U.S. conservation win – in Canada
Forestland half the size of Texas is being saved to help thwart climate change.
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.Skip to next paragraph
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Over the summer, Ontario's premier, Dalton McGuinty, announced that at least 55 million acres – half of the province's boreal forest – will be off limits to development. And he has promised no new mining or logging projects until local land-use plans have support from native communities. The scale of the decision is staggering, and it commits Ontario to setting aside lands more than twice the size of Pennsylvania as parks or wildlife refuges.
Equally impressive was Premier McGuinty's strong reliance on the recommendation by scientists, led by Nobel Prize-winning authors of the International Panel on Climate Change, to make that decision.
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.
There are herds of caribou, healthy populations of bears and wolves, and some of the world's last wild undammed rivers and pristine lakes. Many of the birds either winter in the US or pass through during their spring and fall migrations.
Millions of dark-eyed juncos, white-throated sparrows and Swainson's thrushes are among the songbirds that raise their young in this now-protected region and that will soon be arriving in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Hunters have reason to be happy, too, since those forests also sustain huge numbers of waterfowl like American black ducks, common goldeneyes and buffleheads that grace US waters in the winter.
Placing half of Ontario's boreal forest off limits to development and industrial use helps to ensure that the carbon currently stored there stays put. And it protects the habitat of the abundant wildlife of the boreal forest. Moreover, by protecting large, unfragmented blocks of habitat, McGuinty may help to ensure the survival of still other species that are forced to move north to adapt to our warming planet.