If you’re wondering what a boreal forest is, you’re probably not alone. It is comprised of forested lands in the northern hemisphere that contain mainly coniferous trees and reside just south of the frozen tundra region near the pole. These forests are also referred to as taiga. In layman terms, it is one of the largest areas of forested land on the planet; sparsely populated, full of wildlife, and largely appreciated for its natural beauty.
It is also the largest repository of fresh water in the world (according to a recent report issued by the Pew Environmental Group) and it houses a hefty store of Earth-bound carbon deposits (nearly a fourth of what is currently estimated to be on the Earth’s surface). And until recently, it needed no protection.
Threats to Canada's Boreal Forest
Unfortunately, the foibles of man have begun to take their toll on even this immense woodland region, which is estimated at well over a billion acres in size and is said to account for approximately a third of the world’s boreal forest.
The most pressing concern for most environmentalists is just what you might expect: the logging industry. Although deforestation in this area is not as commonplace as in other forested lands on the globe, it is still a problem as logging is a major industry in Canada. While only about 0.5-1% of the land is estimated to suffer from permanent deforestation, still the numbers add up over time. And when you throw in the threats of mining, hunting, fishing, and inroads for recreation, you can see the boreal forest being whittled away a little at a time.
But these aren’t even the biggest threats facing this essential wilderness area.
The ongoing effects of global warming only stand to speed up the process of destruction occurring in the boreal forest. With carbon emissions on the rise and climate change beginning to be felt in a very real way through extreme weather conditions all over the world, no one can deny the threat that is posed by global warming. And when it comes to the boreal forest, there may be even more danger. For starters, a warming trend in this region will likely lead to an increase in insect infestation and fires, both of which threaten animals in the region (some of which are already endangered) as well as trees.
If there is significant loss in this area, two things will happen. The first is that all of the carbon stored in there will be released (and it is estimated to be equivalent to nearly 30 years’ worth of emissions at our current rate). That will drastically speed the global warming process. Then there is the water supply to consider. Already scientists are concerned about how long the Earth’s fresh water supply can continue to sustain us. If the largest reservoir on the planet were threatened, our time on this planet could be seriously truncated.
What We Can Do
Between land, water, and air pollution and the penchant of man to use up natural resources, the eventual plight of the boreal forest seems a foregone conclusion. And yet, there is still time to turn things around.
All we have to do is take responsibility for our part and make a change in our own lives. By saying goodbye to the petroleum-powered vehicles that dominate the roadways and using your consumer dollars to vote for sustainable manufacturing, you can do a lot more than you think to slow the progress of global warming and preserve the boreal forest (and the planet) for future generations.
Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by Rich Bard