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Nature Canada Welcomes Establishment of Mealy Mountains National Park
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Nature Canada Welcomes Establishment of Mealy Mountains National Park

We did it! Thanks to your support, we're congratulating the governments of Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador on their announcement today to preserve over 13,000 square kilometres of boreal habitat in eastern Canada. Nature Canada has been working towards the establishment of a National Park in the Mealy Mountains for more than 15 years, and we couldn't have realized this success without all of our members who have written letters, signed petitions and joined campaigns to create this newest national park. The National Park in the Mealy Mountains of Labrador will be the largest in eastern Canada. The permanent protection of such a large area of boreal forest ensures at-risk species like the Woodland Caribou and the Harlequin Duck have the habitat they need to survive. Our Director of Conservation, Mara Kerry, is in Happy Valley-Goose Bay to celebrate this announcement with Environment Minister Jim Prentice and Charlene Johnson, Newfoundland and Labrador’s Minister of Environment and Conservation, who also announced a waterway provincial park to protect the Eagle River. Welcome Mealy Mountains as Canada's newest national park! Photo by Garth Lenz

New Report Highlights Relationship Between People and Plants in the Boreal Forest
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New Report Highlights Relationship Between People and Plants in the Boreal Forest

The David Suzuki Foundation, the Canadian Boreal Initiative and the Boreal Songbird Initiative have released a new report emphasizing the role that traditional aboriginal knowledge plays in conserving the boreal forest. Conservation Value of North American Boreal Forest from an Ethnobotanical Perspective stresses the ethnobotanical (the relationship between people and plants) importance of the boreal forest for Canada's Aboriginal people (Inuit, Metis, and First Nations) and demonstrates how their traditional knowledge has been passed on for many generations. The report also sheds light on the different uses of plants in their livelihoods, beyond utilitarian purposes. “The Boreal landscape was, and in many incidences continues to act as a grocery store, pharmacy, school, church, a source of strength and the place in which wisdom is attained.” The report goes on to state that in addition to the lack of protection for many species in the Boreal region by the Species at Risk Act, or provincial/territorial species legislation, there are numerous threats such as habitat loss, fragmentation, climate change and invasive species, all of which are human-induced pressures that pose a significant threat to the boreal forest and the Aboriginal people who depend on it. The report urges that the consent and consultation of indigenous people is a crucial step to be taken in land use planning decisions so as not to impact their lifestyles and well-being. Read the full report at http://www.borealbirds.org/ethnobotany.shtml.

Scientists Call on Boreal Nation Leaders to Protect Their Forests
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Scientists Call on Boreal Nation Leaders to Protect Their Forests

A letter signed by prominent scientists (including members of the IPCC and several Canadian universities) was just sent to the leaders of all eight boreal forest countries this week, asking that they protect their vital boreal carbon stores. From the letter:

Globally boreal forests are a key carbon pool that has been largely overlooked in the climate change policy debate to date. In fact, boreal forest holds more carbon per acre than any other land-based ecosystem, perhaps two or three times as much carbon as in the tropics. The boreal region is also home to some of the world’s last intact forests, abundant populations of large mammals and birds and home to hundreds of indigenous communities. When boreal soils and peatlands are disturbed by development, major carbon reserves are released.
These facts make it imperative that the world’s policy makers and public now make a concerted effort to ensure that both the boreal forest and its vast stores of carbon remain intact. To achieve this will require both drastic cuts in industrial emissions and importantly, a vast increase in the areas protected for their carbon values and left undisturbed from industrial development. Boreal forests are largely going unnoticed in the talks so far at Copenhagen. Because of this, the scientists who signed the letter ask that federal leaders make domestic efforts to protect boreal forests as a part of their larger emissions reduction strategies. They point out that slowing deforestation isn't just an issue for the tropics. Here's part of what they wrote:
Globally, land-use change has accounted for nearly 20% of annual greenhouse gas emissions. Because of these emissions, there has been a recent push to find financial incentives and policy instruments that will encourage developing tropical nations to slow deforestation and retain natural forests through environmental service payment schemes and increased protection efforts. This initiative is critical to helping to slow climate change impacts and to protect the incredible species richness and indigenous cultures of these tropical regions and we encourage you to do your part to ensure that this continues. We also urge you to broaden this approach by including the world’s carbon-rich northern boreal forests as a focus for future carbon protection policy solutions.
Read the whole letter here (warning, it's a pdf) or read a more in-depth article in this week's Boston Globe.

The Carbon the World Forgot
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The Carbon the World Forgot

Canada has so much to contribute to mitigating climate change.
Just to start, we could stop the expansion of the tar stands, we could become leaders in sustainable, biodiversity-friendly alternative energy and we could ensure the preservation of one of our greatest treasures: the boreal forest.
A report released today by the Boreal Songbird Initiative and the Canadian Boreal Initiative explains why ensuring this treasure is preserved is so important in the fight against climate change.
The report comes about a month after a Global Forest Watch paper highlighted the fact that governments and industry do not measure or report on the significant amounts of greenhouse gases that are emitted when the Boreal forest is destroyed for tar sands development.
Mara posted earlier about why forests matter. And our friends at CPAWS are taking the forest message to Copenhagen with their make forests count campaign.
The takeaway message from all of this: The Boreal forest is the world’s largest and most important terrestrial carbon storehouse, and keeping that boreal carbon reservoir in place is essential to avoid accelerating climate change.
Photo: Oscar Lake in the Northwest Territories by D. Langhorst, Ducks Unlimited

Blog Action Day: Hot Air, Cool Trees
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Blog Action Day: Hot Air, Cool Trees

Canadians are talking a lot about climate change these days in the lead up to the UNFCCC meetings in Copenhagen in December. These are of international importance and will set the global stage for future targets and actions to address a changing climate. Leading up to Copenhagen we must be sure to include one of our most important allies in the global warming battle: trees. Nature Canada and other conservation organizations believe that forests play a bigger role in our strategy to stop climate change. Their role in the regulation of climate is both important and unique – trees are victims of global warming, contributors to global warming, and a crucial part of the solution to global warming. Most of the increases in atmospheric CO2 concentrations come from the use of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) for energy, but few realize that about 25% of all global emissions come from deforestation and changes in land use like the clearing of forests and the cultivation of soils for food production. The carbon stored in trees and soils is released to the atmosphere when forests are cleared and cultivated. When forests regrow, they take back carbon from the atmosphere and store it again in trees and soils. Canada can use Kyoto and other mechanisms to encourage the removal of carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it in forests, forest products, and soils. Even further, by protecting existing forests and making better land management decisions we can conserve and enhance existing carbon stores and prevent future GHG emissions. This path to reducing GHG emissions has other significant benefits. Forests, grasslands, wetlands and other natural ecosystems provide billions of dollars in ecological goods and services - clean air and water, productive soils, forests and oceans, genetic resources for food and pharmaceuticals, pest and disease control, to name just a few. Forested ecosystems around the world are home to 70 percent of the world's plants and animals -- more than 13 million distinct species. According to the Canadian Boreal Initiative, Canada’s boreal forest alone provides ecosystem services estimated at $703 billion annually. Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan determined that our national parks have sequestered over 4.4 gigatonnes of carbon worth $72-78 billion. Most of the world’s biodiversity is found in tropical forests. Roughly 7.3 million hectares of forest are being lost annually to deforestation according to the 2007 State of the World's Forests report, exacerbating global warming and speeding the extinction rates of countless species. At present, neither the Climate Change Convention nor the Kyoto Protocol require countries to account for green house gas emissions caused by forest clear cutting or wetland destruction. Under the current global climate change agreement, countries may elect to continue these practices without any penalty and with no incentive for change. In some cases countries can even use loopholes to get credit for doing harm to forests and wetlands. In 2005, a group of developing countries called the Coalition for Rainforest Nations proposed that developing countries commit to limiting tropical deforestation. This proposal is referred to as REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation). Nature Canada welcomes their proposal as a way to address climate change mitigation and adaptation as well as biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. Climate change is the most dramatic symptom of our unsustainable approach to development. As Canadians, we have a unique opportunity to address climate change by protecting forests. We should complete the national system of protected areas. We should support the establishment of protected areas in developing countries where most of the world’s biodiversity is found. We can also improve land and forest management, and develop land-use plans that recognize the huge contribution these forests make to global carbon cycles and the many other benefits they provide. We need to ensure that we make forests count in Copenhagen. By taking this opportunity to increase incentives for protecting Earth’s remaining wilderness ecosystems, humans will help to reduce the speed of climate change. We’ll also improve prospects for the estimated 30% of wild species estimated to go extinct if human-induced global warming is not curbed. For more information visit http://makeforestscount.org/.

Tar Sands Greenhouse Gas Emissions Worse Than Reported
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Tar Sands Greenhouse Gas Emissions Worse Than Reported

The extent of greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands operations is much worse than reported due to the failure of oil companies and governments to account for emissions from forest destruction, according to new research by Global Forest Watch Canada. (See press release) The research paper, "Bitumen and Biocarbon," shows for the first time that when the Boreal forest is disturbed and destroyed for tar sands development, significant amounts of greenhouse gases are emitted. Governments and industry do not measure or report these emissions. Disclosure: Lead author and executive director of Global Forest Watch, Peter Lee, is a former Nature Canada board member. Check out the GFW web site for other reports on the status of forests around the world. The research paper, which was partly funded by Greenpeace, shows that when emissions from the destruction of the Boreal forest are factored in, greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands operations are significantly higher than reported. The research shows that under full development, the annual average release of carbon from the removal of natural ecosystems would be 8.7 megatonnes (mt) of carbon dioxide, with wide fluctuations over time. Current reported greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands operations, which do not account for these additional emissions, are about 36 mt a year. Planned expansion is expected to increase emission levels from operations alone to 120 to 140 mt a year. The report, available for download on the Greenpeace Web site, estimates the amount of carbon dioxide released through land use changes from tar sands operations. Biological carbon, which is stored in living and decaying plants as soil organic carbon and as trees and other vegetation, is lost when natural ecosystems are disturbed or destroyed through mining of bitumen and the construction of roads, wellpads, mine pits, plant facilities and pipelines. Once disturbed, this biological carbon becomes carbon dioxide and adds to Canada's greenhouse gas emissions. Global Forest Watch's research is yet more evidence that tar sands operations threaten to destroy or fragment not only the forests, but the vast lakes, rivers, and wetlands that provide nesting grounds for millions of birds in Canada's Boreal. All the more reason to declare a moratorium on any new tar sands development and to implement stricter environmental controls over existing operations. The environmental and human health costs are simply too high. If you agree, sign our petition and add your voice.

Some boreal to be protected from tarsands industry
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Some boreal to be protected from tarsands industry

In early August 2009, the provincial government of Alberta unveiled the “Terms of Reference for Developing the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan.” This important document is supposed to guide the future protection of nature in this ecologically rich section of the boreal forest underlain extensively with bitumen which the hungry power shovels and steam drills are anxious to exploit. In this document, a goal of 20 percent conservation land (boreal forest) will be protected with consideration of increasing that goal. According to the document, six percent “currently contributes to conservation objectives”(1) whereas 10 percent does not conflict with “mineral tenure” totalling 16 percent. That would mean four percent would have to be removed from active oil, gas or mineral claims, likely meaning compensation for the claimants. The plan is based on increased bitumen exploitation by about 20 percent per year to move from current production of approximately 1.3 million barrels per day to about 4 million barrels per day. The plan alludes to exploring “the feasibility of meeting a conservation scenario higher than 20 percent, while achieving the stated economic objectives” (with respect to production). As with all planning initiatives, the ‘devil will be in the details.’ For example, it is unclear how the expansive Wood Buffalo National Park – a large area of the lower Athabasca that is already protected – fits into the calculations. Wood Buffalo Park is the only natural breeding area for Whooping Cranes in the world. Nor is it apparent how aboriginal interests and land claims will be considered and incorporated. Judging from an article in The Ecologist, at least one First Nations band, the Beaver Lake Cree, is still opposing the conversion of the boreal forest to an industrial landscape. However, after several years of apparent inaction, it appears at last that the Alberta government is poised to protect some of this intensely threatened section of the boreal forest. This deserves some credit in a province where the oil and gas industry has a strangle-hold on power. For organizations and agencies within Alberta trying to protect nature, it is a David versus Goliath scenario at best. That said, it is certainly time that progress be made as more foreign capital is poised to flow into the region and the oil and gas companies start tooling up for the next phase of stripping the boreal forest away to get at more bitumen. We cannot protect something once it is gone. Photograph: Carnivous pitcher plant grows in boreal bogs in northern Alberta by Ted Cheskey

(1) P.14, Terms of Reference for Developing the Lower Athabasca Regional Plan, Government of Alberta, 2009

Woodland Caribou on the Brink
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Woodland Caribou on the Brink

The situation is much worse for caribou in Ontario than what was thought, according to a study released this week by CPAWS Wildlands League. Seven out of nine caribou populations are so highly disrupted and fragmented by clearcuts, roads and fire that they are on the verge of collapse.

Using a map of local caribou ranges that Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) released as part of its draft Caribou Conservation Plan, the researchers overlaid disturbance data from logging, roads, fire and other sources to present a picture of the quality of caribou habitat.
The result? Most of the habitat ranges in Ontario do not support any further industrial development (see full report.)
The situation is equally dire for many other boreal caribou herds across the country. Half of the historic range of caribou has been lost, and only 17 of 60 caribou ranges are considered to be self-sustaining. To protect caribou, we need to ensure that large tracts of boreal habitat are safeguareded across the country. Not only is this needed to conserve caribou, but it would also be much needed action for the countless other species that depend on the boreal forest along with caribou - including the millions of songbirds that breed in the boreal every summer.

Woodland Caribou in Peril, Ontario Warned
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Woodland Caribou in Peril, Ontario Warned

Woodland caribou are among the first species to be actively protected under Ontario's new Endangered Species Act. But in a report released today by the Wildlands League, the group reveals that critical habitats for six caribou populations have already been disturbed by logging and wildfires to the point where they likely will no longer sustain the extremely sensitive species.

From the Toronto Star:
The Ontario government should halt all logging and road building in endangered woodland caribou habitat, as six out of nine known populations below the 51st parallel are at risk of collapsing, environmentalists warn...
..."We've always suspected trouble. We didn't realize it was this bad," says Anna Baggio, director of conservation with the Wildlands League, the Ontario branch of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society... Woodland caribou are among the first species to be actively protected under Ontario's new Endangered Species Act. But the government is still developing its conservation plan and has not yet introduced habitat legislation for it that would lay out specifically where development could and could not occur. In the meantime, the province continues to issue logging permits. The caribou are considered an indicator species, reflecting the health of the boreal forest. They thrive only in untouched forest, roaming vast distances in solitude and feeding on lichen. They are extremely sensitive to development, as roads invariably bring predators, such as wolves. Once roaming as far south as Algonquin Park, their numbers have been cut in half over the past century.
On a national level, COSEWIC lists Woodland Caribou as threatened overall and specifically, four populations at risk: Atlantic-Gaspésie, Boreal, Southern Mountain (BC, AB) and Northern Mountain (YK, NT, BC).
We engaged the government in negotiations to develop a scientific review for the identification of critical habitat for the boreal population of woodland caribou. In April 2009, a robust, science-based review was released that recommended critical habitat for the caribou. The science in this report should provide government, industry and conservationists with the tools needed to ensure the persistence of boreal woodland caribou populations in Canada.

Nahanni Park Expansion a Crown Jewel for the Boreal
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Nahanni Park Expansion a Crown Jewel for the Boreal

Nahanni National Park Reserve is officially expanding. The federal government, Dehcho First Nations, and the Government of the NWT have all signed off on new park boundaries that encompass most of the South Nahanni River watershed. This permanent protection marks a large - 30,000 square km - step forward in protecting Canada's boreal forest. From the Canadian Boreal Initiative:

Nahanni National Park Reserve is especially known for its awe-inspiring Virginia Falls (Nailicho), which are twice as high as Niagara Falls. “This park expansion is a big day for conservation—but the fact that it was done in partnership with First Nations makes it all the more exciting,” said Larry Innes, CBI’s executive director. First established in 1972, Nahanni National Park Reserve became the first site recognized as a World Heritage Site in 1978 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). ... The new boundaries will greatly increase secure habitat for wide-ranging and sensitive species like woodland caribou, grizzly bears, mountain goats, and Dall's sheep. Protecting this watershed and connecting it to other areas in the region will help ensure a healthy Boreal ecosystem for future generations. The South Nahanni watershed is of cultural and traditional importance for Dene peoples. Parks Canada worked extensively with the Dehcho First Nations in bringing forward the new boundaries, and has committed to establishing a companion national park, to be called Naats’ihch’oh with the Sahtu First Nations to protect the balance of the region. Parks Canada is also engaged in consultations with neighbouring Kaska Dena in the Yukon about these initiatives.
The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society has also been able to declare victory in their Nahanni campaign:
"The Nahanni is the jewel of Canada’s Boreal forest, and one of the world’s greatest wilderness treasures. Canada has shown true global leadership by protecting it," says CPAWS National Executive Director Eric Hébert-Daly. "With this announcement the federal government has created a national park that can take its place alongside Banff and Jasper as one of the world’s great protected areas," says Harvey Locke, CPAWS Senior Advisor for Conservation.
The boreal forest is a green necklace across Canada's North, stretching from the Yukon Territory to the Labrador coast. The newly expanded Nahanni National Park Reserve is a bright jewel in that necklace.

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