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More Provinces May Agree to Protect Boreal Forest
Sarah Kuck, 25 Nov 08
Photo credit: International Boreal Conservation Campaign Original and remaining intact forests of the world - the Boreal Forest in Canada contains 25% of the world's last intact forests

This summer, after receiving an insistent letter from more than 1,500 Canadian and international scientists, the government of Ontario agreed to strictly protect or sustainably manage all of the boreal lands within the province.

The boreal forest is a vital resource for Canadian provinces, as well as an essential weapon in the global fight against climate change, sequestering billions of tons of carbon every year.

Now it appears as if other provinces may be looking to follow in Ontario's footsteps, listening to the well-educated voices of leading scientists and protecting Canada's boreal forest. According to a recent article by Deborah Zebarenk, an environmental correspondent for Reuters:

Last week, Quebec Premier Jean Charest, now campaigning for re-election, pledged to do the same if he wins. Canadian businesses also have endorsed the plan, and (Steven) Kallick (of the Pew Environmental Group) said there is a good chance most provincial governments will as well.

This is good news not only for the forest, but also for us. The boreal forest is massive -- it's bigger than the Amazon, and stretches across 1.4 billion acres from Newfoundland to Alaska:

This continent-wide swath, covered mostly with fir trees and wetlands, is the world's largest carbon "bank" on land, storing almost twice the carbon per square yard (meter) as tropical forests because of the rich composition of its soil.

The area now holds 186 billion tonnes of carbon, equivalent to 27 years worth of global carbon emissions. If all of the boreal carbon was released, it would theoretically accelerate global warming by 27 years.

To monitor these efforts and to encourage further protection measures, a new team of Canadian and international scientists, called the International Boreal Conservation Science Panel, has voluntarily formed to work with the Pew Environmental Group to protect one of the world's largest intact forest/wetland ecosystems left on the planet.

Politicians listening to scientific advice and recognizing the value of ecosystem services seems like a new and welcome occurrence worthy of being enthusiastic about. We can only hope this trend continues.

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What scares me is the "or" in "the government of Ontario agreed to strictly protect or sustainably manage" (emphasis mine). What a great opening to not "protect" since there is really no definition of "sustainably" managing one of the last remaining virgin forests in the world - other than leaving them put. Basically they are pledging to do their best within the political confines they work in... Not much, eh?

Posted by: Kevin on 26 Nov 08

Hi Kevin,

I guess I should have been more clear. Ontario is protecting 50 percent and sustainably managing the other half, with no extraction of minerals or other natural resources allowed.


Posted by: Sarah Kuck on 26 Nov 08

This is excellent news! Greenpeace currently has a campaign against Kimberly Clark(aka Kleenex, Huggies, Scott)logging in the old growth Boreal in northern Canada and Alaska at a rate of 2-3 acres/minute. If the rest of Canada and the US follows Ontario's lead it could force the recalcitrant corporation to use more sustainable methods.

Posted by: Sarah T on 29 Nov 08

The discerning reader might have a number of questions about all this recent discussion about forest protection and what it really means. Let me be clear: I do not mean to suggest that forest protection is "bad" or "good", but that there is a lot of propaganda about the topic that needs to be brought to the public's attention. WorldChanging would seem a great forum to have this discussion. As is usually the case, things are more complicated than they appear.

So 1500 Canadian and international scientists signed a letter urging protection of 50% of the forest. What kinds of scientists were they, and did they have any understanding of conservation science? Or were they invited to sign because they had "PhD" after their name, irrespective of their field? Also, who didn't sign, and more specifically, who refused to sign, and why?

Second, where on the map will these "protection zones" be, and does their placement matter? Is some of this "greenwashing", placing protection in economically useless area? And what of the folks who do live in those areas? Are we saying they can hunt and fish and live their traditional lifestyle, but exempt them from the modern world? Is that ok or even desirable?

And finally, what is the real concern about protecting the world's largest carbon storage bank? What happens to that carbon when it gets removed (say through forest harvesting)? IPCC rules (currently being revised) suggested it all went into the atmosphere. Even a child knows this is patently untrue, but what is the alternative? If we leave vast regions of the boreal completely untouched, what will happen to it, especially in a global warming world?

While it is fun to play "protect the forest" with the public whim, we need to understand the details and intricacies of these policies, and what their long-term implications might be. I get concerned when scientists start giving the impression, and sometimes outright stating they are "unanimous" about anything. My suspicion is that they are not, but that some are not being heard while others are doing more talking than listening.

Posted by: Darren on 1 Dec 08

Hi, I'm a new mom with 2 babies under 2. I just heard about how Huggies is using these forests in their products. It's not possible for me right now to use cloth diapers for my babies, but I was wondering, are there other alternatives to Huggies that are more forest friendly? Please let me know. Thanks.

Posted by: star on 15 Apr 09

This article seems to provide some good alternatives:

But for this and other questions, I'd recommend joining a chat group like Cafe Mom. That way you can get real reviews, from real moms.

Hope that helps.


Posted by: Sarah on 15 Apr 09

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