Boreal Protection in Ontario Earns Gratitude from United States

From the Christian Science Monitor:

It may be the biggest conservation victory for the US in decades. It ensures that massive amounts of greenhouse gases won’t be released to add to global warming. It ensures an abundance of birds for generations of Americans to enjoy. And you may not have heard anything about it. That’s because it just happened in Ontario, Canada.

They’re writing, of course, about Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s announcement this summer to set aside half of the province’s boreal forest — a “staggering” amount of land equal to 20 percent of Ontario’s land mass.

It’s the largest area of land ever granted protection at one time. And as Jeff Wells, David Wilcove and Scott Weidensaul write, it’s a courageous decision that benefits people and animals far beyond Ontario, largely because by leaving intact forest habitat of this size, the government is helping to mitigate against global warming:

Scientists identify the Canadian boreal forest, larger than the remaining Brazilian Amazon, as one of the world’s largest and most intact forest ecosystems. It stores 186 billion tons of carbon –equivalent to 27 years of the world’s carbon dioxide fossil fuel emissions – and provides habitat for billions of breeding birds, plus many other wildlife species.

The decision to protect such a large tract of land is significant because it reflects an understanding of what is required to truly maintain a healthy ecosystem:

In recent years, scientists have increasingly come to realize that the old benchmark of protecting 10 to 15 percent of an ecosystem is not enough. That level of protection cannot ensure that abundant wildlife, clean air and water, and a stable climate are maintained. Instead, scientists recommend a benchmark closer to 50 percent protection. McGuinty’s bold announcement is one of the few instances where a government leader has met these recommended goals.

Now, the decision did not receive blanket praise when it was announced back in July — efforts to protect the boreal don’t end here. For example, read David Suzuki’s qualified congrats and Greenpeace’s response to see how much still needs to be done to secure a healthy Boreal Forest in the long term. Nevertheless, while summer may be drawing to a close it’s still nice to see that the biggest news of the year for nature conservation is still garnering attention.