60,000 Petitioners Call on Government to Protect Boreal Forest

I just got back from a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, where Nature Canada and Boreal Songbird Initiative drew attention to the 60,000 petitioners, from 117 countries, who joined the Save Our Boreal Birds Campaign. Dr. Jeff Wells, from BSI, kindly agreed to write a guest post about the petition, and the need to protect the Boreal Forest:
Last night as we slept one of the world’s most awesome wildlife spectacles happened over our heads. It will happen again tonight and the next and the next through early June and then it will start again in the fall. Every spring night a massive wave of birds–10-30 million, yes million of them—migrate back to Canada from wintering grounds in the U.S., Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean. This incredible abundance of birds battles its way back over tough and torn terrain to make it to the safety and opportunity of one of the world’s last great intact ecosystems—Canada’s Boreal Forest.The Boreal Forest contains 25% of the world’s last uncut and pristine forests and it is these vast forests, peatlands, wetlands, lakes, rivers, taiga and tundra that support the 1-3 billion birds that return to it each year to raise their young. Over 300 bird species regularly breed within Canada’s Boreal Forest habitats and nearly 100 of those species rely on these habitats to support more than half of their global populations.

Many of these species are among our most loved and familiar—birds like the Common Loon, the American Black Duck, the Evening Grosbeak, and the White-throated Sparrow. Clearly their futures are dependent on the decisions we make today about the Boreal’s future.

Sadly, even this great Canadian legacy is not immune to the loss and degradation we hear about daily from across the globe. By some estimates, at least 25% of Canada’s Boreal has already been impacted by industrial disturbances while only 12% is protected. Many Boreal dependent birds have experienced major declines—some as high as 70, 80, or 90% in the last 40 years. Species like the Olive-sided Flycatcher, Canada Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, and Evening Grosbeak are among those whose populations have dropped by 60-80%. Already the Olive-sided Flycatcher and Canada Warbler have been recommended for listing under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.

But the good news is that Canada’s Boreal Forest does still remain largely intact. These bird-filled forests are also one of earth’s most significant insurance policies against global warming. The Boreal Forest globally stores more carbon than any other terrestrial ecosystem and its large intact forests, peatlands, and wetlands provide the places that animals and plants will require for survival as they are pushed north by increasing temperatures. That makes it one of the world’s last and greatest opportunities for planning ahead to ensure healthy ecosystems endure that sustain birds and wildlife and the communities that have lived with them beyond memory.

As this petition demonstrates, the people of Canada and its neighbors care deeply about the future of Canada’s great northern treasure and to the birds that call it home. We are grateful for the recent leadership in Ontario and Quebec to move this public support into action by calling for 50% protection of Boreal ecosystems and hope that other leaders will follow suit.

(Thanks Jeff! Dr. Jeff Wells is the Science and Policy Director for the Boreal Songbird Initiative (BSI), a project of the Pew Environment Group. BSI is a non-profit organization dedicated to outreach and education about the importance of the Boreal Forest to North America’s birds.)
(Photo: Canada Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler by Jeff Nadler)