:

    Shift in Northern Forests Could Increase Global Warming

    Vegetation change underway in boreal forests as a result of climate change creates a feedback loop that prompts more warming, scientists say.

    Boreal forests across the Northern hemisphere are undergoing rapid, transformative shifts as a result of a warming climate that, in some cases, is triggering feedback loops producing even more regional warming, according to several new studies.

    Russia’s boreal forest – the largest continuous expanse of forest in the world – has seen a transformation in recent years from larch to conifer trees, according to new research by University of Virginia researchers.

    In Alaska, where the larch were largely devastated by a disease outbreak in the late ’90s, vast swathes of forest are becoming inhospitable to the dominant white and black spruce.

    “The climate has shifted. It’s done, it’s clear, and the climate has become unsuitable for the growth of the boreal forest across most of the area that it currently occupies,” said Glenn Juday, a forestry professor at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. …

    More (Click here)

  3. Alan Burke says:

    Consider the situation in the USA, as just reported by a study in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Science):

    Contributions of the US state park system to nature recreation

    Nature recreation in the United States concentrates in publicly provided natural areas. They are costly to establish and maintain, but their societal contributions are difficult to measure.

    Here, a unique approach is developed to quantifying nature recreation services generated by the US state park system. The assessment first uses data from five national surveys conducted between 1975 and 2007 to consistently measure the amount of time used for nature recreation. The surveys comprise two official federal surveys and their predecessors. Each survey was designed to elicit nationally representative, detailed data on how people divide their time into different activities.

    State-level data on time use for nature recreation were then matched with information on the availability of state parks and other potentially important drivers of recreation, so that statistical estimation methods for nonexperimental panel data (difference-in-differences) could be used to examine the net contribution of state parks to nature recreation.

    The results show that state parks have a robust positive effect on nature recreation. For example, the approximately 2 million acres of state parks established between 1975 and 2007 are estimated to contribute annually 600 million hours of nature recreation (2.7 h per capita, approximately 9% of all nature recreation).

    All state parks generate annually an estimated 2.2 billion hours of nature recreation (9.7 h per capita; approximately 33% of all nature recreation). Using conventional approaches to valuing time, the estimated time value of nature recreation services generated by the US state park system is approximately $14 billion annually.

    Juha Siikamäki, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1108688108 PNAS August 9, 2011

    More (full text available) …

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